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  1. The Meetings It was the third year since Cerdic declared himself Westseaxacyning. Aelle had been the Cantacyning for eighteen years and it was eighth year since he had named himself Brytenwealda. Guercha One-eye the Angelcyning was still disputing Aelle's claim to be Brytenwealda for the past three years. It had been a hard, cold winter and food was short. Hretha had the land in her grip for longer than even the oldest people could remember. The Tamyse was often frozen and people huddled round fires telling stories of the summer. Sol-monath was late because the snows fell after Yule and stayed until The Festival of Hretha. Wulfhere led the sacrifices at the festival to placate the Winter goddess of Death but people said she rejected the offerings. Winter was hard on the animals and despite picking the best possible sacrifices the goddess did not seem satisfied. She took many of the older and weaker people too. Offa was pleased with his new batch of ale which at Dunstan’s prompting he had called Anvil Ale and he thought he should serve it at the Yule festival to help cheer the people up. The Hrothgarsons had managed to travel to Wincen Cæster for Cerdic’s Yule festival. Cerdic was in fine form. He had spent the year consolidating his lands and allocating land to new settlers. Westsæxe was the only kingdom that was not at war and Cerdic’s lands had benefited from the peace. There had been the usual border skirmishes with Dumnonia but other than some burnt farms there had been no change in the borders. Stuf advocated strongly for a war with Dumnonia this coming year. He said that his spies had reported the Britons had been fighting amongst themselves and they had weakened each other. He thought it was time to strike for the Sæfern sea and split the British kingdoms in two. Cerdic disagreed and said that although he acknowledged that there had been fighting in the far west, his spies had also reported that the Bear had been victorious and he had been elected Brytenwealda by the other British tribes. Therefore, it would be likely that an attempt to reach the Sæfern Sea would mean fighting just not Dumnonia but other British kingdoms who would come to the defence of the Brytenwealda. He said that he intended to try and split the tribes and conclude peace treaties with Gwent and possibly send another embassy to Kernow. Cissa had been fighting in the north advancing against the Chilternsæte and Wæclingas and the repercussions of Wæcla’s poisoning and Wlencig’s gruesome death were yet to be seen. There had been skirmishes between the joint forces of the Chilternsæte and Wæclingas and Cissa of Aeglesburgh over the blame for Wlencig’s death and the poisoning of Wæcla but no outright battles. War would be expected after the crops are planted. Gwent had moved spearmen into Spinæ and Brige and had built Burghs on the west side of the Tamyse to protect their lands from Cissa and the Miercians. It was reported that Aelle intended to raise his army and go north. Cerdic had already given Wulfhere instructions to aid Wæcla covertly but not enough to provoke Aelle into breaking the peace treaty. He was clear he was not ready for another war. There was not really any surprise when the news reached Wincen Cæster that Wæcla had divorced Brithwen and had married Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter. The news from the Angles was more comforting. Guercha One-eye had tried to capture Colnacæster but had been defeated by Sæberht Ingwaldson, the Upplingascyning in a battle near Colnacæster. Sæberht had mobilised the East Saxon tribes of the Hæmele, Vange, Denge and Ginges and the Angles had been routed. On the way back north, the Hrothgarsons stopped at Taddenlæge to talk with Tadda about the affairs in the area. Uthric went to talk to Orin and to see his children. Wulfhere also saw his children but they were unsure who he was, which upset him as he still was annoyed that Bronwyn had not chosen him. He spoke at length to Tadda and Rowena about the situation. Rowena said that he should get remarried and said that her widowed daughter would make an excellent wife and the children already spent a lot of time with her. Wulfhere said that he had a lot of things to do this year and marriage was not one of the things he had considered but he said that he would give some thought to Rowena’s suggestion after midsummer. On the return home, Wulfhere summoned the people for the first Moot of the year. He said that since there had been peace for a while that taxes would be returned to normal. There was some grumbling but most accepted that if the harvest was good they should have plenty of food to feed the people with more to spare. Cwen had asked Wulfhere to agree to hold a weekly market in Pontes. She thought that because it was at the crossroads of the Tamyse and they would benefit if trade came through. Wulfhere said that he thought it might lower the tax burden on the people over time and gave her money to set up what was needed. Beorthric wanted to know if Wulfhere would expand his lands to bring in more sheep. He thought that there might be a greater need as more people came north to settle and the market would help create more demand. Wulfhere agreed that he would give him a further three hydes of land that were too poor for farming. Cwen had already discussed building larger brewing houses with Offa and they agreed that setting up a Merchant’s Inn would help to create a bigger attraction. Offa had been pleased that his Anvil Ale had been enjoyed at Yule and had other ideas for different flavours using seasonal herbs. Cwen agreed that she would supervise the building of Wulfhere’s Hall as she said even she was frustrated about his tardiness in getting it finished. Wulfhere was keen that the Hall would be the administrative centre for his lands and a focal point for the people. After the Spring festival when the people lit bonfires and drew water from the wells and springs to help with healing the sick, Aelle came to find Wulfhere. He arrived at dusk with fifty mounted warriors. He was keen to hear from witnesses who had been present at his son’s death. Wulfhere thought Aelle looked older and more worn by his recent troubles. He rarely smiled when talking and seemed short tempered with his men. He was polite with the Hrothgarsons and did not offer any offence or hostility. Wulfhere said that he had been present when Wlencig had come to Wæcla’s Hall looking for his imprisoned wife Ealhwyn, who Wæcla had accused of poisoning him. Wæcla had been badly injured by his chief Huscarl, Sceirhead, and was possibly dying at the time and was not present in the Hall when Wlencig arrived. Wlencig had intimidated Iænbeorht, Wæcla’s Boldweard, and had tried to force his way into Ealhwyn’s rooms but he and his bodyguards were forced back into the main hall by the guard on Ealhwyn’s door. It was then Wlencig was attacked by the leæch, Dunric. Aelle was keen to know if this was the same leæch that had been responsible for so many deaths in Cædering and had set a Déaþscufa loose on the people of the region. Wulfhere confirmed that it was and said he thought that Dunric might have wanted the power that killing Wlencig would have released for appeasing spirits. Uthric told the story of how Sceirhead had tried to kill Wæcla and how it had been said that he had been paid by Cissa. Aelle wanted to know if Sceirhead could also have been in league with Dunric but Uthric said he did not believe this was possible because the leæches had healed Wæcla. Aelle asked how Ealhwyn was involved in events and what had been her part in the death of his son. Uthric said that he did not think she was involved in the killing and she had prepared Wlencig’s body to return to his father. He did not think it wise to mention she had not been over concerned by Wlencig’s death or her admission to him that she was Wæcla’s lover. Aelle had heard that she had since married Wæcla and said that he considered her to be somehow involved with Wlencig’s death. He said that he would give 20,000 silver for Dunric’s head. He said he considered Wæcla and Ealhwyn as his enemies. Aelle asked if he could stay the night and Wulfhere said that he would be honoured although he was concerned that the King’s men would eat much of his winter stores. Wulfhere was using Dunstan’s Hall to host Aelle because his own was still being constructed and could not host anyone while it remained unfinished. Dunstan’s Hall was also still unfinished and was still lacking ornamentation and decorations that people expected from a Þegn. However, the Hall was serviceable and the biggest building in Pontes but could not hold all Aelle’s men and some stayed in Hambladensted or Farnhamble. Aelle drank a considerable amount of Offa’s ale but instead of becoming more morose, he cheered up and spoke at length with Offa about brewing. Nevertheless, the Hrothgarsons were relieved when he left to cross the Tamyse in the morning and travelled toward Aeglesburgh. Aelle had only left a few days before the guards told Wulfhere that a noble woman and her guards had come across the bridge from the north side of the Tamyse. Wulfhere and Cwen had been trying to estimate how much food they would need to redistribute to ensure the people did not go hungry. He was not happy that another noble had come to Pontes which would require use of more precious resources. He went to seek the news and to find out what had prompted a visit. He was surprised to see Brithwen, the former Wæclingascyninge, in Dunstan’s Hall. He greeted her and gave her the title of Cyninge but she reproved him and said that he might not have heard the news but that she was no longer a Queen. Wulfhere offered her hospitality but she declined any feast. She said she would only stay one night and leave early in the morning to travel to Wincen Cæster as she desired to speak with Cerdic. Brithwen asked for a private room as she did not think it was appropriate nor did she feel capable of a public appearance. Wulfhere was surprised but did not say anything. He said that Cwen would come and see to her needs. In the morning Brithwen left with her five guards and pack horses. Cwen told Wulfhere that Brithwen had not spoken much. She had not said why she sought out Cerdic and Cwen could not get any of her guards to talk. Wulfhere thought that she would seek Cerdic’s protection. She could not have gone to Aelle as he would have used her presence for his own purposes against Wæcla. Seeking protection from Guercha One-eye would have been equally dangerous as he had not forgiven the Miercians for taking the land that he considered his. On the day that Brithwen left, Tathere the fisherman came to Uthric with another man, called Oscytel, to say that the fishermen were upset with some recent events and had come to ask his advice. Tathere showed him two bodies. One was one of the fishermen and the other was a white body of what looked like a man. Tathere said that the dead fisherman and Oscytel had been clearing the fish traps earlier that morning. There had been a heavy river mist, which was not unusual for the time of year, when a war boat had suddenly come out of the mist and hit the stationary fishing boat. Oscytel had been knocked into the river but Byrnheard had been able to hold on to the sides of the boat which had proved to be his death. One of the warriors in the war boat had speared him. Uthric looked at the body and there was an obvious spear thrust to his throat which had likely killed the fisherman. Uthric asked where the war boats had gone but Oscytel said that he was unsure as he was trying not to be seen because he had not been keen to suffer the same fate as Byrnheard. However, from their direction of travel, he believed they may have gone up the Cœln. He had seen five boats crammed with warriors with white bulls on their shields. Uthric looked at the other body but did not touch it. It was a white man. He had no apparent colour. His hair, skin and staring eyes were white. Uthric asked Tathere if anyone had seen such a creature before. He was hesitant to call the creature a man. Tathere said that this was the first such creature he had seen and he hoped that he would not see another. Uthric ordered them to burn both it and the net that it was entangled in away from the settlements. He said he would give them money to replace the net. Uthric asked the fishermen to keep an eye on the river and he would give them more instructions later when he talked to Wulfhere. Uthric went to find Wulfhere and was surprised to find him talking with the Ealdorman Hrof. Hrof greeted Uthric and asked for the news. Uthric was reluctant to tell him what the fishermen had said and showed him but was happy to tell Hrof how he had found his wife. Hrof said that he was glad that their search had ended and Meire had returned. Hrof said that he was travelling north to support Aelle at Aeglesburgh but had stopped in his journey to discuss his daughter, Ealhwyn. He had heard some concerning reports of events in Verulamacæster and was keen to hear the Hrothgarsons’ opinions. He said that in truth Aelle would question him about Ealhwyn and he needed to be certain about the answers. Hrof told them that they should not spare his feelings or hold back information for fear of offending him. He said that he thought that Ealhwyn was endangering the peace by her actions and he did not have a good feeling about what was going to happen. Dunstan said that from their observation, Wæcla and the Miercians were creating a defensive confederation to protect themselves against Aelle, Guercha and Cerdic. He thought also that if the Miercians and Angles were going to fight each other then they would not be fighting south of the Tamyse. Wulfhere said that Wæcla had stressed that the confederation was defensive and would not be offensive unless provoked. He said that Ealhwyn had told him that she had been convinced by her cousin, Sæberht, the Upplingascyning, that she should be part of the confederation. She had met with Wæcla and they seemed to have formed a closer pact by becoming lovers. Hrof said that he had heard that this was so. He said he regretted that he had insisted that she had married Wlencig as it was a political, but also a particularly joyless, union. The two were opposite in personality and Ealhwyn had despised Wlencig. Hrof asked about Iænbeorht and Brithwen and how they had been involved in the unfolding events. Uthric said that it was likely that Iænbeorht was Cissa’s spy and agent. He had left suddenly when Wlencig had been killed by the leæches so they had not had a chance to question him. Wulfhere said that there was no evidence that Brithwen had been involved in the deaths or attempted murders. He did not think it was wise to mention that Brithwen had gone to Cerdic. Hrof thanked them for their insights and said that he had to try and think how he would deal with Aelle and his anger. He said his other problem would be what to do with Ealhwyn when she was captured. Hrof went off to see to his men and horses and Uthric took the opportunity to tell Wulfhere what the fishermen had told him. Dunstan and Wulfhere were dubious about the story of war boats on the river. No-one else had seen them and Dunstan said that the fishermen were not truthful. He thought it likely that it was an internal feud about fishing rights and they were only trying to cover up a murder. Uthric said that he thought that could be the case. He said that they might remember the white bull shield was Cœlfrith’s which was a strange thing because they had heard that he had been killed by Aelle. Wulfhere said that they should not take chances and told Uthric to raise the Fyrd. He thought that they should find out if there were five boatloads of hostile warriors on the Tamyse and be prepared. Dunstan said he would talk to Tathere and put the fear of the gods into him to make him tell the truth. Uthric gathered 50 men and took them as far as Duromagus but could not find anyone who could tell him of war boats on the Tamyse. He took a boat and visited his friend Eadweald at Cescwin but Eadweald said that he had not had reports of hostile warriors. When he returned to Pontes, Hrof had left and gone north. Hrof had discussed the building of Wulfhere’s Hall with Cwen and Wulfhere. He had given advice on what Wulfhere should include and promised that he would send two tapestries from Friesland to put on the walls. The Hrothgarsons were discussing what they should do next when news arrived that Cerdic was coming to talk to Wulfhere. Wulfhere said that he was surprised that suddenly Pontes had come to be the centre of the world. In a short space all the Kings and Hrof had visited him. He wondered if Guercha One-eye might be next. Cerdic greeted them and asked them for the news. Cerdic said that he was interested in seeing how they had been getting on with building the fortifications. Cwen had told him that they had struggled to get Stonemasons and people capable of building and he had been pleased to help out. He said he thought he might offer his advice as he had recently finished the fortifications in Wincen Cæster and had become quite an expert in building. Cerdic looked at the bridge and asked if they might have thought about pulling down the towers on the far side in case there are hostile forces on the opposite bank and therefore deny anyone a strong position to attack south Pontes. He said they should be careful about destroying the bridge when taking the towers down as no-one was capable of building such an impressive bridge since the Romans left. When Wulfhere looked confused about Cerdic’s talk of building, he said that he was really interested that Hrof and Aelle had spent time in Pontes and asked their opinion of events. Wulfhere told Cerdic that Aelle had been asking about the death of his son which he wanted to blame on the Wæclingas. Cerdic was interested in the motives of Wæcla and his usefulness as an ally against Aelle. Wulfhere said that in both conversation and observation of Wæcla, he held true to his principle of being part of a defensive coalition rather than expansionist but he agreed with Cerdic that Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter was a conundrum. Cerdic had already asked Wulfhere to covertly support Wæcla and he repeated his views that they should support, advise and trade with the Wæclingas but ensure that any active co-operation was deniable. Wulfhere said that he would do his best. Cerdic said that a fisherman had asked him for an audience and had spoken about his concern about five warships on the Tamyse. Cerdic asked if Wulfhere had heard this news. Dunstan said that the fishermen were not always truthful and they seemed to be working to their own agenda. He said they had spent days and considerable resources looking for boats but there had been no evidence they actually existed. There had been a body of a dead fisherman but no-one other than one fisherman had seen the boats. He said both he and Uthric had concluded that the fishermen were lying again. He proceeded to tell Cerdic of the previous incident that nearly broke the truce with Aelle. Cerdic acknowledged that the Hrothgarsons had done well. Cerdic stayed the night and although he spoke little at the feast, Wulfhere noted that Cerdic took in everything that went on and often asked pointed questions about events. In the morning Cerdic asked about the people living between the Wey and the Æmon and who they owed allegiance to. Wulfhere said that the land was mostly marsh and the peoples living there were living between Hrof’s lands and their own. Cerdic asked Wulfhere to talk to the people and get them to swear fealty to him. He thought the land would be useful in the future should it come to a war with Aelle. Wulfhere was glad that he left in the morning to go South as he did not believe they would have enough food until the harvest if he had to continue to host Kings. Wulfhere was still grumbling about the food he had to use for the Kings but both Dunstan and Uthric began planning to visit the lands from the Wey to the Æmon. Uthric thought that they should take 50 men as a show of force to the inhabitants but Dunstan had the view that force was not necessary because they needed to persuade people rather than threaten them. Wulfhere, when he finally paid attention to the conversation, agreed with Dunstan and they agreed 25 warriors would be sufficient. Wulfhere said that he had been thinking about a design for his shield. He thought that he had been remiss in not deciding this earlier because as an Ealdorman he had the right to have his own design but it also showed others of his power. Dunstan suggested that he should use a squirrel design because there seemed an overabundance of the curious creatures in their lands. Wulfhere said that he had been thinking of something more frightening such as fýrdraca1 or a heoruwearh2and that few people would consider a squirrel to be a creature that provoked fear in his enemies. He thought that a black wolf would be an appropriate symbol for his men. Uthric said the difficulty might be actually drawing it on the shield but if he also had a black background then the drawing would not matter. Wulfhere ignored his suggestion and decided that he would have a black raven on a red shield. In the end Wulfhere decided only to take 15 warriors with him in his trip to the Æmon. He was concerned that while they did not trust the truth of what the fishermen had said, there needed to be men to respond to any threat and he thought it was better to leave warriors under the command of Halig, his youngest brother. Wulfhere insisted that his brothers put on their best clothes and that the warriors had their new shields ready and weapons honed as if for war. He also brought some gifts for the local leaders of the marsh people to impress them with his generosity. He said to his brothers that an Ealdorman should be a bēáhġifa3 for it denoted generosity and respect for others. His brothers wondered if Wulfhere was not getting carried away with his power. Wulfhere asked all those in the district that could come to meeting for he had some important news. There were many families who lived in the area but they were widely separated by marshes and bogs and it took several days to get the meeting organised. Wulfhere had brought some of Offa’s ale and gave it to the folk who gathered before he spoke. He told the people of the changing nature of the north and the recent troubles when Cissa had ravaged the north side of the Tamyse and then the lands between the Wey and the Lodden. He reminded them that they had no Lord to protect them should Aelle begin to covet their lands and invited them to consider what they might do should war break out between the Kings. He said from experience that it was best to be under the protection of one King because there was now no option to be neutral as the people who used to live on the north of the Tamyse found out. The chief people of the district were impressed by Wulfhere’s speech and even more impressed when he gave them thick silver bracelets. They said they would consider his words carefully and would give him an answer in a few days. They thought that their deliberations might be improved if they were able to drink more of Offa’s fine ale. Dunstan said that he would ensure some was sent as he did not want them to be thirsty if they needed to talk so much. Uthric thought that they could come to the market every midweek and Offa’s ale was always available for those that were thirsty. Several days later, Wulfhere received a delegation from the people of the marshes and all their leading people swore allegiance to Wulfhere. Uthric thought that Offa’s intervention might have been significant in their decision but Dunstan said it was the weekly market that was the main factor. Wulfhere did not offer a view on the matter. The Hrothgarsons decided that they should seek out Wæcla and tell him of Cerdic’s support. Cwen said it might be a good idea to take him a wedding present but Wulfhere grumbled about the cost of buying a king a present. However, he accepted that it would be a good reason to meet Wæcla. Both Cwen and Æthlind asked for cloth for new dresses if they were travelling through Lundenwic because the market there had expensive cloth from Frankia and Frisia. Æthlind had seen a new style of dress when she was in Wincen Cæster and was keen that she looked her best for when Dunstan’s Hall was finished. Cwen thought they should get some cloth for Ealhwyn too but Uthric thought that she would probably prefer a sword too. Æthlind, who had never met Ealhwyn, said that she thought Uthric’s opinion was unbelievable. Cwen said that Æthlind was maybe right but for the wrong reason. She found a sword difficult after a long period of fighting because of the weight and much preferred a spear. She recommended that Æthlind should join her when next she practiced with the warriors. At Veralamacæster, they found that Wæcla was not there. He was with the Warband and King Wulfgeat of the Chilternsæte raiding Aelle’s lands. Wulfhere thought they could talk with Ealhwyn, but the Cyninge had also gone to war with Wæcla. Wulfhere asked for a guide to take him to Wæcla because no one could tell him when the King would return and he was not prepared to wait in Verulamacæster. Wæcla welcomed the Hrothgarsons and introduced them to Wulfgeat, the Chilternsætecyning. Wulfhere told Wæcla that he brought greetings from Cerdic on his hopes for his swift recovery from his injury, congratulations on his recent wedding and that he had brought him a gift for his wedding to Ealhwyn. Wulfhere presented the sword and jewelled scabbard along with a fine gold embroidered blue cloak for Ealhwyn. Wæcla thanked them for the gifts but wanted to know why the Hrothgarsons had really made the journey. He thought that the greetings, well wishes and presents could have waited and yet here they were sitting in a cold camp in the Chiltern Hills. He thought that Wulfhere might have come to tell him something else. Wulfhere conceded that Wæcla was indeed perceptive and the real reason was to tell him that Cerdic would offer discreet support, should the need arise, and to pass on Hrof’s greetings to his daughter Ealhwyn. Ealhwyn was angry at her father’s message because she had heard that he had come to join Aelle in the north and they were likely to be on opposing sides. Wæcla said he was more amused by Cerdic’s message and wanted to know what Cerdic’s discreet help really meant and importantly what Cerdic wanted from the Wæclingas in return. Wulfhere addressed Ealhwyn’s anger first and told her that in his opinion her father wanted to know that she was safe. Uthric said that Hrof held her in high regard and that his coming north was because that he was Aelle’s liegeman and Aelle was infuriated by the death of Wlencig. Dunstan said that they had been very clear that Wlencig’s death was due to Dunric and Wlencig’s arrogance rather than the Wæclingas. Wæcla said that he thought these were fine words but the truth was that Aelle was here to destroy the Wæclingas and the Chilternsæte and must be stopped. He was keen to know how many spearmen Wulfhere would give as that is what he most needed at present. Wulfhere said that he would send twenty of his best Warriors north on his return to help with the defence for which Wæcla expressed his gratitude. Wæcla pressed Wulfhere for Cerdic’s real reason for helping the Mierce for he presumed that Cerdic was not keen for open war with Aelle at present. Wulfhere said that Cerdic was keen for alliances and trade. Uthric reminded everyone that there was a new market in south Pontes and that Mierce merchants would find it a useful way to sell their goods. Wæcla said he was not sure about Cerdic’s real intensions but would take it at face value if Wulfhere swore on what he had said. Wulfhere agreed and they parted in friendship. As they were leaving, Wæcla took Wulfhere aside and asked him if he had heard any news of Brithwen. Wulfhere chose not to tell him that she had passed through Pontes a moon ago and Wæcla said that he was keen to find out where she was. He told Wulfhere that she had left with the royal treasury and he was keen to find out what had happened. Wulfhere said that he would send a message if she had been found. When they were traveling Dunstan wondered what they would do if Wæcla asked for more warriors. Uthric said he wasn’t that worried about sending more men as there were always young men looking for fame, glory and war loot. His main concern would be that Aelle would discover their duplicity and he thought this might not go well for them. Wulfhere said he believed they might be in real trouble then. Dunstan said that they should talk to Hrof about what would happen if Aelle should die or be killed in the fighting. He thought the whole political situation would change rapidly and he still harboured a grudge against Cerdic for not protecting their families. Wulfhere said that speculation was difficult but they should keep their relationship with Hrof cordial. When they returned to Pontes, the news was that Dunric, Nægel and Snyring had visited Hereweard and all had gone into the forest together. The word was that they were performing a ritual that no doubt involved lots of blood sacrifices to dark powers. (1) Fýrdraca is a fire dragon (2) Heoruwearh is a savage, bloody wolf (3) Bēáhġifa is a Ring-giver, a Lord
  2. Poison and Treachery The old Roman city of Verulamacæster was decaying. Many of the buildings had collapsed and had been replaced by Saxon buildings. Some of the most impressive still stood and it was possible to imagine what the city had looked like in Roman times. In the old days the British tribe, the Catuvellauni, lived in the area of their chief city that they called Verulamium. It was said the Romans had built the city to make the Catuvellauni more like them. They had succeeded but had also made them soft and weak in warfare. A generation ago the Angles had moved east from Anglia seeking more land and had fought and defeated the Catuvellauni occupying their land although they had ignored their city. Five summers ago, the Angles, in their turn were defeated and displaced by an East Saxon tribe, the Wæclingas, who sailed up the river Lygen and attacked and conquered Verulamacæster. The Wæclingas had not been as superstitious as the Angles and their King, Wæcla had made their main settlement at Verulamacæster or in East Saxon, Væclingascæster, the fortress of the people of Wæcla. Verulamacæster still had strong Roman walls and many of the crumbling Roman buildings were still occupied. Wæcla, the Wæclingascyning, had made his chief dwelling in the main Basilica, an immense Roman building set at the centre of the city. The Hrothgarsons were impressed by the decaying grandeur. Wulfhere thought that while the building might be magnificent he wondered if it would be hard to heat and therefore cold in the winter. Uthric said he was less keen to discuss architecture and very much more interested in talking to Wæcla as soon as possible and find out where Meire was. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers to lænbeorht, the King's Gerēfa1. Uthric was disappointed to learn the Wæcla was away on the business of his Kingdom. Iænbeorht said that he did not expect Wæcla to return before the Cyningmoot in two days’ time. Uthric asked if he could talk to Ealhwyn and was surprised to learn the she had been imprisoned. Wulfhere wondered why this had been done as he thought that it might not bring Wæcla much luck when either her father, the Ealdorman Hrof, or her husband the Aethling, Wlencig, discovered what had happened. lænbeorht said that he was in no doubt that Wæcla was justified in his actions as Ealhwyn had attempted to poison him. Dunstan wondered how this was possible but Iænbeorht did not answer his question. He said to his brothers he did not trust Iænbeorht with his thin, pock-marked face and nervous twitch. He said he did not like the way lænbeorht never looked anyone in the eye and constantly fidgeted with his tally sticks. Uthric asked him if he had heard any news of Meire who he believed had accompanied Ealhwyn. Iænbeorht did not answer Uthric's question but left going through a side door. Uthric was at a loss and unsure what he should do next. One of the guards, Theodric, talked to Wulfhere. He said that a woman, much as Uthric had described, had been with Ealhwyn and had taken up residence in Hering's Inn in the town. He thought Uthric might want to be careful of the woman and he should know that most of the people who had dealings with her had thought she had been uncanny. The warriors thought that she might be a drýicge2. She had removed herself from Ealhwyn's quarters and had gone to stay in the Inn with one of her guards. Uthric thanked Theodric and gave him a thin silver arm ring. The Hrothgarsons made their way to the Inn and asked for Hering to enquire if Meire was still at the Inn. Hering confirmed that there was a woman living in the upper floor and said that he hoped that they had come to take her away as he and his patrons found her too strange but were not keen to confront her and ask her to leave. He said that there were often strange noises coming from her room and smells like the Charnel pits of Nastrønd. He also objected to her bodyguard who never talked and allowed no-one to talk to her. He had therefore not been able to ask her to leave. Uthric said while the description of the woman sounded like Meire, he had never known her to act like Hering described. He also wondered who the guard might be and if the situation that Hering described was true would they be able to get past him to see if it was Meire. They went up some stone steps to the upper floor and were confronted by a man in full chainmail and a closed helm. He held a naked sword held in his hand and he turned to meet Uthric as he approached. Uthric stopped and waited. Dunstan put his hand on his seax as he thought this situation might not end well. Uthric asked the man if he could enter to see Meire. The man did not speak but nodded his agreement. However, he stopped Wulfhere and Dunstan with a movement of his hand and the implied threat of his sword as they moved to join Uthric. Neither Wulfhere nor Dunstan decided that it was a good time to argue the rights and wrongs of the Guard’s decision. Uthric opened the door and was hit with a blast of heat on his face. It seemed that the room was on fire but when his eyes stopped watering he could see Meire surrounded by a ring of fire. She was naked and appeared to be talking in a language that he did not know to someone he could not see. He stood in the doorway for several minutes and the flames died down. Meire turned to him and said to him that he was late in coming again but she had come to expect this. She thought he might want to greet his children while she got dressed. Uthric only then noticed that both children were sitting on the bed. Uthric went to his sons, Hrothgar and Sigebeorht who were wide-eyed and sitting rigid on the bed. Uthric said that he and Meire needed to discuss matters. He thought the children might be better not to hear what needed to be said and proposed that they spend some time with his brothers. Meire agreed and warmly kissed both children who in turn hugged her tightly. Uthric took both boys to Wulfhere and explained the situation. Wulfhere was reluctant to take the boys. He said he would prefer to hear from Meire what had passed but the prospect of having to fight her Guard with only his seax and no shield or armour did not fill him with hope. Dunstan thought that in that case Wulfhere would have to accept the current circumstances and that he would have to wait for any news after Uthric had finished talking with Meire. Dunstan said that he was also not keen to force the issue with the Guard. Wulfhere took the boys downstairs to the tavern and bought food and ale. As they sat waiting on the outcome of Uthric’s conversation with Meire, Hrothgar asked if he could ask Wulfhere a question. When Wulfhere said that he thought he might be able to cope with one question, Hrothgar said he would like to know if his father could burst into flames like his mother and wondered if it was something he was also supposed to do also. Wulfhere was not sure what Hrothgar was talking about but he reassured him that people generally didn't go on fire and his opinion on the matter was that Hrothgar had no need to burst into flames. Meire told Uthric the tale of her understanding of events. She explained that she had accompanied Ealhwyn at Sæberht's request to meet with the various petty-kings of the East Saxons throughout Mierce. Sæberht and Ealhwyn had hoped to forge alliances of the small kingdoms against the larger predatory Kings. Not only were the Britons a constant enemy, Guercha One-eye was pushing west again, hoping to gain control of lands his men had lost seven summers ago. In the west, Aelle was trying to gain influence on the lands north of the Tamyse and had established his forces at Aeglesburgh. The view was that he wanted more land to claim the Brytenwealda. People of Mierce were also concerned about Cerdic's motivation and his plans for Mierce. Ealhwyn had brought Sæberht's message to Wæcla. She had intended to travel on to meet with Iota, Cyning of the Chilternsæte, after delivering the message, but had delayed as she was enjoying the company of Wæcla. Ealhwyn’s plans were in disarray when Wæcla was then poisoned at his own feast. He had been sitting alone with Ealhwyn, having dismissed his Þegns so he could talk in private with her. Ealhwyn was the only person near Wæcla and Iænbeorht had found a bottle containing hemlock in her rooms when she was arrested after Wæcla had collapsed. However, Meire said she did not believe Ealhwyn would poison him. She had no reason to do so as Ealhwyn was convinced it would be better that a strong King like Wæcla was an ally rather than dead or an enemy. Besides Meire thought that they may have been lovers. She told Uthric that Wæcla had many enemies and any of them could be responsible for the poisoning. She had tried to seek otherworld help but could get no clear understanding of what had happened. She had discovered the source of the poison, hemlock, had been harvested in the north woods. She told Uthric she would not leave until she proved Ealhwyn innocent and she was released. Meire then informed Uthric that she fully expected him to help her and as a penance for leaving her alone for so long. Uthric had not said anything during Meire's explanation. He said he thought he had no choice other than help Meire in her task. However, he said that he might like to know who her strange guard was. Meire said that this was easily cleared up unlike the mystery of the poisoning as the guard was her brother Horith. Her other brother was Ardreth and he was guarding Ealhwyn. Uthric did not come back down to the main room in the tavern so Wulfhere had to pay for sleeping areas in the common room for himself, Dunstan and Uthric's children, Hrothgar and Sigebeorht. Dunstan was annoyed that Uthric had left them to look after his children but Wulfhere said that Uthric had been separated from Meire for almost two years and they needed some time together. In the morning Uthric joined them in the common room. Uthric told them of the discussion with Meire and their need to free Ealhwyn. He thought they could complete the task by making an assault on Ealhwyn’s prison and free her before escaping. Wulfhere said that violence was only one option. He felt it might be better to speak with Wæcla first and thought that there may be some merit in discussion. Wæcla had not harmed Ealhwyn which might mean many things but he clearly was either afraid to kill her or he did not believe her guilt. Dunstan said that they could look in the north woods. He reminded them Meire had said that the hemlock came from the north woods. He thought it might be useful to look to see what they could find. Uthric took Hrothgar and Sigebeorht back to Meire and told her they would go into the north woods. Meire told them that they should look for a lightening-struck oak that looked like a troll. They went first to Wæcla's Hall to talk with Iænbeorht. As they approached him he was talking intimately to a well-dressed noble woman. Dunstan thought that it was Iænbeorht's wife and was surprised that when the woman was introduced the was the Cyninge, Brithwen. Wulfhere chose to ignore the intimate exchange and introduced himself and his brothers to Brithwen. Brithwen made polite conversation and asked their business in Verulamacæster. Wulfhere said they had been looking for Uthric's wife who he had unfortunately lost and had been looking for her for over a year. Brithwen asked Uthric if he had found her to which Uthric replied that he was pleased to report that he had. Wulfhere decided that Uthric might say something about Meire as he sensed that she had not been popular in the Hall and even somewhat feared. He asked Iænbeorht when Wæcla was due back as he wished to talk to him before they went back south. Iænbeorht thought he should be back tomorrow but at the latest in the morning of the second day to attend the Cyningmoot. Wulfhere said that he would go hunting and they heard that the north woods had some wild boar. He wished both a good day and left. Dunstan wondered if Iænbeorht and Brithwen were having a relationship. Wulfhere said that it certainly looked like it and thought that Iænbeorht may have tried to get rid of Wæcla to be with Brithwen. Uthric said that was unlikely. He said he would be astonished if any woman chose Iænbeorht. After some hours of searching they found a lightening-struck oak that resembled a gnarled troll. They found evidence that someone had dug up hemlock plants and Dunstan found a blue thread from a cloak caught in a bush. Wulfhere thought they might have some evidence to find out who made the poison. Uthric said he thought they had found something but that it was not real evidence. He asked them to consider how many people had blue cloaks and did it really have any significance that someone had dug up hemlock plants. He thought that while someone digging up hemlock might not be a common event it was not in itself suspicious. He pointed out neither event might have any connection to the poisoning of Wæcla. Wulfhere said he agreed with Uthric and that they needed to be careful about drawing conclusions and making allegations as they were strangers in this land. Uthric said that he should never have agreed to help Ealhwyn and the sooner they left this land the better. He said he was not hopeful. While Uthric and Wulfhere were discussing their problems and feeling sorry for themselves, Dunstan had been looking at the soft ground and found a set of small human foot prints. He suggested that his brothers might be better employed helping him follow the tracks. He thought that maybe in doing so they might be able to put to rest the question if the things they had found are connected with the poisoning of Wæcla. Uthric and Wulfhere agreed and praised him for his efforts. It did not take that long until they came across a clearing that had a small moss-covered dwelling. An old wizened woman was tending an open fire over which a small cauldron was bubbling. She looked up and greeted the men. Wulfhere introduced himself but almost immediately recoiled from the overpowering smell coming from her. He gathered himself and resisted the urge to vomit and asked her if she lived alone in the woods. The woman named herself as Háthygge and said that she lived alone in the woods by choice. She said no one was really interested in an old woman, living alone without any wealth. She said people found her useful as she was excellent at brewing potions and asked if they had perhaps come to buy a potion from her. Wulfhere said they were more interested in the potions she may have made recently rather than ones she might still have. Uthric said they were interested in anyone who might have bought a hemlock potion strong enough to kill a man. Háthygge said there had indeed been such a man who had bartered for such a potion. He had offered her gold but she had not been interested. She told them gold only attracted bandits and neither the birds that gave her eggs or the bees that give her honey accepted gold as fair exchange of goods. Dunstan said that he had not thought of bartering goods with animals before now and despite his interest in such deals, he was actually presently more interested in who the man was. Háthygge said that unfortunately she could not tell him a name for the man but she could tell them that he did offer two excellently made small cauldrons which she accepted as payment. She broke off the conversation to point out the bubbling cauldron over the fire and suddenly left to go into her dwelling and quickly returned with another similar cauldron. She invited them to inspect it and admire its quality. Uthric said he could appreciate the quality workmanship but wondered if she might describe the man who gave her the wonderful set of cauldrons. Háthygge said that she had not much to tell about him other than he wore a hooded cloak and his hands were stained black. She did think it was odd at the time but had not thought to ask him how he had got black hands. Wulfhere asked if the man's cloak was blue and he took the blue thread from his pouch to show her. Háthygge said that the man had in fact worn a brown cloak but she thought that the thread might be from her best cloak if they were interested in that. She went back into her dwelling and showed them a threadbare blue cloak that had been patched and sewn where the weave had come undone. Wulfhere thanked her for her information and Uthric was moved to give her his own cloak which he thought might keep her warmer than her old cloak. Háthygge said she was grateful for Uthric’s gift and asked if they were sure they did not want to buy potions. All of them respectfully declined. On the way back to Verulamacæster they discussed how this information might be of help but none of them could come up with any clear way forward other than they were looking for a man with black hands. Dunstan said he had not yet noticed anyone with black hands in Verulamacæster but at least it was something positive. Wulfhere said their current information was that they had connected the buying of poison with the brown cloaked man and that he had black hands. He wondered why someone might have black hands but could not think of any reason. Uthric said that he had been thinking about small cauldrons like the ones given to Háthygge and he thought they were unusual. Most people bought larger cooking cauldrons and the smaller ones seemed to be specialist in design. He thought it might be useful to ask some of the blacksmiths who might have made them and if anyone had bought two recently. It was late when they got back and when they went to the Kings Hall they found out Wæcla had returned earlier that day but had retired early. Uthric was frustrated. He said he wanted to sort this mystery out, take Meire and return home before the weather became too difficult to travel. Wulfhere said that they were now on a course and they would need to follow it to its end if they were to get home. The next day they attended the Moot. People had come from all over the Kingdom seeking justice from Wæcla. Some had not had satisfaction at either the Þegns or Ealdorman's courts and had appealed to the King. Others had issue with Wæcla's judgements and thought they could get him to reconsider. The Hrothgarsons were impressed with Wæcla who seem to know his people and they also thought his judgments were fair. Dunstan thought this was the kind of place he would like to live. Wulfhere said that many of the Kingdoms problems arose from refugees from wars or people who had been displaced and come north. Some of them were settlers from Saxony who had arrived by boat. He also thought that while many of the judgements were for the benefit of the majority of the people, they also increased the dissatisfaction of some powerful people. He pointed out that Sperling, the Miller, was aggrieved at having to pay the King two sacks of flour for every ten sacks milled. Wæcla had pointed out that many of the new arrivals did not have enough food for the winter and he was building stocks so that he could feed hungry refugees but it increased the hostility of Sperling the Miller. Wulfhere said that there were probably more millers who felt as angry as Sperling. The Cloth merchant, Hwætmund was also angry that Wæcla had set the price for cloth and did not allow him to overcharge. Wæcla told Hwætmund that if more people survived the winter rather than freezing to death then he would be able to sell more cloth in the future to more people. Wulfhere thought Hwætmund was not that interested in future profit and that he remained angry. Uthric said that he would be more concerned that Seirhead the Chief Huscarl was at odds with Wæcla over how to deal with the iron miners that they had discovered working in the Chiltern hills. Seirhead had wanted to raid and kill the miners whereas Wæcla wanted to incorporate the miners into his Kingdom and then tax them in iron. Wæcla had pointed out that the kingdom could do with its own source of iron and he was pretty sure Seirhead or the Huscarls were not skilled in extracting iron from the Chiltern hills. Uthric thought that Wæcla’s views only seemed to enrage Seirhead. Seirhead had countered that the Huscarls had not had any chance to fight and they were grumbling about not getting much wealth from raids because of Wæcla’s peaceful attitude to everyone. Uthric said they should be aware that some of the Huscarls seemed to support Seirhead rather than Wæcla. He also thought it might increase the level of aggression over the winter if the Huscarls had been unemployed over the summer seasons. The farmers preferred peace and security but the Huscarls liked conflict because it brought them wealth and renown. They might end up fighting each other. Two leæches, Snyring and Nægel, had complained about the presence of Christians in the city. They objected that Wæcla tolerated them both as Britons and importantly they worshiped another god. Nægel said that the local spirits were angry and hard to placate because of the presence of the Christian shrine. Snyring said that it would probably satisfy the spirits and gods if they were to sacrifice the priest, Bairre, to Thunor. Wæcla said that in his opinion one god was the same as another. He thought the Leæches needed to accept that people can choose what god they worshiped and, in his opinion, it did not matter if it was Thunor, Woden or the White Christ. Uthric had felt it was important to stand and up and ask to speak on his experiences of Christians. He introduced himself to Wæcla who then gave him permission to speak. Uthric spoke passionately about the wars that the followers of the Christian god had caused in Dumnonia. He said that they had fought against their own king and Cerdic and Aelle had almost overrun Dumnonia because of their treachery. He said it was his opinion that the Christians were never satisfied and if they increased in number then they would want to eliminate anyone who worshipped different gods. He said that it might be in Wæcla's best interests to expel the priest now. Wæcla thanked Uthric for his views and said that he would talk about this later with him. After Uthric had spoken, Nægel and Snyring came to talk to him. They said they liked his views on Christians as it was in alignment with their own thoughts. They thought that Uthric and his brothers, if they held the same views, might like him to come to their dwelling and talk with another leæch called Dunric who had similar ideas on how to deal with Christians. Uthric said that he had met Dunric several times and that he did not have a high opinion of him. He thought Dunric might have a similar view of the Hrothgarsons as they had not been friends in the past. Nægel said that Dunric would not take offence about the past and he should come as requested. When the Moot finished the Hrothgarsons decided to take a walk around the walls of the City to discuss what they had observed and heard. Dunstan said that the prime suspect had to be Dunric. He noted that Dunric always caused trouble wherever he went and he for one would not be surprised if he was behind poisoning Wæcla. They should remember what he had done to Tadda. Wulfhere said that there were many people who had issues with Wæcla and after the Moot the list of suspects with a motive had got longer. He thought that they now needed to talk to Wæcla to discuss the matters with him. (1) Gerēfa1 is a Steward or King’s Reeve (2) Drýicge2 is a witch or sorceress
  3. Taxes, Re-building and the Ale of Alnoth Wulfhere decided that when he returned he would travel his lands to see what changes had occurred over the year. He was met by delegation after delegation of Farmers on his travels. Many complained that there had been a bad growing season due to adverse weather conditions and many of the crops had rotted in the fields which left them with little surplus to pay their rents for the year. Others said that they had been forced by Aldfrid the Hlafweard1 to work on the fortifications at Pontes and they had not enough people to work on their fields and their farms had suffered. All the farmers said that they felt that they had been unable to complain to Wulfhere because he had been absent at wars or on business of his own. They wondered if the Ealdorman and their Þegns were absent who they should make a complaint to when they wanted a reduction in their rents similar to the last year. Wulfhere said he would take their suggestions under consideration and would look into their circumstances but he told them he would not make a decision immediately but he would give the farmers an answer in a few days when he called a Moot. Wulfhere told his brothers of the farmers requests. Dunstan was annoyed by the request for half rent. He felt the farmers wanted to have their Solmonath Honey cakes and eat them too. Uthric said that there had not been a good crop this year. He told them that he had seen for himself that heavy rain had rotted a lot of the crops in the fields and a lot of the grain had been contaminated with a white blight. He told that one of his farmers, a man called Heahmund, had gone mad after eating the grain and his family had become sick and been lucky to survive. Wulfhere asked Uthric to check what the surplus would be and they would make a decision about rents. He thought that if there was genuine hardship then it was reasonable to reduce the rents. Uthric said he agreed that the rents should be reduced as it was always more useful to have live farmers who would pay future rents rather than dead ones who might be impossible to get anything from. Cwen asked Wulfhere if he was agreeable to let her learn how to use weapons. She told him that she would never again let a man hold her as a chattel and she wanted to learn how to protect herself. Wulfhere said that it should be up to her what she wanted to do. In his view, she was now a free woman and the daughter of a former Ealdorman. He said he had realised how much she had been misused by other powerful men and it might be a good idea to learn how to protect herself. Cwen said she was grateful and accepted that she did not need to ask his permission but she thought she should ask him none-the-less in case he thought it odd that she was practicing with a spear. Dunstan had been set the task of reviewing the defences in Pontes. He was concerned about the lack of effort in building the palisade and asked Aldfrid, his Hlafweard, to account for the inaction. Aldfrid said that he had discovered that his task had been made harder because it was clear that there were two distinct groups in the districts. There were those that came from the old families who had lived in the area for several generations and then there were the newcomers. The newcomers focus had been in trying to set up their farms and produce enough food to feed their families. They had not seen the point in building defences if their families starved to death. He had got little support from them in the building. The older families had sent people to work on the defences but there were never enough of them and work proceeded slowly. Dunstan was not happy with his response and told Aldfrid that he might consider a new Hlafweard if the situation did not improve. Cwen had been listening to Dunstan’s conversation with Aldfrid and thought this was an old argument that Dunstan would lose every time. She told him he needed to look at the problem afresh and that maybe he should suggest to Wulfhere that they seek woodwrights and stonemasons and pay them to construct the defences. She said that she intended to travel to Wincen Cæster and the thought it might be a good idea to call on Cerdic as she believed he owed her a debt for his previous behaviour. Dunstan then spoke to Wulfhere and got him to agree that he would pay for wrights or masons. He said that Cwen was going to Wincen Cæster and had offered to hire the men for the task of building the defences. Æthlind, who had become friendly with Cwen, said that she and Cwen would take charge of getting the defences and Þegn's hall built as it was clear that none of the brothers had been able to organise anything significant. Cwen said that she remembered that Hildegard always used to say that it was better to not let the brothers make plans as they were not that good at arranging things on time. Dunstan said he thought that this was unfair but Cwen asked him how long they had been planning and trying to build the palisade and their Halls. Neither Dunstan nor Wulfhere had an answer for her. Beorthric and Hildegard arrived before the Horvert feast. They brought the brothers’ siblings Egfryd, Idris and Sigtrygg north also. Egfryd was now a man of 16 summers and he had been apprenticed to a Blacksmith in Cissa Cæster. Dunstan, who had always cared for Egfryd since they found him hiding from the Bannucmann in a shearing pit, made sure that he got work with the local blacksmith, Ceadda, to continue his training. Idris was now a young woman of 15 summers and was following Hildegard in her ability to organise people and tell them where they were going wrong in their lives. Hildegard said that she thought Idris would have excellent prospects for her future if she continued to learn from her mother. Dunstan wondered if he should perhaps take Idris under his wing in the same way he had helped Egfryd. However, he decided against it when Idris asked him why he had not yet managed to build his Hall yet, thinking that his task to reform Idris might not be successful. Sigtrygg was 17 summers and had been training as a warrior. Wulfhere invited him to join his household which Sigtrygg said he would be pleased to do so. Beorthric also brought over 100 sheep along with the shepherds who looked after them. Beorthric was keen to get good grazing land but the farmers were concerned the sheep would ruin their crops. Beorthric resolved the problem by offering to slaughter 50 of the sheep and hold a grand feast to feed the whole district. The farmers thought this was an excellent idea and fully supported Beorthric’s plans. Hildegard said that they hoped to recruit women for their weaving sheds to produce cloth for the next year and she would talk to them at the Hærfestlic2. Wulfhere allocated Beorthric land and Beorthric then hired men to build sheds for his wool. Hildegard talked at length with Offa. She told him she had heard that he made excellent ale and wondered if he would be prepared to brew enough ale for Beorthric's feast at the Hærfestlic. Offa said that he would be glad to help out as he appeared to have time on his hands however, he doubted that there would be enough barley available to make ale due to the poor harvest. Hildegard said that she thought that problem would be easy to overcome as Beorthric would buy enough barley to make ale for the feast. Offa said in that case he thought that if Beorthric could manage to get the barley on time then he would be able to make good enough ale for the feast. Wulfhere agreed with his brothers that they would again reduce the farmers’ rents by half. He told the farmers that the reason for the poor harvests was that they had perhaps neglected to perform the Haerfestlic rituals correctly. He told them that they may have neglected the beating of the grain to make sure the evil spirits were chased off. He informed them that this year the last grains harvested would be collected and the grain would be beaten in the time-honoured way to chase out the Blight wóddréam3 and to ensure a good harvest for next year. Wulfhere appointed trusted men to gather the last grain for he thought the hungry farmers would try to conceal the grain to eat it. He asked Hereweard to oversee the ritual to ensure it was done correctly. He told the farmers that while their rents would be reduced by half again this year, he expected full rents would be re-instated the next year. Tathere asked Wulfhere if the fishermen would also benefit from a reduction in rents but Wulfhere said he did not feel this was necessary. He said that as the fishermen had not presented a case to either him or his brothers as to why the rents should be reduced. Tathere said that he felt that the fishermen were always singled out and they had to bear the brunt of the farmers inadequacy. Dunstan, who felt strong antipathy to Tathere for his part in the FisċgúÞ, had to be restrained by Uthric. Uthric said that Dunstan needed to be careful about singling out the fishermen as they were needed, particularly when food was short. Dunstan said that he would be calm but muttered under his breath and he gave Tathere dark looks. He told Uthric that he had no longer any stomach for smoked eels. Wulfhere made a grand speech to the farmers in which he told them that in order to protect themselves, they needed to establish strong defences, grow enough crops and establish their herds. Dunstan thought these three points were a useful motto for the people of the districts to remember and he repeated them often to his farmers. Uthric spoke with Wulfhere about Lucnot. He was of the opinion Lucnot had either suffered too much in his captivity or an déaþscufa had settled in his soul. Wulfhere said that it would be better to send him to Orin. At least he would be with his own people and not likely to kill any Saxons in a fit of rage. Uthric said he would be happy to take Lucnot and make sure he was settled with the Atrebates. He said he intended to settle a sum of silver on Lucnot to help him build a farm. Wulfhere thought it might be good if Uthric also took his sons to Tadda to foster as at present he did not have much time to be a father and he thought young Wulfhere and Offa would benefit from being with Tadda. Uthric said he would be happy to arrange it and he thought Tadda would be honoured by the task. Cwen overheard Hildegard discussions with Offa about ale. She said she thought it would be an excellent opportunity if Offa set up a brewery for his ale. She had been thinking that South Pontes needed to establish a regular market as it was ideally placed between Cerdic's lands and Mierce to the north. If the peace held with Aelle, they might also attract traders from Hrof’s lands. Wulfhere said that he agreed with the idea of a market and that if successful would bring more people and power under his control. He said he thought that he could support Cwen in her venture. Uthric said that Beorthric was likely to have cloth next year that needed to be sold so if they could establish a regular market it would bring in more silver. Offa thought he might like the idea of setting up a brewery. In truth he was enamoured with Cwen and as Dunstan pointed out to Uthric when they were travelling to Calleva that he believed Offa would have followed her to Nastrønd if she had asked him. Uthric was of the opinion that Cwen had her eye on Wulfhere but Wulfhere for whatever reason seemed oblivious to her. Dunstan said that Cwen was the second most beautiful woman in the district as his wife, Æthlind, outshone her in every aspect. Uthric ignored Dunstan and his views as he knew that his own opinion would likely to start another dispute and he was weary of endless discussions about wives. It just reminded him he had not yet found Meire. At the Hærfestlic, Beorthric and Hildegard had spoken to the woman of the district about making cloth. Many of the women were keen to be involved but none wanted to work in the sheds Beorthric intended to build. They told him that they needed to be on their own farms dealing with the day-to-day business. Hildegard came up with a compromise by suggesting the woman could work in their own dwellings and when they have made the wool into thread they could bring it to the weaving sheds where it would be made into cloth. The women were pleased with the suggestion and a bargain was struck. After Hærfestlic, Cwen, Æthlind and Offa left to go to Wincen Cæster. Cwen told Wulfhere she was confident that Cerdic would give her the things they needed. Wulfhere said that he wasn't so sure that Cerdic would be so helpful, but he was impressed in her confidence on the matter. Uthric was keen to get to Colnacæster to find Meire. They intended to travel through Lundenwic and then on to the land of the Upplingas. Uthric said that they could get information from the merchants in Lundenwic to find out which way to travel as they were unsure which road to take to Colnacæster. Uthric was keen to take the horses but Wulfhere worried that they might be a target for thieves. Dunstan said that he thought they could deal with any bandits and as they were both well-armed and looked dangerous, he did not feel that anyone would attack them. Wulfhere remained reluctant but was swayed by Uthric who thought it was important to travel as fast as possible before the weather got worse and the winter came. When they arrived in Lundenwic they found that a fire had destroyed most of the buildings. The burnt area was still visible but it did not look as if it had been a violent destruction. The Way station was still in use as it was built by the Romans and stood on its own surrounded by the burnt land. The roof was newly thatched, suggesting although it might have also been burnt but the Roman built stone walls had survived. Uthric asked one of the gate guards what had happened. The guard told them there had been a fire in one of the houses that had spread throughout the closely built dwellings. Some of the people who survived left and went north. Others built their homes in the new settlement. Dunstan thought Lundenwic was much diminished from the last time they were there. It was more squalid and smelt worse. Wulfhere asked if the settlement was still ruled by the Angles but the guard told them that it was a free settlement and owned no allegiance to any lord. The Angles had been displaced by the Upplingas and Hæferingas but neither were interested in Lundenwic and left it alone. The guard said that if they were looking for a lord they should talk to the Merchants who were always keen for Spearmen to help guard their goods. Wulfhere said that they were passing through and were only interested in food and somewhere safe to sleep. The guard directed them to the Inn in the Way station. Uthric asked the Merchants in the Inn if they remembered a woman called Ealhwyn. One of the merchants remembered that a noble woman fitting her description had come through Lundenwic just over half a moon ago and said she was going to Colnacæster. He remembered her because she had not been pleasant to deal with and had made many unreasonable demands. Uthric asked if the Merchant remembered a woman called Meire and said she had a green tinge around her temples. The merchant laughed and said he might have remembered a woman such as that, however, there was no such woman with Ealhwyn's party. Uthric said to his brothers that he was worried that they might again be disappointed in their search. Dunstan said that he felt he could remain hopeful as they would at least hear some information when they found Ealhwyn but Uthric said he had a bad feeling about the future and that he was not sure he would ever find Meire. Wulfhere said that he and Dunstan would support Uthric until he decided that there was no hope. Uthric said he thought that time might be near. In the morning they left Lundenwic and they all felt better. Dunstan said that the smell in the air was bad and he thought that maybe the newer settlement was built on marshes. Wulfhere said that someone should take charge of the place and develop it properly. Uthric thought that if it were not for the bridge over the Tamyse, no-one would even bother to live there. He pointed out that it was a day’s journey at least from the sea and it would be better for trading ships to go to Hrofnacæster or Anderida. He was also sure there were easier ports to access in the Angle lands to the north. As they travelled northeast, the weather got worse. Often, they travelled in heavy rain but were able to find places to stay either at Way stations or at farms that served the Roman road to Colnacæster. They stayed a night and a day at Celmeresfort and another at Mældun because the weather was so bad. The people they talked to were known in the south as East Saxons but they identified themselves by tribes such as Hæmelingas, the Denge or the Hæferingas. Wulfhere wondered were all these people had come from. When he asked them, they said they had recently arrived and they had been so many they were able to push the Angles north and hold the lands against any retaliatory Angle incursions. Wulfhere was impressed and he guessed that Guercha One-eye was not having it all his own way. Eventually they arrived at Colnacæster. The city had been built by the Romans and many of the Roman buildings still stood and were occupied by the Upplingas for as Wulfhere noted they did not appear to suffer the usual Saxon concern that the old buildings were full of ghosts. The Upplingas King was Sæberht and he was Ealhwyn’s mother’s brother’s son. The Hrothgarsons were impressed by Saeberht’s palace which stood at the centre of the old city and was the grandest building they had ever seen. There were strange animals painted on the walls or on the stone floor and they wondered if creatures such as that still lived in these parts. Uthric said that it might be dangerous to stay in the open as he was not sure if you could kill creatures like that with iron. Dunstan said cold iron was as good as anything for killing weargas. They asked if they could speak with King Sæberht but were told that he had gone to see a ship docked at Old Hythe, the port where goods were landed for Colnacæster. Wulfhere thought they should go to Hythe but one of the warriors, who named himself as Ingweald said the king would return before nightfall and they were likely to have a wasted journey. Uthric asked about Ealhwyn and Ingweald said he thought she might be with the King as she was close kin. He said she had arrived some weeks ago and the King had spent three days talking to her in his private chambers. Ingweald thought that the King was planning some special event which he thought could mean war after the Spring planting. In Ingweald’s opinion, that would be a good thing as there would be silver and glory for all who wanted it. Ingweald was of the view that if they wanted to join as Sæberht’s oath warriors they had come at the right time. Uthric said that in other circumstances he might consider the offer but he was looking for his wife. Ingweald said that it was odd that Uthric had come to Colnacæster to find a wife. He agreed that the women of the Upplingas were the most beautiful but was surprised that Uthric could not find a woman who would be willing to marry him in his own land. He didn’t think Uthric looked that bad and he was richly dressed and looked like he could handle himself in a fight. Uthric said that he had come to find his wife who had been taken from him and he had hoped to find out from Ealhwyn where she might be. Ingweald said he was sorry he had misunderstood but Uthric's accent was hard to understand. He thought as way of compensation that they should try some of Alnoth's apple ale. He believed that it was possibly the best tasting ale he had ever had the pleasure of drinking. Dunstan said that he felt he could not pass up such a treat if it was good as Ingweald had attested. Wulfhere said that he too had a sudden thirst and that he would hate to have been in Colnacæster and left without trying Alnoth's ale. Uthric said that he might try a small amount because he wanted to speak urgently to Sæberht and being drunk was probably not a good thing when asking a King for favours. Wulfhere and Dunstan said that they could leave the asking of favours to Uthric and that they would be more than happy to give an opinion on the ale. The King did not come back until after dark and he only briefly came into the Hall to greet his warriors. Uthric did not have time to introduce himself. He said to his brothers that he had a bad feeling about this. Not only was he unable to speak to the King but he would not be able to indulge himself in Alnoth's ale for fear of being unable to speak sensibly to the King in the morning. Neither Wulfhere or Dunstan could open their eyes fully the next morning. Wulfhere remarked the light seemed to be stronger in the north and the birdsong louder. Dunstan said he had to agree with Wulfhere but he thought that this effect might have been caused by Alnoth’s ale. He noted that he had been able to learn the local Saxon dialect quickly because after five horns of ale he had found that he and Ingweald could understand each other perfectly. He wondered if the ale allowed easier learning of other languages. Uthric had meantime presented himself to Sæberht and explained his request. Sæberht said that Uthric spoke well and he was moved by his plea. Uthric was disappointed to learn the Ealhwyn was no long in Colnacæster but Sæberht was able to tell him that Meire had been with Ealhwyn and that she was well. Uthric asked the King if he could tell him where he could find Ealhwyn because he was keen to be reunited with Meire as soon as possible. Sæberht told him that Ealhwyn had gone to visit King Weacla in Veralamacæster. Uthric thanked him for the information and asked which way he would travel to get to Veralamacæster. Sæberht told him to return to Lundenwic and then travel northwest along the Roman road. Uthric wanted to set out immediately but Wulfhere said that he needed to clear his head first by dipping it in a cold stream. Dunstan was little better than Wulfhere and equally reluctant to leave just at that moment but when Uthric threatened to go by himself they packed their things and left with him. Uthric said they needed to move quickly. He noted that the year was near its ending and the weather might take a turn for the worse so as not to allow travel. (1) Hlafweard is a steward (2) Haerfestlic is the Harvest festival. A feast is held to celebrate the bringing in of the harvest. The last grain harvested holds a spirit. The grain is beaten to chase the spirit out before being planted again where the seeds will be sown in the next sowing season, thus blessing the crop. (3) Wóddréam. An evil spirit
  4. Restoration and Divorce It took a week to travel from Anderida to Hrofnacæster. The Hrothgarsons had travelled along the Roman road using Way stations or staying at Steadings along the way. Northern Ceint was rich and fertile. Ruins of Roman houses were everywhere. Some had been scavenged for stone and others were intact apart from the roofs which had fallen in. Dunstan thought of himself as a builder and he was intrigued to see how the Romans had built their farms and dwellings. He discussed it with his brothers and Uthric pointed out that and seemed obvious to the Romans, withy making was not the height of building and Dunstan might want to stick to being a Þegn. As they approached Hrofnacæster they could see the still extant Roman walls surrounding the Old Roman fort and dwellings that guarded the stone bridge over the river Meduwaen which flowed into the sea. On the shoreline they could see two armies drawn up for battle. The larger army had the smaller army trapped against the shore. None of the Hrothgarsons could conceive why a battle was being fought in Ceint but they went to the top of a low hill to get a better view and to wait for the inevitable outcome. Wulfhere thought the smaller force did well to stand up to the larger one for so long but their Shieldwall was breached and the battle was suddenly over, ending in rout and slaughter for the smaller force. Uthric could see that the larger victorious Army had howling black wolves on their shields and he told his brothers they were Hrof's men. He said he had no idea who their opponents were. Dunstan was concerned that war had broken out again between Cerdic and Aelle but Wulfhere said that was unlikely. Some of the merchants they had met on the road would have told them if the situation had changed. He thought it more likely that the defeated army were raiders and probably Angles. They sat and waited for something to happen. None of them thought it was a good idea to approach the battlefield as strangers in case they were accused of belonging to the smaller army. The wait was not long. They had been seen and a party of ten warriors were sent to find out who they were. The leader of the warriors introduced himself as Baldthryth Siferthson and asked why they were sitting on a hill, armed for war. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers and told Baldthryth they had come to seek counsel from Hrof. Baldthryth apologised for not recognising Wulfhere. He explained he had been at the Battle of Dunum and had been with the Aethling Stuf when he had relieved Wulfhere's small force that had been holding the gate. He told Wulfhere that he had stood behind him in the Shieldwall in the latter part of the battle. Wulfhere said his memory was not what it was in his youth and besides he had been facing forward in the battle owing to the amount of Dumnonians trying to kill him. He said he had not thought at the time to look behind him. Baldthryth laughed at Wulfhere's comments and welcomed them to Hrofnacæster. Wulfhere said that he was interested the Baldthryth was now Hrof’s man having so recently fought for Stuf. Baldthryth said that he had come to Hrofnacæster because of a woman and joked why else would anyone choose to uproot and travel across the country. He said that besides that, Hrof was an excellent Lord and rewarded those who were loyal to him. He brought the Hrothgarsons to Hrof's hall and got the servants to give them food and drink after their journey. Baldthryth told them that Hrof would be some time. He was seeing to the wounded and hearing the deeds of those of his men who had died in the fight. Wulfhere said that they were in no hurry to leave since they had only got here and the ale was of such good quality to make a person want to wait longer. Dunstan asked if he could have a bowl of porridge from one of the servants. He said that he had not had a decent bowl of porridge for several weeks and his mouth was beginning to water at the thought of one. He then started an argument with Uthric about whether the porridge should be salted or honey should be added. The argument was still going on when Hrof arrived and he thought that he would give his opinion and sided with Uthric in that adding honey was best. Dunstan who had been arguing for salt was silenced for the first time in weeks. Wulfhere wondered if they shouldn't stay longer at Hrof's hall as he enjoyed the momentary peace and quiet. Hrof was a huge man although he was well into middle age. He explained he was in an agreeable mood since he had just defeated several boatloads of Angle raiders and captured their boats. He also had taken some prisoners and after they were questioned he would have them executed to deter future raiders from coming. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers and Hrof said that he had heard some of their exploits from Baldthryth. He told them there would be a victory feast that night and he thought that it might be interesting to hear Wulfhere's view of the Battle of Dunum. Wulfhere said that he would be glad to tell the tale for it had been an interesting battle. Hrof was interrupted by one of the servants who told him that the prisoners had been questioned and that they would be executed soon. Hrof asked the Hrothgarsons to join him in watching the prisoners’ deaths. He explained that they would be beheaded for although the crime of raiding was one where the perpetrators should be hung as lowly criminals, Hrof’s view was that they were still warriors and should die like warriors. Dunstan was looking at the line of prisoners when he recognised Offa Pendason who they had met at Danasted and who had thrown an anvil at the Bannucmann, precipitating his timely demise. Dunstan told Wulfhere and Uthric that the man near the end was their friend, Offa. Uthric thought Offa might be more grumpy than usual as he was about to lose his head but that they should seek to help him to keep him in a better mood. Wulfhere was worried about approaching Hrof with such a request as he was not sure what his standing with Hrof actually was. Uthric suggested that he offer wergild for Offa's life. Dunstan said that they better act quickly as Offa was almost at the front of the queue to face the axe wielding executioner. He did wonder how Offa might react to being saved from death when his comrades were to die. Wulfhere talked to Hrof and told him that the tall prisoner in the line was their friend and he wanted to ask Hrof if he could buy the man's life. Hrof was intrigued how Wulfhere might be friends with an Angle raider but he stopped the executions to allow Wulfhere to state his case. Wulfhere briefly told Hrof that Offa had been instrumental in helping put their father's spirit to rest and that he was sure Offa could give a good explanation as to why he was now in Ceint rather than Mierce. Hrof said that he would not usually grant clemency for raiders who he considered criminals but he knew that Wulfhere was a good man and could trust his judgement. Uthric and Dunstan were listening to Wulfhere and Hrof and both could not help but wonder if Hrof was not mixing their brother with another Wulfhere. However, they thought that questioning Hrof's judgement at this time might complicate matters, so they let it pass. Wulfhere and Hrof went to talk to Offa and Wulfhere offered him his life. Offa looked more grumpy than normal and said he was conflicted about what he should do. He thought it might be better for him to die with his comrades rather than be made a slave. Wulfhere said that was not his intention. Offa had helped both him and his brothers when they were in need and near death and they had fought and defeated the Bannucmann together. He thought that he should now return the favour for Offa. Offa asked Hrof if he could have some time to consider his options and decide what he should do. Hrof said that he was agreeable to wait until the rest of the raiders had been killed and then Offa needed to make a choice about whether he wanted to live or die. Offa thought this delay would be sufficient. Dunstan and Uthric took Offa aside and told him that he should chose life and come to Pontes with them unless he had a family he needed to return to. Offa said that he had nothing to return to in Mierce but wondered what his life would be like in Pontes. Uthric said that he would be a free man and they would ensure he was honoured. Offa thought this might be acceptable and when Hrof returned, Offa told him he chose to live. Wulfhere paid Hrof a wergild for Offa. He offered the wergild of a Þegn but Hrof accepted the wergild of a Carl. That night at the Feast, Dunstan told the story of the Bannucmann. Dunstan told the story with many flourishes and emphasised Offa's role in the death of the Bannucmann. Hrof's warriors wanted to see Offa throw an anvil and they all went outside. Offa was still a strong man but he only just managed to lift and throw the anvil. He apologised saying that as he got older his strength was slowly seeping away. However, when others tried to lift the anvil they found out how difficult it was. Offa discovered that his reputation went up and he was even seen by Uthric to be smiling during the rest of the feast. Hrof was delighted with the tale and gave the Hrothgarsons engraved silver capped drinking horns and he gave Offa some new clothes to replace his rather shabby clothing. Offa was pleased and Dunstan said to Uthric that he thought Offa looked less grumpy over the last day. Uthric thought that perhaps being saved from being beheaded might have cheered him up. In the morning they talked again with Hrof. They told him they were searching for their families and needed to go to Contaburgh to seek information. Dunstan said that he did not particularly blame Aelle for their predicament however he still harboured resentment towards Cerdic for not protecting his lands. Hrof thought that Dunstan might find life difficult if he voiced that sentiment in Cerdic's hearing. Wulfhere said that he was tired telling Dunstan that he needed to hold his tongue. Hrof said sometimes a warrior needed to say what was on his mind. He thought that they might like to return to him if they found life difficult under Cerdic. He said that he could not have enough men with good reputations. Hrof offered each brother two hydes of land if they would give him their oaths. Wulfhere said that this was a generous offer but they needed to find their families first and then decide their future. Uthric asked Hrof if he had news of his daughter, Ealhwyn. Hrof said that the last he knew was that she had rode north into Mierce with her household guard and he had not had any news from her since before the Dumnonian war, although he believed she might have visited her cousin on her mother’s side, Sigebeorht, King of Colnacæster. He thought she had had harsh words with the Aethling Wlencing and she was avoiding him. Uthric asked if Hrof had noticed Meire in her company but Hrof said he had not noticed her despite her unusual appearance and could not add anything to their current knowledge. They bade farewell to Hrof and travelled to Contaburgh. Dunstan wanted to why they were going back to Cerdic. He said that Hrof held his own lands and ruled them as he wanted. He thought that could have a good life in Ceint with Hrof if they accepted his offer. Uthric said that they had put a lot of work into the lands south of the Tamyse and he was loathe to give that up. Wulfhere said in his opinion that they needed to stop this conversation as his brothers needed to understand that their reputation depends on their loyalty to their Lord who, until they decide to give their oaths to someone else, remains Cerdic. Uthric said that Wulfhere was of course right and they should all keep their oaths to Cerdic, the Westseaxacyning. The Saxon settlement of Contaburgh was situated beside the old Roman city of Caer Ceint. Caer Ceint was said to have been abandoned since the Romans had left. The old city was now crumbling but there was still an impressive theatre and temple to the Roman War God. The local population avoided the ruins because they feared the ghosts of the city and the Roman god had a fearsome reputation. The Saxon settlement was less impressive and was ruled by an Ealdorman called Ermenred. The Hrothgarsons thought that it would be best to call with the Ealdorman. Wulfhere thought it might also be useful to get help from Ermenred and it was well known that Ermenred's ale was excellent. He thought after the journey they had that it would be good to sample it and give their opinion. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers. Ermenred was interested in their business and was amused that they were looking for their families, particularly since they had lost them in Aelle’s rampaging victory in the south. He said that he would be happy to give them lodging and he would give them whatever help they needed. Wulfhere thanked him and returned to one of the benches where his brothers had seated themselves. Uthric and Dunstan were discussing that they had seen Cwen in the hall. She seemed to have been well dressed so Uthric thought she had done well for herself. Dunstan was wondering what had happened to King Marc of Kernow’s bastard. Uthric said he thought that Dunstan may be trying to change the subject because Cwen was another woman Dunstan had rejected. Dunstan said he did not like to be reminded of this as it was a difficult time in his life. When Wulfhere joined them he thought that it would be best to talk to Cwen as she was likely to have some information on Gwenyth and Lucnot. Uthric attracted Cwen's attention and she came to the bench to greet them. Wulfhere said that she seemed to have done well and noted the gold and gems at her throat and gold on her arms. Cwen said that the gold meant nothing to her compared to happiness. Uthric asked her to sit with them but noticed she looked at the high table first before she sat down. Uthric tried to follow her gaze hut could see no reaction from the people gathered around the Ealdorman. Wulfhere asked Cwen for her news and she told them she was married to Ermenred. He said that he was surprised for he knew Cwen had been in Glawmæd when it was sacked and would have thought she had been made a slave. Cwen said that was exactly what happened but she had been freed by her uncle who was one of Aelle's Ealdorman having been given the title when his brother, Cwen's father had died. Wulfhere said that he had not been aware of Cwen's family connections as he had always thought of her as an orphan who had been sent to King Marc by Cerdic. Cwen acknowledged that had been true at the time but she had been nobly born. Uthric asked Cwen what had happened to Cwen's son by Marc. Cwen said he still lived and was a thriving boy of four summers. She had called him Tristan to annoy Marc because Tristan had been nice to her during her brief stay in Kernow. Dunstan said that they had come seeking news of their families. Cwen said that Dunstan will be glad to hear that Gwenyth is one of her servants and she has been kept safe. Dunstan asked after her and Cwen said she was well and had always believed that he would come for her. She said that his son Uthred, was also with her and he was well too. Dunstan was once again stuck for words and Uthric wondered aloud if there would be another night of heavy drinking complete with a troupe of dwarven smiths. Cwen brought Gwenyth to see Dunstan and she was overjoyed to see him. She told him she had prayed to all the gods for him to be safe and rescue her. Dunstan was overcome and could only mumble replies. Cwen sensed that something was not quite right and told Gwenyth to go back to her rooms and prepare to travel. She asked why Dunstan had such a poor reaction to his wife and when Dunstan did not reply Uthric spoke for him. Uthric told Cwen Dunstan had not expected to find her and had become betrothed to an Ealdorman's daughter. Cwen said that things were never simple and she suggested that all three join her in the Woman's Hall for the evening meal. Wulfhere asked if Ermenred would not mind but Cwen dismissed his concern and said that she might pay for it later but it would not matter in the end. Uthric said he did not understand what she meant but she did not answer and got up and joined her husband at the High Table. Dunstan said he was in shock. He now had a wife and was betrothed to Æthlind. Uthric said that Dunstan's problem was he always tried to do the right thing and ended up annoying everyone. Wulfhere asked Dunstan what he proposed to do. Dunstan said that he was married and that was where he should stay. He would just go home and not go back to Anderida. Uthric said that that would be unfair to Æthlind. Wulfhere reminded them that they had to go back to Anderida to get his children. He thought that Ælfrith would probably hear they had come back. Dunstan agreed and said he would have to visit Ælfrith and Æthlind and tell them he had made a mistake. He said that he needed to face this situation. He reminded himself that he had stood in many Shieldwalls and fought individual combats but was shaking because he had to tell a woman that he no longer wished to be betrothed. Uthric said that Dunstan should think carefully about his decision. Æthlind was rich, had status and would increase his renown whereas Gwenyth was a British woman with no family. Dunstan said that he felt it was his duty to stay with Gwenyth. Uthric wondered if Cwen had good ale because he felt it might be needed. When they arrived at the Woman's Hall they were surprised to find themselves dining alone with Cwen. Cwen said that she had a favour to ask them and Wulfhere said that if it was in their power they would try and do as she asked. Cwen told them that her marriage was unhappy and the wished to divorce Ermenred. She described him as a monster in the same vein as Marc of Kernow. Wulfhere said that he was sure that if he was as awful as she said, then she could divorce Ermenred according to the law. Cwen said that she was very aware what the law was but the difficulty was that she needed a witness to her proclamation of divorce and all the people who could uphold the proclamation were her husband’s men. They all feared Ermenred and would not agree to be a witness. Dunstan said that he would like to help but that as far as he was concerned, Cwen was married and she had made that choice. He felt she should make the best of it. Uthric said that they were strangers in Contaburgh and Cerdic's oath sworn warriors and had up until recently been at war with Aelle. He thought that there was no way to do this. Wulfhere said that they could not witness the divorce and that had to be the end of it. Cwen said that she could trade their help for information on where Lucnot was to be found. Uthric said that he had an obligation to help Lucnot who was his childhood friend. Wulfhere said this might make a difference but they would prefer to discuss it on their own. They bid farewell to Cwen and went back to a tavern where they could agree what to do in private. When they were alone Dunstan said that he could not see how they could help Cwen. Wulfhere said that they owed Ermenred no favours either and if he was a monstrous as Cwen said or worse than Marc of Kernow then it might be good to help. Uthric said that if he remembered correctly it had been Wulfhere that had let her on the boat when they were leaving Kernow. He thought that if Wulfhere had not done as he had advised him to do at the time, then they would not be in this mess. Uthric said he thought it was up to Wulfhere as the eldest brother and senior Þegn to make the decision. Dunstan still felt that there was no reason for them to be involved but agreed that he would abide by Wulfhere's decision. Wulfhere thought about it for a while in silence and then said to his brothers that he felt they would put their mission to find their families at risk if they helped Cwen. They all felt relieved by Wulfhere's decision and ordered some more ale. Uthric said that despite their decision he needed to find out if Lucnot was still alive and if so he was under obligation to help him. He reminded Wulfhere that Lucnot was also Wulfhere's former wife’s brother. Uthric said that he would go and see Cwen in the morning to convey their decision and to see if she would give him information on Lucnot. Uthric went to Ermenred's Hall where he asked where he might find Cwen. He was told she was in the Threshing Rooms supervising the separation of grain from the stalks and husks. Uthric waited until Cwen was available to talk with him. She suggested that they should walk and talk. Uthric told Cwen that he and his brothers had decided that they could not help her with her proclamation. Cwen was silent for a while and Uthric did not say anything either. Cwen turned to him and asked him directly to help her. She said she could no longer stay with Ermenred as he was a monster. Uthric groaned inwardly while remaining calm to outward appearances for he had a geas given to him by the dragon Níðhǫgg in that he could never refuse a request directly asked of him. He told Cwen that he was willing to help her and give his oath that he would do so or die trying. He said he would need to talk to his brothers about the details. He asked about Lucnot. Cwen told him that Lucnot was hiding in the old City having killed his Master. Cwen had been supporting him with food and clothing. Uthric asked if she could get a message to Lucnot so that when they left Contaburgh they could take Lucnot too. Cwen brought Uthric to meet a man, Mearcread, who she trusted to meet with Lucnot. Uthric gave him a message for Lucnot to arrange a meeting. Uthric then went back to his brothers and told them of the change of plan. Uthric said he thought he should tell Ermenred about what was going to happen. Wulfhere said that in his opinion Ermenred would not need to know and Wulfhere was not keen to tell him. He said that Ermenred could act in many different ways, but he feared that agreeing to the divorce peacefully would not be his chosen option. Dunstan said that sneaking around was not the Hrothgarson way of doing things and he agreed with Uthric that Ermenred should be told. Wulfhere said that his brothers had misunderstood him. He said that according to the Law the proclamation of Divorce has to be done publicly and therefore it has to be done in the open and to be above board. However, he thought that whatever they chose to do, it did not have to be a challenge to Ermenred and thus provoke a response that none of them would want. Wulfhere said that if they completed the proclamation according to the law then that would protect them and presumably Cwen also. Therefore, the plan should be brazen without being a challenge. Uthric wondered that if Cwen was comparing Ermenred to Marc, how would he react when his wife divorced him and how that would go for the Hrothgarsons since they were aiding Cwen’s actions. Dunstan said that he did not want to think of that. He said that he still had nightmares about their time in Kernow. They went to see Cwen again and asked her how she thought Ermenred would react. Cwen said that however he reacted it would probably not go well for them if they were still within striking range. Wulfhere said that in that case Offa would take Gwenyth and Uthred and leave early. Uthric said that he wanted his brothers to leave at the same time. He thought that he would prefer knowing that they were safe with only Cwen and himself taking the risk. Wulfhere said he was in favour of this and Uthric thought that fast horses might be useful in the situation. Wulfhere bought horses for himself, Uthric, Dunstan, Gwenyth and Offa. Uthred was still very young and they thought he could ride in front of Gwenyth. Cwen wanted to bring her son Tristan too and it was agreed he could also travel in front of an adult. Cwen had her own horse and was the only one of the group who was reasonably competent on a horse. Uthric went to meet with Lucnot in the Old City. He was concerned about the change in Lucnot. He thought he might have been driven half mad because of his experiences and Uthric thought he detected a mad gleam in his eye and his talk was about killing as many Sais as he could. His plans were reckless and unlikely to get anyone killed apart from himself. Uthric calmed him down and Lucnot agreed to abide by the plan for his rescue. Uthric later told Wulfhere that they needed to be careful of Lucnot as he might challenge any Saxon he saw. Wulfhere agreed that this may be so but they would still need to give Lucnot weapons and horses in case it came to a fight and so it would be up to Uthric to keep him calm. Cwen had discovered that Ermenred was going to a nearby village in two days time to gather his rents. She thought that this might be the time to make the proclamation. Uthric said that as soon as Ermenred left they should act but Cwen thought it better to allow him to get to the village that was a quarter of a morning’s ride away. She thought that one of the HusÞegns would ride to let him know that she had made the Proclamation of Divorce and that way they would have half a morning start on Ermenred. Later that day, Cwen publicly declared that she was releasing Gwenyth’s oath of servitude and she was free to travel wherever she wished. The Hrothgarsons formally thanked Ermenred for his hospitality and now told him that now Dunstan had found his wife they would be travelling home. Ermenred said that he was glad their task was successful and wished them a good journey. Early on the next day, Wulfhere led his party out of Contaburgh. They set off early and collected Lucnot from the Old City and they gave him new clothing so that he would not look like an escaped slave. Uthric waited in Ermenred's Hall until he thought the sun was at the right height. He went to Ermenred's private chamber where Cwen opened the door. She had gathered some belongings in a cloak and then stood by the bedside and proclaimed her divorce from Ermenred. Uthric then proclaimed that as a Þegn he witnessed her divorce. Cwen went to the entrance of the private bed chamber and made the same proclamation which Uthric again witnessed. Finally, she completed the proclamation at the door to the Hall and Uthric repeated this witness confirmation almost as a challenge. One of the HusÞegns came over to bar their exit but Uthric said that he did not want to spill blood and that he should stand aside. The HusÞegn looked at Uthric and then at Cwen and thought better of his actions before he stood aside to let them pass. Cwen and Uthric went to get their horses and left as soon as possible. As they left Contaburgh Cwen pointed to a horsemen hurrying north in the direction where Ermenred was. She told Uthric they needed to hurry in case Ermenred chose to follow them. Wulfhere was having difficulty controlling his horse. It appeared to want to spend its time eating the grass at the side of the road and showed no interest in what Wulfhere said. The result was they made slow progress. Offa was rather gloomy and said that he would have thought Wulfhere might have bought a less strong willed horse if he did not really understand them. Wulfhere did not comment but got off his horse and led it forward. Dunstan said that at least they were moving even if it was at walking pace but thought if Wulfhere wanted to walk home it might have been cheaper just to buy new shoes rather than an expensive horse. Just after midday, Uthric and Cwen caught up with the rest of the group. Uthric was frustrated as he thought Ermenred could be coming after them and their pace was not enough to get out of his lands. His frustration increased when just before the time for the evening meal Dunstan saw dust on the road behind them that was likely caused by fast moving horses. They tried to get their horses to trot faster but it was clear that the dust cloud was getting closer. After a while, Offa said he thought he could see horsemen in the distance. Wulfhere said that they needed to get as far as possible in the hope that they could get into Hrof's lands. He thought Ermenred might not pursue them if they could cross the border. However it became clear that they would be overtaken. Wulfhere told Cwen to leave them and ride fast. He thought that Ermenred would not be interested in them and Cwen had a greater skill in horse riding. Dunstan and Uthric decided that they would stay behind and delay the pursuit. They put Tristan on Offa’s horse and they went to a farmhouse and dismounted and put on their war gear. The first horsemen to reach Dunstan and Uthric did not attack but remained on their horses, surrounded them and lowered their spears. Uthric said to Dunstan they may have made a mistake as they were now hemmed in by horsemen. Dunstan said that if this was the day of their death at least he had found Gwenyth whereas Uthric still did not know what happened to Meire. Uthric said that Dunstan should be more optimistic because they were only facing ten men on horseback and that they had faced much greater odds. Dunstan said that may have been so but generally they had also been backed by an army. However the men were content to just watch them and no-one said anything. The group that had gone past Dunstan and Uthric overtook Wulfhere and only slowed to check Cwen was not with him. Wulfhere still thought it likely that Cwen was skilled enough at horse riding to stay ahead of the pursuit and escape. He stopped his horse and tried to see or hear what was happening with his brothers but gave up when neither he nor the others could hear anything. Uthric spoke with the leader of the horsemen who named himself Alerid Swintheson. Uthric asked what Alerid intended to do as if nothing was going to happen Uthric thought he might like to continue his journey. Alerid said that this was a matter for Uthric and he allowed both Uthric and Dunstan to get their horses. Alerid signalled to his men and they rode off. Dunstan said he was a bit bewildered but Uthric said that it was likely they had wanted to delay them from being present at whatever was happening ahead. Wulfhere continued after Ermenred and found him ahead. It appeared Cwen's mare had gone lame and when he arrived Cwen was on the ground, knocked down by Ermenred from a blow to her face. There was already bruising around her eyes. Ermenred was standing over her and shouting that he would rather see her dead than divorce him. Wulfhere came over to Ermenred and asked him if he shouldn't like to fight an armed warrior rather than punch women. Ermenred said that he thought it better that Wulfhere stay out of this argument. When Wulfhere replied that he might have to stop Ermenred with his spear point the Ealdorman turned to meet him. His men moved forward to surround Wulfhere but Ermenred waved them back and said that he would deal with Wulfhere on his own. When Dunstan and Uthric rode up they found Wulfhere facing Ermenred and both men were readying their weapons. Uthric asked Offa what had happened and Offa said that Wulfhere had challenged Ermenred because he had hit Cwen. Uthric did not like the look of what was happening but Dunstan said he had full confidence in his older brother. Both men fought with spears and shields. Ermenred had better armour and looked the more experienced warrior. After a few attacks, Ermenred thrust so hard it would have pierced Wulfhere's shield and drove into his chest if Wulfhere had not moved suddenly the other way. As it was his shield was split but was still usable. Wulfhere had trouble getting close enough to Ermenred to get in a good strike. Ermenred was able to easily parry Wulfhere's spear. It seemed to Dunstan Ermenred was playing with Wulfhere and he expected a lethal thrust that would end his brother’s life. Ermenred again lunged suddenly and Wulfhere only just managed to get his shield in the way. The fight was going badly for Wulfhere and everyone watching thought that it would end swiftly. When the Ealdorman struck again it looked as if it would catch Wulfhere in the throat but he twisted to the right and brought his shield up to hit Ermenred’s outstretched hand causing him to drop his spear. Wulfhere moved forward and Ermenred retreated slightly, drawing his seax. Wulfhere now had the advantage with his longer spear. They both stood and watched the other for both were breathing heavily from the exertion. Ermenred moved suddenly inside Wulfhere's spear but Wulfhere again used his shield to stop the blow. The collision knocked both men backward and both fell. Wulfhere had a cut on his arm that bled heavily but Ermenred had lost his seax in the collision and fall. Ermenred attempted to get up but he someone had placed a foot on his chest and he found that he was too exhausted to get out from underneath the force holding him down. When his sight cleared he could see the Ealdorman Hrof standing with his foot on his chest and his feared Great Axe, Widuwanwyrcend poised to strike. Hrof said to no-one in particular that before anyone decided to fight on his land he always insisted that they ask his permission. He said this was particularly relevant whenever someone invaded his lands and attacked his friends to whom he had extended guest nights and he looked hard at Ermenred. Ermenred said that he had not meant to offend Hrof and had only been seeking to get his property and wife back. He asked if Hrof would mind letting him get up as he felt it was undignified to remain lying on the ground. Hrof ignored him and asked Wulfhere what had happened. Wulfhere said that they had been escorting Cwen after she had divorced Ermenred when they had been attacked by the Ealdorman. Hrof asked if the divorce had been proclaimed according to the law and Uthric said it had and that he had been the witness. Cwen came forward and said that it had all been carried out properly and she confirmed that she still had the view that the wanted to divorce Ermenred. Hrof noticed the bruises on her face and asked how she had come by them as he thought they looked recent. He wondered perhaps if Ermenred had caused them. When Cwen confirmed it has been caused by Ermenred, Hrof grew more angry. He pulled Ermenred up by putting his fingers in the Ealdorman's nostrils. He asked Ermenred why he should not hang him from a tree for the crime of armed invasion. Ermenred was in pain but managed to say that if he had offended Hrof then he was more than happy to leave. However, he thought that he should insist that Cwen forfeit all of her possessions as they were in fact his and she had not brought anything as a dowry. Hrof said that in his opinion the disputed possessions were compensation for Cwen's bruises. Hrof said he also thought that Ermenred needed to pay wergild to Wulfhere for the wound to his arm. Hrof thought that Ermenred’s black stallion might be a reasonable wergild. He asked Ermenred if he had a different opinion but the Ealdorman could only say that he thought it was fair. Hrof released Ermenred and told him that it would be best for him to leave his land immediately. When he had gone Hrof greeted the Hrothgarsons and asked them if he could accompany them on their journey as far as his Hall. Wulfhere thanked him for the intervention and said he thought that things had not been going well for him and he was glad Hrof had come. Hrof said that they had both made an enemy of Ermenred that day but he was of the opinion that Ermenred was unlikely to bother him whereas the Hrothgarsons should think carefully before going back to Contaburgh. He thought it best to tell that Ermenred was known to be vindictive and took great pleasure in making life awkward to people he considered weaker than him. Hrof guested them for two days and when they were strong enough after their recent exertions, they left to return to Anderida. They parted on good terms with Hrof saying that he would be glad to have them as guests whenever they came this way again. Dunstan was having a difficult time deciding how to tell the Ealdorman Ælfrith and Æthlind that he was going to break the marriage contact. He sought advice from his brothers. Uthric was amused that there was any doubt about it and said his opinion was to divorce Gwenyth and marry Æthlind. Wulfhere said this was a more difficult decision. He thought they had already made enemies of one Ealdorman in Aelle’s kingdom and making an enemy of one so close to Aelle might not be all that good for their future prospects. Uthric said they should also remember they were responsible for humiliating Cœlfrith and for exposing him as a traitor. He thought that at this rate Aelle might be running out of Ealdormen. Wulfhere said that it might be that Aelle thought they were targeting his Ealdormen if he was suspicious about their motives. Dunstan did not like Uthric’s advice and thought maybe Wulfhere was over-complicating matters but he agreed to be tactful and sympathetic and not cause an incident that left hard feelings. When he told Gwenyth what had happened she was tearful and went to Wulfhere to tell him that he must not let Dunstan supplant her with Æthlind. Wulfhere said that while he had no say in Dunstan’s decision, he was sure that he would make the right choice. While Wulfhere went to get his children, Dunstan went alone to meet with Æthlind and her father. When he arrived Æthlind greeted him warmly and explained all the plans she had made. It was quite a while before Dunstan could interject and tell her that he had found Gwenyth. Æthlind talked to him for most of the morning and the end result was that Dunstan agreed that as he had contracted marriage with her, they would get married and he would set Gwenyth aside. Dunstan then left Æthlind and went to tell Gwenyth. She was upset at the decision and Dunstan was unsure how to console her. Uthric thought he should help and talked to Gwenyth and reassured her that Dunstan would make sure she was provided for and she would not be disgraced. On the way back to Pontes, Æthlind spoke at length with Gwenyth and it seemed to Dunstan that Æthlind was able to win her over with kind words and friendship. He was grateful for his new wife’s diplomacy skills.
  5. We do not know much about St Hywel’s life and the little we know comes to us from the Venerable Bede. Asser mentions him but only that King Alfred kept Hywel’s knucklebone in a silver and gold reliquary which he lent to the Bishop of Worcester when there was a sickness in the Priory of St. Mary. Hywel’s skull was said to have been destroyed by the Vikings in the destruction at the Monastery of Thanet in 753. Hywel was born in Powys and the son of a successful Blacksmith. He was brought up a pagan but when he was 12 an angel visited him in his father’s smithy when he was alone. The angel told Hywel that he had a great future ahead of him but he needed to renounce his parents’ false gods and turn to the one true God. Hywel told his parents and they were angry with him. They took him to the local Druid to cast out the evil that had possessed him. Hywel debated with the Druid and the power of God was in him so that his whole body shone with an inner light. The Druid was struck dumb by the glory of God and he never spoke again. This is the first miracle attributed to St Hywel. The boy left Powys and went to see Abbot Tudwal of Lindinis and begged to study The Word of God with him. Abbot Tudwal was unsure about the ragged boy who had turned up on his doorstep and was inclined to refuse the request. Hywel was prepared for this and he said that he was willing to show the Abbot a sign that he was sent from God. The Abbot had for several years been suffering from Ficus and when Hywel touched him and called upon God he was immediately cured. This was the second miracle attributed to Hywel. Hywel stayed with the Abbot and learnt the scriptures. God had given him the gift of Oratory and he used the gift to glorify God and bring many sinners to the Church. At that time the leaders of Briton turned away from God and they trusted in their own strength of arms or worse sacrificed to the older gods in dark places. Hywel was a constant thorn in their side with his fiery oratory and he was often seen haranguing the rich and powerful who had turned away from the Light of God. An angel visited Hywel and told him to go to Dunum where he would be needed to help defend the people against the wrath of the pagan Sais. Hywel gathered his meagre belongings and went to Dunum on the River Terstan. The Sais had attacked and the local Captain had told the people of Dunum he could not defend them. Hywel was unhappy with the Captain and berated him for his sins. It was Easter and Hywel led the populace in a great service glorifying God. After the service had finished Hywel went to the bridge of Dunum. He told the people that an Angel had told him that the Sais would come and destroy their town, kill the men and enslave their women and children. The soldiers had all left during the night and the people were afraid that the words Hywel had spoken would come true. Hywel told them that they should not fear his words because he would hold up the Sais until they had time to escape. The people thanked him and he allowed them to kiss his plain wooden cross that he carried. Hywel went on to the bridge and began singing and glorifying God. It was not long before the Sais attacked. They were not worried that a single man was standing on the bridge and they rushed forward to strike him down. Hywel did not pay them any attention and continued singing, his arms outstretched and his face to heaven. The spears and axes of the Sais did not harm him no matter how hard he was hit. This is the third miracle attributed to Hywel. After three days Hywel began to tire and he commended his soul to heaven. The Sais took him and bound him. Some argued that this was a holy man and that they should let him go but the leaders of the Sais were steeped in evil and had consorted with many demons. They took Hywel and crucified him. He did not utter a word of complaint and kept his face toward heaven. Many of the Sais were converted on the spot and continued to glorify God. They argued that since this land was filled with such Holy men that they should leave them in peace and withdraw, never again taking up arms against Christians. Hywel’s body was retrieved by monks of Abbot Tudwal. The Sais willingly gave his body back because they were struck with awe by his composure and holiness. St Hywel became the patron saint of Bridgebuilders.
  6. A Parting of Body and Soul and the Search for the Lost. Dunstan did not feel well after the night’s sleep. Hereweard had told him his soul had been stolen but Dunstan said he could not accept this was true. He had interpreted the constant growling noises he was making as anger at all the people who had annoyed his family and the injustices that had been visited upon them. His list of people that he intended to make pay was increasing and now included the Bretwalda Aelle, the Atheling Cissa, Guthmaer Sleddeson and Griswold Frithowulfson, both of whom ran the slave market in Cissa Cæster, the Atheling Wlencing and his wife Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter. When Uthric asked him if Beorthric and Winfrith were on the list Dunstan said that they were already dead and they did not matter. Uthric was puzzled because he knew Beorthric was alive and well and living in Cissa Cæster but he let it pass. He did ask Dunstan why he was so dishevelled and Dunstan told him of the strange dream. Uthric thought it might be best if Dunstan went to talk with Hereweard. He thought that maybe the leæce might be able to help with whatever was wrong. Dunstan reluctantly talked to Hereweard who he found mixing some herbs. Dunstan said that he had never believed the story about losing his soul and thought that it was due to the stress of being in too many Shieldwalls and then the disappointment of losing his wife and children. He thought if he could talk to Hereweard about all his troubles he might feel less concerned within himself. Hereweard said he doubted this would change anything for Dunstan, because it was clear to him that the reason Dunstan did not feel well within himself was because he had no soul. Dunstan said he was tired of hearing about his soul and thought it best if he left or he might fly into another rage and do something he might regret. Dunstan said that he would come back to see Hereweard in another moon to prove to him that the discussion about losing his soul was nonsense. Hereweard said that he thought it likely that by then Dunstan’s body would have consumed itself because he was soulless and even the potions that Hereweard gave him could not protect him from death. Uthric went to see Dunstan when he heard that he had not told the leæce about the dream. Dunstan said that he found it hard to believe that he could have lost his soul but Uthric pointed out he had awoken with a Rune on his forehead and there might be some truth in Hereweard’s words. He prevailed on Dunstan to return to Hereweard and tell him about the dream. Hereweard was not surprised to see Dunstan return. He asked Dunstan if he was having difficulty containing his emotions as that was a clear sign of losing his soul. Dunstan still maintained that his anger was only a reaction to difficult times and he thought it would pass however he consented to tell Hereweard about his dream. Dunstan told him that he dreamt he had been asleep in his booth. People he did not know came in and held him down. They took out sharp knives and began to cut his body into pieces. Each part was put in a different sack and they then left. Dunstan said that although he could see what they were doing with his body it had been like he was watching as if he was an observer. When the people left he went too and followed them to a grove in a dark forest. The grove had an outer circle of nine Ash trees and an inner circle of nine elm trees. In the centre of the grove were three oak trees. The middle oak had been struck by lightning and still smouldered. Dunstan watched the people put his body back together and then they painted a Rune on his forehead. He noticed that a bit of his body escaped from the bag in the shape of a black cat and squeezed into a hole between two rocks at the foot of the lightning struck oak. Hereweard sighed when he heard the dream. He said that he had never been particularly good at interpreting dreams but he thought it might be a sign that Dunstan's body could no longer exist without his soul and the bind to Miðgarðr was becoming weaker. The rune was easy to interpret it meant Travel, Rhythm, Spontaneity or Evolution. It was likely that the rune was connected to Dunstan but how he would need to find out for himself. Hereweard said that he knew where the grove was in Dunstan's dream. He had visited it once with Stithwolf when they were talking to the spirits in the area. It was likely that Dunstan would need to travel to Nastrønd or Hel to get his soul back. Dunstan asked if Hereweard would come with him but Hereweard said that he would not expose himself to the dangers of such a journey. He agreed to help Dunstan and would show him the way to go but he thought he would not have the strength or courage to face Nastrønd. Hereweard said that Dunstan should return in five days and bring people he trusted that would go with him on his journey. Hereweard said he should also bring ten men, digging tools and a goat. Dunstan tried to ask Hereweard what would happen but the leæce told him to go and prepare. Wulfhere was trying to decide how many men he should send to Ealdorman Stuf to join the raid into Dumnonia. He was unsure about the benefits of losing more men but, following a debate with Uthric, agreed that if they did not get enough food for the winter many of the people would die anyway. He agreed that he would lead thirty men and join Stuf as soon as they were ready. His plans were upset when Dunstan came back with the news that he needed to go to Nastrønd to get his soul back. Wulfhere was unsure that they all needed to go. The idea of going to Nastrønd did not fill him with joy. He decided that he would delegate the raid on Dumnonia to his younger brother Halig as he thought he would need to help Dunstan regain his soul. The situation became more complicated when a stranger arrived at Hambladensted. He told Wulfhere he had a message from Beorthric and had been asked to deliver it. The man named himself as Ernbald Ormarson and said he was going to Lundenwic to seek employment with a Þegn. He hoped to make money to buy land for a farm and have lots of children. Beorthric had found out that Wulfhere's wife had been taken to Anderida and there was also hope that Dunstan's wife was also there. Wulfhere quizzed Ernbald about Beorthric but Ernbald said that he could not say much other than he had already said. He did not really know Beorthric and thought he was therefore unlikely to be able to shed any light on Beorthric or his motives. Wulfhere thanked him for his message and spoke privately with his brothers. Dunstan was scathing of Ernbald and Beorthric. He said that it was clear that they could not trust either man and he was sure that this was a trick. Wulfhere said that he did not yet see the purpose of the information and if it was a trick why would Beorthric pay a man to come so far just to give a message. Dunstan said he could not trust Ernbald and felt that he was dubious and the information was to disrupt what they needed to do in the villages. He went through all the ills that people had caused him and his family and was keen to extact revenge. Uthric listened to his younger brother’s list of the people with whom he would like to discuss perceived wrongs with by using his spear and said that he must remember to always stay on the right side of Dunstan. Wulfhere said that he was of a mind to ask Ernbald to stay. He thought that if Dunstan was right about Ernbald' they would keep him close and then could exact revenge if he proved to be false. On the other hand, if he was honest then they had added another experienced warrior to the settlement. Wulfhere said that the priority was to find Dunstan's soul. Dunstan was worried that he might not find his soul or possibly get the wrong one. Wulfhere said that might be an outcome but when he got one back he should really look after it this time. Hereweard came to meet the brothers and advised them that they must fast for three days before the ritual. On the third day they would travel to the forest north of Calleva and go to the sacred grove. Dunstan confirmed he had ten loyal men and had bought a black goat from one the farmers. Hereward told him to make a wooden platform that they could erect when they got there. It had to be big enough for three men to lie on. He asked Dunstan to also make a ladder with nine rungs. Dunstan asked if there was any significance in this and Hereward said they would not have too long to wait to understand it more. On the appointed day Hereweard, the Hrothgarsons and ten trusted men made their way to the Sacred Grove. There was a distinct lack of bird song around the grove and the air was heavy and still. The grove was just as Dunstan had seen it in his dream. The outer circle of trees were nine ashes and the inner nine elms. The three oak trees in the centre of the grove were the only vegetation in the circle and the middle oak tree had been hit by lightning at some point in the past but it still smoked as if it had happened recently. Hereweard asked everyone to erect the platform and the ladder. After they had constructed the platform, Hereweard brought the goat into the grove. He got the men to dig a shallow pit at the bottom of the platform and he rested the ladder in it. The goat began to get nervous but Hereweard soothed it by whispering in its ear. He ordered the men to light a fire and when it was hot enough he bought the goat to the pit and expertly slit its throat. He let the goats blood flow into the pit and Uthric thought he could see shadowy figures lapping the blood up with long tongues. He pointed it out to Wulfhere and Dunstan but neither saw anything. Hereweard cut the legs off the goat and removed the flesh. He gave a thigh bone to each brother and instructed them how to write runes on the bones. It took several attempts from each of the brothers to satisfy Hereweard but finally he was happy. He explained that the brothers need to keep these runebones on them or the they would not be able to return to Miðgarðr. He then took some of the pooled blood in the pit and wrote further runes on their foreheads. Hereweard had told them that he would not be travelling with them but he would come the first part to make sure they got past the Horned Man and started on the road between the worlds. Hereweard explained his spirit animal was the wolf and when in that shape he could not speak with words and they would not understand spirit speech so that he would not be able to give them further instructions. Wulfhere asked how they would know where to go but Hereweard said that they needed to follow the road wherever it took them. Hereweard said that they might meet many people and many obstacles on their journey. They must bargain, use trickery and only resort to fighting if there was no other option. He asked the Hrothgarsons to lie on top of the platform and gave them a bitter potion to drink. He sat calmly on the platform and began to beat a small hide drum and shake a rattle. Hereweard asked them to put a cloak over their bodies and to concentrate. In the next few hours they would feel that they separated from their bodies. He told them when that happened then they must climb down the rungs of the ladder. How many rungs they climbed down would depend on their ability to concentrate. Hereweard spoke to them as they lay under the cloaks and told them to empty their minds of their daily tasks and listen to the drumbeat. He told them he had instructed their men to cover them with earth when Hereweard gave the signal. This was the ritual of Death that would take them to one of the other worlds. Someone then began to chant to the rhythm of the drum but they did not understand the words. Wulfhere was the last to leave his body behind because he had had difficulty emptying his mind of the temporal affairs of organising the settlements, but at last he made his way down the ladder. Wulfhere estimated that he only went down three or four rungs before he hit solid ground and joined his brothers in the darkness. Bits of earth showered them as they stood waiting to see what would happen next. A large wolf sat beside them and they assumed that it must be the fylgja of Hereweard. Wherever they were it was dark and there was no light but they could still see. The darkness had a living quality to it and they felt that as they breathed it in they became more attuned to it. Gradually shapes could be seen and they noticed that a large man was standing in front of them. He had horns like a deer growing from his head or perhaps he was wearing an intricate headdress. The wolf lay down and they thought perhaps they should kneel too. When they had done so the Horned Man said he would like to ask Dunstan some questions in order that they could continue. Dunstan said he would try and answer any questions honestly. He asked Dunstan if he thought family or king were more important. Dunstan said that in his view family were more important and that he owed a lot to his family that were close to him. He said that he always tried to serve his family as well as he could. The Horned Man said that he saw a lot of hate in Dunstan's heart and asked why he hated so much. Dunstan said that he always tried to live honourably but often he came against people who lived by different rules and they had been hurtful to those who could not defend themselves, killing and despoiling innocents. Dunstan said that he had always shown pity and mercy to the deserving. He spoke about rescuing villagers from despoilers and that he was aware he judged people but it was always on their actions. The Horned Man nodded but said he was not sure that Dunstan always lived up to his views on pity and mercy. Dunstan said he tried to observe the general good but the Horned Man laughed and said it might be that hate that had made him stronger. However, he was aware that Dunstan gives pity and mercy to his friends but not to anyone else and often suspects their motives. He thought Dunstan might want to think on that. The Horned Man then pushed the wall and a way opened into a dark land. It seemed nearly featureless apart from a road that stretched into the distance. The wolf joined them outside and pointed the way along the road. The brothers looked at each other and started along the empty road. The Hrothgarsons walked along the road for what seemed like days. The land was flat and empty and there was no sun to shed light or mark the passing of time, but they were able to see despite the darkness. The road ran up to a small hillock out of which the sound of hammers banged as if on a smithy. The door stood open and was lit by the reddish glow of fire. Coloured smoke escaped through the open door that made them cough and the smell was of hot metal and charcoal. The road went into the mound and the Hrothgarsons thought that they should not bypass this situation. They carefully went down the short tunnel that led to the smithy. Three Duergar were working with their hammers, bent around the fire that burnt white hot. Discarded weapons and armour lay around the floor of the workshop. One of the Duergar approached the brothers and introduced himself as Brúni and pointed out his brothers Gustr and Mótsognir. Brúni asked the Hrothgarsons how he could help them and wondered if they had come to buy weapons or armour. Wulfhere, Uthric and Dunstan introduced themselves and Wulfhere said that he would be interested in buying a Byrnie. Brúni said that he would be pleased to sell anything they wished to have, but the bargain would have to be fair. Wulfhere asked what payment would be made as none of their shadow bodies had any valuable metals and he did not know what Brúni might desire. Brúni said that he would be happy to take skills or attributes. For instance, one of the Jötunn traded his height for a magical shield or a Troll had given her Hide ability to buy an axe that would cleave through stone. Brúni said that they would be willing to trade their Rune sticks but Wulfhere did not think that that would be a good idea. Wulfhere tried on a metal Byrnie but found it overly heavy if he needed to march for any length of time. The Duergar thought that if Wulfhere wanted a less heavy option he might like a Byrnie made of Doeskin but forged with the endurance of a troll. Wulfhere thought that the Doeskin tunic might suit him well and offered his ability to dance. The Duergar conferred and agreed that this would be a suitable bargain. Brúni said that Wulfhere would never be able to dance again and if he was content with that then the deal was complete. Mótsognir said that they had been asked to make them a rope and he had just finished making it. Uthric said that he was unsure why he needed a rope and did not know if he could afford the price. Mótsognir said that the price had already been paid and the rope was a gift. He warned them that the rope was made from the hair of drowned maidens and that it was both thin and strong however they would be unable to take it back to Miðgarðr. Mótsognir said he believed it might come in useful in their travels. Dunstan thanked the Duergar and they bid them farewell. Wulfhere was pleased with his Doeskin tunic. It was light and flexible. He tried dancing some steps but tripped over his own feet and fell on the road cutting both knees. He tried dancing again and the same thing happened. He said he thought he still might have had the better of the bargain despite his inability to dance. The Hrothgarsons continued along the stone road and after a number of days saw that they were approaching a forest that stretched as far as they could see in either direction. The trees grew tall but were bent and gnarled. Uthric thought this was an old forest from the beginning of days. Dunstan tried to cut one of the branches but it blunted his seax and did not seem to make any impression on the tree. The path led through the middle of the forest and Uthric said that he did not see any point in putting off the journey. Wulfhere agreed and warned that they should not leave the path. They walked along the path but it was difficult to see under the trees. They could not tell if the darkness stopped them seeing or there was some spell that created a mist. They were aware of the noises, grunts, snuffling and crashes as of large creatures making their way through the undergrowth. Periodically eyes would stare at their foliage reflecting amber, green or vivid blue in some unseen light. The brothers were unnerved by the unseen creatures that watched from the shadows and they moved cautiously forward expecting an attack. Dunstan became very concerned about the creatures and started at any sudden noise. He impetuously ran after a sudden appearance of amber coloured eyes. His brothers tried to stop him but having failed to prevent him they felt they had no option but to follow him. The eyes flickered and disappeared but Dunstan continued to pursue where he thought they had gone. When Wulfhere and Uthric caught up with Dunstan, they were unsure where the path lay. Uthric suggested that they use the Duergar rope to try and methodically find their way back to the path. Wulfhere said he was reluctant to use the rope as he did not think that this was what it was given to them for and cutting it up could diminish its purpose. They made a guess at where the road lay and fortunately reached it after a short time. Wulfhere told Dunstan that he really needed to control his fears but he acknowledged that it might be because Dunstan still lacked a soul. They walked for several more days through the blackened forest and Dunstan resisted the urge to chase unknown beasts through the darkness. After another day, they became aware that something was following them. The pursuit seemed to be more than the infrequent watchers from the forest edges and the footfalls often mirrored their own, starting and stopping when they did. Eventually the pressure of their unseen foe became too much and they turned around to await their pursuer, locking their shields together. After waiting several hundred heartbeats they could see a tall shape that began to look less human as it came closer. Suddenly the creature began to run at them and Wulfhere shouted at his brothers to brace their spears to use the creatures speed against itself. However, the impact never happened. The creature jumped just before it reached them and cleared them, swivelling easily to block the road ahead. All three turned around and had just about set themselves as the creature attacked. Now that it was up close they saw that it was a gigantic wolf. The Wolf reared up on its hind legs and took on a more human posture. It moved swiftly and before any of the three men could advance it attacked Wulfhere who blocked its bite with his shield but almost fell with the force of the impact. Uthric stabbed it in the foreleg with his spear and Dunstan hit its forequarters. Wulfhere recovered from his stumble and hit the creature in the same leg as Uthric. The Wolf again attacked Wulfhere and although he blocked the hit, the force slammed his shield into his chest. The others hit it again and appeared to incapacitate its forearm and caused deep wounds in the chest and hindquarters. The creature attacked Wulfhere again for the third time and injured his abdomen but all three cut it badly with their spears and the creature collapsed. They were all exhausted after the fight and Wulfhere had several cuts from claws and fangs. They looked at the creature, wondering if it was a man in wolf shape or a wolf that could walk like a man. Dunstan noticed that its wounds seemed to be healing on their own and the creature seemed to be stirring. Wulfhere said he thought that if they had to fight this creature again that they might not survive the next encounter as they did not have the same ability to heal their wounds. They agreed the best thing was to try and outrun the wolf. They run as fast as they could but Wulfhere's injuries were hampering him and he tripped and fell. Dunstan and Uthric stopped and helped him to his feet. They could hear the sound of pursuit and ran again. It was possible that the creature was still wounded because they managed to keep well ahead, however they were becoming exhausted. Wulfhere said he was glad now he had not bargained for the Chainmail Byrnie became he could not have kept ahead of the wolf when he was wearing it. They could see the edge of the forest and tried to run faster. The Wolf was close but they kept ahead until they left the forest. The Wolf stopped at the forest edge and the brothers stopped too. Uthric said it was just as well the wolf did not pursue them as he did not think he could have run much further. Dunstan threw a piece of wood at the wolf but did not hit it. Uthric said he did not think the Wolf would be interested in fetching the piece of wood. Dunstan said that while he had not thought of distracting the Wolf like that it might have been a good strategy while they were fighting it. They bound Wulfhere's wounds and all recovered their breath. They could hear the wolf howling and its howls were answered by other howls. Uthric wondered why wolves did not bark but Dunstan said that he had heard wolves both bark and howl. He thought that the difference was like humans speaking and shouting. Wulfhere said that this was all very interesting but they should really get as far away from the forest as possible in case the wolf and his friends decided to come after them. They continued walking for several days until they arrived at a wide, black, turbid river. The river smelt of bitumen and sulphur. Every so often bubbles came to the surface and the foul stench was released. The road ended at an ancient jetty but there was no boat. They tried to see how wide the river was but the darkness and mist defeated their efforts. Wulfhere thought they should shout to attract the attention of a ferryman. They discussed if this might attract something dangerous but decided they needed to take the risk. Wulfhere shouted and they sat down to await whatever would appear. After several hours they saw a large fin approach. Wulfhere thought the fish must be the length of five grown men. The fish surfaced and hailed them. It said that its name was Torhtsige and thought it might be helpful to them if they wanted to cross the river. Dunstan said that he wasn't sure if he could trust such a large fish with sharp teeth. Dunstan wondered if there was alternative such as more conventional transport like a ferry. Torhtsige said that if only they had arrived earlier then there would have been more transport options. Sadly, the ferryman had recently been eaten and therefore those that needed to cross the river would have to rely on Torhtsige. Dunstan asked what had happened to the ferryman. Torhtsige said that he was embarrassed to admit that he had been ravenously hungry and unfortunately had eaten the ferryman and then because he had still been hungry he had eaten the ferry too. Uthric said that this did not forebode well if Torhtsige was to carry them across and get hungry again. Torhtsige said that he could vouch that, for now, he had eaten enough for the next few days and they would be safe, Dunstan said that Torhtsige did not really fill him with optimism. He asked the fish what he would get out of the transaction. Torhtsige said that despite his fearsome appearance, he actually liked helping people and that he would get joy and pleasure from taking them to the other side. Wulfhere thought that maybe the joy and pleasure might not be mutual and shared by all parties in the arrangement. Torhtsige admitted that he had originally been happy to take them over safely, but all the talk about eating things had made him hungry again. However, he could see that they were keen to get to the other side and he wanted to know how they would feel if he only ate one of them as payment for the journey. Dunstan said he did not feel that this was an acceptable bargain and that he could speak for his brothers in saying that, if it was alright with Torhtsige, they would wait to see if there were other methods of transport. Torhtsige said that he could understand their concern and he would leave them to it but would come back tomorrow to see if they had changed their minds. Uthric suggested they walk along the sides of the bank to see if there was another way across. They spent several hours searching to no avail. They returned to the jetty to see if they had missed any way of summoning the ferry. Dunstan thought there might have been something at the end of the pier which had been broken off recently. They tried using their spears to search in the river but it was too deep. As they were standing on the jetty they saw Torhtsige return. The fish was approaching rapidly and it was only too late that they saw it was his intent was to ram the jetty that they were standing on. They held onto the rail and braced themselves for the impact and watched in horror as Torhtsige began eating parts of the jetty. They all managed to get off the jetty without injury or falling into the water. Uthric threw his javelin at Torhtsige and it stuck upright near the fish’s tail. Torhtsige seemed a bit warier of coming closer to the shore after his encounter with Uthric’s javelin and circled out of throwing range. After a while Torhtsige appeared to grow bored or perhaps as Dunstan said that the old jetty did not taste as good as the fish had thought and he went off to get other food that did not use javelins. They waited several hours to make sure the fish had gone. Wulfhere said that he thought that there had been something at the end of the jetty that had fallen into the river and that he might be able to get it. He divested himself of armour and clothes and got into the dark water. It felt like creatures were swirling around him, touching his skin and he shuddered but despite his fear he dived beneath the surface. He followed the broken piles of the jetty down until he reached the bottom. The black water prevented him from seeing anything and also appeared to sap his strength and his ability to think. Wulfhere was beginning to forget why he was even in the water when his hand felt an object that must have been made by people. He grabbed it and kicked hard against the bottom of the river. He was so disorientated by the darkness that he was not sure that he was going the right way to the surface. Dunstan and Uthric were standing on the remains of the jetty anxiously looking at the dark water flow slowly by. Wulfhere's head appeared close to the jetty but before either could react he sank below the surface again. Dunstan reached down and managed to grab his brother and with the help of Uthric lifted him onto the jetty. Wulfhere did not move or say anything and they carried him back to the bank and wrapped him in a cloak. In Wulfhere's hand he held a brass bell but when they tried to get it off him, they could not release his grip. They sat and watched Wulfhere. They could see no injuries on his body and Dunstan concluded it must be the effect of the dark water. Hours passed and Wulfhere gradually recovered his senses. He was still unsure where he was and had some difficulty in accepting Dunstan and Uthric's story. He had no recollection of going into the water. Uthric said if that was the effect of the water then swimming across it was not the best idea anyone could have. As Wulfhere relaxed he was able to release his hold on the brass bell and Dunstan thought that they should ring it. Uthric said in his opinion it was unlikely that they could meet anything worse than they already had so that he might as well try it. Dunstan said he was not sure and thought there might be much worse things in this world and personally he had no desire to meet them. However, they agreed that there were no other options to get across the river. Dunstan rang it twice and they sat down beside Wulfhere to await whatever the bell summoned. Several more hours passed and Wulfhere seemed to be recovering. He still had no memory after their meeting with the Duergar. A voice hailed them from the river and they could dimly make out a man in a small boat three lengths off the jetty. Dunstan said that they were keen to get to the other side of the river, and requested if the man would be kind enough to help. The man said that they were in luck because he had come to ask them if they needed help but there was the small matter of payment. None of the brothers appeared to have any silver or ornaments and Uthric asked what price the man would like to charge. He said that it was usual to be charged a penny for the trip. Uthric said that if the man was willing they could give him items as none of them had silver. Dunstan offered his seax and Wulfhere offered his javelin. The man accepted both as payment. Uthric said that sadly he had lost his javelin only recently but the man said as Wulfhere had already given him a javelin he did not think he needed another one. Uthric said that he had a fine helmet taken as a spoil of war and he would be willing to trade it for passage across the river. The man agreed and said he was pleased with such an unusual helmet but when he tried it on, it was a tight fit. The man arranged the Hrothgarsons in his boat and advised them not to move too much in case they capsized. He began to scull across the river using a single oar at the rear of the craft. Uthric said he was curious about a fish called Torhtsige and asked the man if he knew the creature. The man said that he had run into Torhtsige from time to time and he had usually found him to be an irritating creature who often interfered with the job of running a ferry service. Uthric said that Torhtsige had mentioned that it had eaten the ferryman and the boat and he wondered what the man's opinion of the story was. The ferryman said that indeed Torhtsige's story was correct. He told them that periodically the huge fish would get hungry and eat both him and the boat. He could not say for sure what happened after that, but he always found himself afterwards on this boat by the jetty. When they got to the other side they thanked the old man for helping them. Uthric asked the old man if he often wore helmets because he did not think the helmet suited him. The old man was puzzled by Uthric's remarks and said while he acknowledged the helmet was too small and the nasal guard caught on his nose, it was nothing he could not get a friendly Duergar to fix for him. Uthric polished the blade of his seax and showed the old man his reflection. The old man said that he could see Uthric's point of view and that perhaps he should not wear it. Uthric said that he had no real interest in the discussion but was just trying to be helpful. The old man thought for a moment and said that in that case he would return the helmet to Uthric. He made Uthric try it on and then turn around. The old man said he was satisfied that he had done the right thing as he thought Uthric looked particularly splendid in the helmet. As they walked along the road Uthric asked Dunstan if he would have really got on the back of the fish. Dunstan said he did not think he would have because he could not trust such a large fish that had so many sharp teeth. Wulfhere wondered if things with sharp teeth were to be avoided in these worlds if they were to live a long life. The road continued for several days until they saw they were approaching a vast hall. As they got closer they could see that it perched on the side of a massive cliff. The cliff stretched away on either side of the Hall and they thought they had come to another test in their journey. They climbed the three steps to the platform before the main doors. Standing before the doors was an armoured Duergar. Around the eaves of the Hall were severed heads in various states of decay. Some were freshly severed and some were already skulls. Wulfhere introduced himself to the Duergar who called himself Skønnar. Skønnar welcomed them to Bölþorn's Hall. Uthric asked who Bölþorn might be and was Skønnar aware how they could get to the valley below. Skønnar said nothing but opened the double doors. They walked into the wide hall and saw a Jötunn drinking at the High Table. Bölþorn welcomed them and asked them to join him for a drink. He said he was pleased that they had come as he was becoming rather bored. Wulfhere said that they were keen to get to the valley below and if Bölþorn would show them how to get there, he would be grateful and also happy to help alleviate his boredom for a while. Bölþorn said that they could indeed help to alleviate his boredom by challenging him to a game. He had long ago decided that anyone entering his hall had to engage in a contest of knowledge. If Wulfhere won then he would find out how to reach the valley below. The loser whether it was Bölþorn or Wulfhere would have to submit to having his head chopped off. Bölþorn indicated a chopping block and a heavy bearded axe that was in the corner of the hall. The Hrothgarsons conferred together. Wulfhere was happy to attempt to win the contest but Dunstan said that they were here because he had lost his soul and he felt it was only right that it should be him that lost his head if the Jötunn won. Dunstan asked Bölþorn that if he lost the contest would Bölþorn then tell his brothers the way to the valley. Bölþorn said by rights that he should make each person challenge him for information but he had been in an excellent mood since Angrboða had recently given him good news and he accepted that no matter the outcome he would let the surviving bothers know how to get to the valley. Dunstan said he was satisfied with that and asked Bölþorn what the rules of the contest were. Bölþorn said that it was simple. Each person asked the other a question on any subject and if the other could not answer it then they had lost. The price of failure was to lose your head. Uthric asked Bölþorn if there might not be another forfeit as it all seemed very severe. Bölþorn said that the loser needed to lose their head in order that Bölþorn could gain their knowledge by eating the brain of the beheaded individual. He said he was not known as Etere Sundorcýþþe, the Eater of Knowledge, for no reason. Dunstan said that he had prepared a question for the Jötunn and he was sure that he would not know the answer and his brothers should not worry. The Jötunn sat down and took a long draught of his horn of ale. Dunstan asked Bölþorn if he knew what a clampit was. The Jötunn screwed up his face and thought. Dunstan smiled as he watched Bölþorn torture himself to try and remember what the word meant. Bölþorn finished his ale and called for Skønnar to refill the horn. It took him three horns before he decided that he would give an answer. Dunstan tried not to show impatience as he watched the Jötunn but he hoped this ordeal would be over soon. Bölþorn said eventually that the word was obviously local slang and strictly it therefore should be discounted. Dunstan said that although it was true that the word was slang, if Bölþorn had intended to object to it he should have said so at the beginning and not after hours of ruminating. Bölþorn agreed this was correct and conceded that he had been in error and was now trapped into making a guess. Wulfhere said that in his opinion Bölþorn had more than enough time to decide on an answer and he should hurry up about it. Bölþorn guessed that is meant something do with holding on but Dunstan said that the answer was incorrect. He told Bölþorn that it was an obscure word that he had first heard from an Irish king, called Diarmuid, who had used it to describe King Mark. Bölþorn was confused. He said it would have been impossible for him to know who these people were and the question was unfair. Dunstan said again that he should have objected at the start and now that the Jötunn had got it wrong he should tell them how to get the valley below. Bölþorn said that Skønnar would tell them but Dunstan would now have to visit the forfeit on him by chopping his head off. Dunstan said he was reluctant to do so to his host but Bölþorn said that if he didn't do it then his own head and those of his brothers would forfeit instead. Dunstan could barely lift the great axe that Bölþorn gave him and it took him a while to grow accustomed to the weight while Bölþorn waited patiently kneeling at the block. Dunstan said he was prepared to show the Jötunn mercy but Bölþorn stopped him and said that it was important to keep to the rules of the game. Dunstan struck with force and chopped the Jötunn's head off. Immediately the doors to the hall opened and Skønnar came in. He motioned to the Hrothgarsons and took them through a door hidden in the shadows at the back of the Hall. He opened another door and advised them that the steps leading downwards would take them on their journey. Uthric was last to leave the main Hall and when he looked back, he thought he could see the Jötunn’s body looking for its head which appeared to have rolled into a corner. Uthric drew Skønnar's attention to his master's plight and the Duergar excused himself and went to the aid of Bölþorn. Wulfhere said that they should hurry. He was not at all convinced that they would be so lucky with a return match if they were challenged to another contest. He asked Dunstan what a clampit was and Dunstan told him it was an Irish word for feckless. The steps came out in the valley at the bottom of the cliff. They stood in a dreary country and could hear the sound of waves crashing on a shore which as they walked never seemed far away. They could not see the sea and did not dare leave the road to find out what was at the shore. As they walked along they could see in the distance a massive Hall that was curiously built. As they got closer they could hear screams of people in agony. Wulfhere said they needed to be careful and they approached cautiously. The door was open and the air was acidic and hurt their lungs to breath in. They could see hundreds of people writhing in agony inside. The Hall was bigger than they first thought. The screams died down for a moment and there was an eerie quietness as the occupants stared at the roof. Dunstan tried to see what they were looking at when the inside of the thatched roof began moving. The people inside started moving as large snake like creatures started to drip poison on those below. The screams started again as the poison hit the people on the ground and a fierce fire tore up from the floor to engulf everyone. Dunstan was forced back from the door by the heat. It is not a good idea to enter the building said a voice. All three Hrothgarsons looked to see who had spoken and a man stepped from the shadows. Uthric asked what kind of place this was, who owned the Hall and who the people were who were inside. The man said they were leæce- killers, murderers and oath-breakers, rapists and those that had committed adultery. The Hall was called Nastrønd's Hall and the people would be tortured forever became of their crimes. Wulfhere asked if the man knew if they had to go into the Hall to continue on their way but the man said that no-one voluntarily went into that Hall. If they wished to continue along the road he suggested that they might want to go around the back of the building and pick up the road at that point. The man asked why living men had come to Nastrønd. Dunstan explained that a leæce called Hereweard had sent them here to get his soul back after he had had it stolen. The man nodded and said that he thought that was unfortunate. Wulfhere was interested if the man could give any advice to which the man replied he would only be too pleased to help but that they might not like his answer. Dunstan said that he thought at this stage there were no answers that were pleasant. The man said this was probably true and in that case they needed to continue and must complete their journey to regain Dunstan’s soul. He told them to travel for ten days until they came to Yggdrasil, the One Tree. At the roots of Yggdrasil lives the dragon, Níðhǫgg, who they must battle for Dunstan's soul. They should be careful of Níðhǫgg as he is very devious and likes nothing better than to trick people into making wrong choices. Níðhǫgg spends his time sucking the blood from the living dead and gnawing the roots of Yggdrasil. Wulfhere agreed with the man and said he had been correct, it had not been pleasant to hear his words. Wulfhere thanked him for his advice and they set off. Inside the Hall it was again quiet and they were thankful because the screams were unnerving. As they drew level with the door a man from inside hailed them and asked them to save him. Dunstan stared in horror when he recognised Garm the former Þegn of Cælctun. The man from the shadows warned them that they should not interfere with those who suffer in the Nastrønd. Uthric took Dunstan by the arm and they continued around the side of the Hall. They seemed to walk for days before they reached the back of the Hall and found the road coming out of another door. Wulfhere wondered if they had got lost and were at the same point they had been days ago, but Dunstan thought the landscape looked different and so they continued along the road. After five days walking they could see a massive tree in the distance that rose to such a height that its crown was lost in the clouds. As they got closer the size of the One Tree became apparent. They could also smell death and it became so strong that it felt that the air also tasted of death. At the base of the tree was an enormous dragon coiled several times around the roots. The rest of the body of the dragon stretched away into the mist. Níðhǫgg was sucking blood noisily from a pile of bodies and afterwards he had finished with the body he tossed it aside to two waiting wolves who then ripped the bodies apart before eating them. The Hrothgarsons were not sure what to do or how to approach the Dragon. Wulfhere said that it might be good to start with introductions and then ask Níðhǫgg about Dunstan's soul. Dunstan waited until the dragon had finished eating and introduced himself. Níðhǫgg watched him closely as he spoke and Dunstan had to look away as he found his thoughts had become confused. Níðhǫgg said he had many souls in his keeping but he was sure that after they each had fought a contest of willpower with him he could sort out which soul was the right one. Dunstan said that it did not sound like an equal contest. Níðhǫgg said that Dunstan was correct in his thinking and if he did not want to accept the contest he was free to leave. Dunstan talked it over with his brothers. Wulfhere said that this is what they had come to do and they should not back down now. Uthric agreed and said he would happily face the dragon if Dunstan was afraid. Dunstan said that he would go first as it was his fault they were about to have a contest with Níðhǫgg. He looked into Níðhǫgg’s eyes and felt himself being dragged into blackness. He looked away and felt his sight clear again. Níðhǫgg laughed and told Dunstan that he would suffer serious consequences if he ever took a prisoner. Dunstan asked what sort of consequences he would be likely to suffer. Níðhǫgg reminded him of Nastrønd’s Hall and said that those that broke a geas would be brought alive to Nastrønd for judgement. He told Dunstan that he would have to try better or suffer further consequences. Dunstan steeled himself and looked again into Níðhǫgg's eyes. This time Dunstan managed to keep his mind focused against the Dragon. Eventually Dunston broke eye contact and staggered backwards. Níðhǫgg said to Dunstan that he was impressed that he was able to hold out so long, and rewarded him with knowledge of how to fight with a spear. Uthric said that he had best go next. He stood in front of the Níðhǫgg and forced himself to look into the dragon's eyes. He immediately lost all sense of himself and had to look away. The dragon laughed again and told him that he would never again be able to refuse anyone who asks something of him directly. The dragon waited while Uthric prepared himself for another attempt by casually gnawing on one of the writhing bodies at the foot of Yggdrasil. When Uthric had composed himself, he signalled to Níðhǫgg that he was ready. He looked again into the dragon’s eyes but this time he focused on Meire and that helped him to survive the pull of the darkness. The Dragon released Uthric and said that he thought that Uthric had been clever to keep a focus on his wife. Níðhǫgg rewarded him with knowledge of how to lead men in battle. Wulfhere was reluctant and said that he would prefer not to face the dragon. Uthric told him to concentrate on something important to him like Bronwyn. He stood in front of the Dragon and signalled he was ready. Wulfhere felt that he was getting sucked into darkness. He tried to focus on anything but his mind was blank and he had to break contact. Níðhǫgg laughed and told him to try again. Wulfhere again felt himself getting lost in darkness so he broke contact. Níðhǫgg said that Wulfhere would now have two taboos. If he wanted to gain something Níðhǫgg offered Wulfhere a chance for another attempt to keep control of himself but Wulfhere thought that it was unlikely he would succeed. Wulfhere asked Níðhǫgg what the consequences of his failures were and the dragon told him that he would always have to obey Leæces and never use a javelin against a woman. Níðhǫgg warned the Hrothgarsons that if they broke their taboos he would come looking for them and they would offer the same fate as the bodies he sucked dry. Dunstan said they had challenged the dragon and that if Níðhǫgg didn't mind he would like to be reunited with his soul as he had suffered from its loss. Níðhǫgg pointed to two black cats and said that reuniting with his soul might be another challenge. He said Dunstan would have to make a choice of either black cat or he could ask the wolves for help if he preferred. The dragon told him that one wolf would always lie and the other would always tell the truth. Moreover, if Dunstan chose to ask the wolves he could only could ask one wolf a single question. Dunstan said that he would like to confer with his brothers if Níðhǫgg did not mind. Uthric said that the answer was simple and he had heard a similar riddle at last year’s Yule festival. Dunstan just had to ask one wolf which soul the other wolf would choose in order for Dunstan to get the right soul back. Uthric said no matter which soul they pointed to, all Dunstan had to do was choose the other one. Neither Dunstan nor Wulfhere could follow the logic but Uthric said that he was certain he was right. Dunstan said he trusted his brother and did as Uthric told him, choosing the soul that was not indicated by the wolf. Níðhǫgg asked Dunstan if he was sure he wanted that soul and since he was in a kind mood he would allow him to change his mind. Dunstan said that he had made his choice and the black cat jumped into his stomach. While Dunstan made his choice and was re-united with his soul, Uthric watched a large red squirrel that was perched on a branch of Yggdrasil and seemed interested in the proceedings. Uthric went over to the squirrel and introduced himself and asked if perhaps he might ask it some questions. The squirrel seemed pleased to be noticed and said he would be happy to help after he had delivered a message to Níðhǫgg. As soon as Dunstan had decided what soul he wanted the squirrel hopped down from the branch that he was perched on and whispered in Níðhǫgg’s ear. The dragon responded by biting chunks out of the roots of Yggdrasil and lashed his tail which caused mild tremors in the ground. The wolves gave up eating one of the still writhing corpses discarded by Níðhǫgg and moved further away for safety. The large squirrel hopped over to the Hrothgarsons. It introduced itself as Ratatoskr. Ratatoskr said that his job was to convey messages between the eagle and stag and Níðhǫgg but he was very interested why living humans were in Nastrønd. Uthric said that his brother, Dunstan, had come to get his soul and now that they had found it they needed to get home. Ratatoskr was interested in that story but wondered if he might be of any help to get them home. He said that Níðhǫgg seemed to be preoccupied in gnawing roots and was unlikely to help and no-one in their right mind would ever trust the wolves became they were impossible to tell apart and one always lied and one always told the truth. Uthric said that he would be grateful if Ratatoskr could help tell the brothers how to get back to Hambladensted. Ratatoskr said that he didn't think Hambladensted was one of the nine worlds and that it might be better to be a little less specific about where they wanted to go. For instance, he suggested they might want to say to Aelfheim or Niflheim or perhaps Muspelheim. Wulfhere said that although all these places might be interesting in their own right they would prefer to return to Miðgarðr. Ratatoskr thought in that case they might have two options. One would be to follow the road back the way they had come and overcome each challenge again. The drawback with this option was that the way had been opened by someone and there was a possibility it might have since closed. Dunstan said that he wasn't sure that it would turn out well if they went back the same way. He thought that if there was another option it might be one that he and his brothers might want to take. Ratatoskr said the other option was that they might want to get to Miðgarðr by climbing Yggdrasil. The Hrothgarsons looked at each other and agreed that although climbing such a height could be dangerous it was likely to be the only option. Ratatoskr nodded and said that the climb was long and arduous but he found it relatively easy because he had four feet all of which could cling to branches whereas he recognised that they only had two and that was likely to make things more difficult. Ratatoskr said of course that he would need payment to help as nothing should ever be for free and he was providing a service. Wulfhere said that they really didn’t have much they could give the squirrel. Ratatoskr smiled and said that what he had in mind they seemed to have plenty of. He said that he dealt in information and would be pleased if they could tell him stories of things that they had encountered on their travels. Dunstan said he was happy with such a bargain. Wulfhere said that they could increase their chance of success by using the rope that the Duergar had made for them. With that it was agreed and they set off climbing with Ratatoskr as a guide. It took them ten days of climbing with many slips and falls but fortunately no lasting injuries as the rope stopped them from falling far. On the way, the brothers took it in turns to tell Ratatoskr tales of their lives that he thought he might be interested in. Ratatoskr was most interested in Offa’s ale and was keen that should they ever return that he would like it very much if they could bring a skin. Uthric promised he would. Eventually they reached a branch that Ratatoskr said would lead to Miðgarðr. They crawled along the branches until they were able to see clouds. Ratatoskr told them to jump and they would end up in their physical bodies. They woke on top of a wooden platform, sore and wet from a recent shower of rain. There was no-one to greet them or give them food. Wulfhere said that from now on Dunstan needed to be careful with his soul. He was not sure he could survive another episode like that.
  7. The Blood Sacrifice and Those who were Sold There was peace along the Tamyse valley. The war had been short but bloody and destructive. For the survivors there would be a struggle to get enough food and shelter for the coming winter. Food was in short supply all over Cerdic’s Kingdom. The wars had destroyed the growing crops and killed or displaced livestock. Even for those that had silver to spend, the cost of food was high. The Atheling Stuf had told Wulfhere to start re-fortifying Hambladensted and had left forty warriors from his army with Wulfhere to help with the construction and promised to send woodwrights, shipwrights and people who were experienced in building. Wulfhere was aware that the refugee women, older people and children from Hambladensted and Farnhamble would be sent back north and he would need to find food and shelter for them. He was also told to expect some of the refugees who had come from the north side of the Tamyse. Stuf thought it unlikely that Aelle would want them or even allow them to return to their own destroyed villages therefore Stuf was keen to share the burden of feeding them throughout the northern lands. Wulfhere appointed Uthric as Þegn of Hambladensted. He hoped this would then allow him to start to build the alliances in the four nearby settlements while Uthric concentrated on the defensive palisade of Hambladensted. Wulfhere split up his warriors into people who would construct the palisade and shelters, those that would collect wood and oversee seasoning of wood for the building of boats and others that would help with the farming. He sent a fifth of his men out to hunt and fish to supplement the meagre supplies they had. Wulfhere also sent the pack mules south to Wincen Cæster or Pontus Cæster to try and buy grain to cover any immediate shortfall. The Hrothgarsons used their own money hoping this would be an investment for the future. Wulfhere met with the four local Þegns, Issa, Taran, Darwyne and Uthric. They realised the people were going to be hungry at least until harvest and tried to plan to share the available food. Wulfhere thought that they should be fortifying the south end of the Bridge at Pontes but following discussions with his Þegns he agreed that this would have to wait until the next year at the earliest. They decided that they should focus for the present on survival during the coming winter. They hoped that the harvest would be good and therefore there would be less deaths throughout the winter. News came back with the men who had been sent to get food in Wincen Cæster that King Octa had taken his army and attacked and captured Hamafunta. His rapid success had been a surprise and Octa had decided that he would attack and capture Cissa Cæster which he thought would make a better capital than Wihtwarasburgh. Wulfhere was discussing how many people were needed to build fish traps when he was interrupted by an exhausted boy. He had run as fast as he could to tell Wulfhere that some spearmen had attacked one of the outlying farms, killed some of the men and then took off the women. Wulfhere took his brothers and ten men and followed the boy to the fields. The farm was close to the forest and the three men who had been working with the women were lying dead in the field. Wulfhere asked the boy how many spearmen he had seen but the boy said he was unsure. He was certain the women who had been taken had still been alive. Wulfhere ordered his men to look for tracks and they searched up to the forest edge. Wulfhere found some tracks that led into the forest but after a short period lost which way they were going. Eventually Uthric found more tracks and they went down a trail that led to a small house in a clearing. Uthric was positive the tracks led to the house and they watched hidden in the undergrowth as a younger man and older man worked outside. At Wulfhere's signal his men moved forward and the two men tried to run. Uthric threw his javelin and it pierced the younger man through the neck. As he fell the older man escaped into the doorway and the door was slammed shut. They could clearly hear a woman scream from inside and they were in no doubt that they had found the missing women. Wulfhere sent some men round the back of the house to guard against anyone trying to leave. He reminded people that this had been an error they had made at Garm's hall and he did not want the enemy to escape this time. Wulfhere asked the people inside to come out. The old man answered saying that he was not sure this was a good idea and asked why there were armed men outside his house. Uthric told him that they might be better coming out as he thought it would soon get too hot to stay inside. When the man asked why that would be, Uthric said his plan was to set a fire at the walls and door. The man said he thought that in that case he and his wife would prefer to come out provided that Uthric would guarantee that they would not put a javelin in his head. Wulfhere said that they would not kill them immediately and only wished to question them. Dunstan said their safety really depended on the answers they gave. The man and the women came out and were pulled aside and held by some of the spearmen. Dunstan checked out the house but there was no-one else inside and he told Wulfhere that the women were not there. They were both confused as they had thought it was clear the tracks had come this way. Uthric lifted the older man off his feet by his tunic and asked him where the rest of the women were. The man looked puzzled and said that he lived here with his wife and his son who they had recently and unnecessarily killed. He wanted to know why they had killed his son as none of them had ever done anything to deserve this. Dunstan pushed him over and stood over him. He asked the man to tell him where the other spearmen and women had gone. The woman rushed at Dunstan and began to pummel him. Duncan pushed her back and his spearmen held her arms. Wulfhere asked the man again where the others had gone but he only looked more confused and upset. Wulfhere told him that he had tracked raiders to this place and he would think the least the man could do was to say where they had gone. After some time, it became clear that neither the man nor woman could add anything to their knowledge although both Uthric and Dunstan thought they were both lying. Some of the warriors picked up tracks on the far side of the clearing and they left the house. As they walked further into the forest they could hear drum beats ahead of them. They were unsure what the drumbeat signified and some of the men began to get nervous. They came to a steep mound with a narrow cleft cut through it. The walls of the cleft were lined with fist sized stones and periodically there were niches in the stones that held skeletal heads. No-one wanted to enter and Uthric decide he would go around the mound to see if there was another way in. He came back when it was beginning to get dark and reported there did not appear to be any way in apart from the narrow cleft. He said he had thought about climbing the mound and looking down from above, but the sides were too steep to safely climb up and, in particular, come down again. The drum beats grew louder and seemed to reach a crescendo when they suddenly stopped just as it got fully dark. Dunstan thought that the sound came from under the earth and wondered if there were tunnels through which the drummers could escape. None of the men would approach the cleft and no-one wanted to go in. They spent an uncomfortable and cold night shivering and watching the cleft. At one point during the night Dunstan drew everyone’s attention to a huge raven which flew over the mound and was silhouetted by the nearly full moon. At daybreak there was a death scream and no-one knew what it meant and no-one volunteered to find out. After some time Dunstan said that he would go in if someone else would join him. He said there were some captives that needed to be rescued and it wouldn't change things if they all stood outside and shook with fear. Uthric and Wulfhere agreed to go too although Uthric clutched his hammer amulet rather than the spear as they went into the deep cleft in single file. They came into a larger circular region after about thirty paces. There was an mound of rocks and behind it, an ash tree. On the rocks were piled nine severed heads and their eyes shone like they were reflecting rush light candles. A man with a grey beard hung on the ash tree. His face had a fresh wound that still bled where someone had taken his eye. All three men stared at the scene and no-one spoke. There was no sign of any living creature and they thought the five missing women were likely among the heads on the altar. By mutual consent they turned and started to leave but Dunston went forward to take a closer look at the man on the tree before Wulfhere pulled him away. When they got out of the cleft they discussed what the situation could possibly mean. Dunstan asked if they thought they had just seen Woden and he reminded them there had been a large raven flying in the night. Wulfhere said that he was not sure but something had happened here that he now wished he hadn't seen and he feared that it might come back to haunt them further. Uthric wondered about the woodcutter’s part in this and thought he must have knowledge of what happened here because he lived so close. Dunstan said he did not believe the man could have seen nothing and that his worst fear is that the woodcutter might somehow be linked to the deaths. They had only seen one son and there might be other sons and if so, Dunstan thought they might be involved. Wulfhere said that there was nothing more they could do here. The men who took the women were likely on the altar too. He did not understand what had happened but it wouldn't become any clearer by standing around in the forest. They collected the old man and woman on the way back and took them to Farnhamble and Darwyne. Dunstan questioned them further but was no wiser at the end of it. Wulfhere told Darwyne to post some spearmen near the forest but nothing untoward happened over the next few days. Uthric had agreed with his brothers that he would return to Glawmæd to see their wives. They had been away for over three moons and they all feared the consequences. They held a conference and agreed that they would offer their families the option of coming north to live in Hambladensted or remain in Glawmæd until next spring. Wulfhere thought that there was still a danger of war in the north and hunger would be a problem until at least the harvest was gathered. Dunstan asked should the invitation also extend to their mother. He was unsure if it would be a good idea. Uthric said no matter what she thought of them, Hildegard was still their mother. There was also their brothers Sighard, Egfryd and sister ldris as well as Beorthric the baby. He felt he could not in all conscience leave her on her own. Sighard was almost a man but he would not be able to provide for Hildegard. Wulfhere agreed with Uthric and so it was settled they would ask their mother to come north too. Uthric set out the next day for the south. He thought that if he kept to the roads the travel would be quicker and would be reasonably safe. He expected to back in about fourteen days. He stopped the first night with Taran in Dunbriwan and left early in the morning. It took almost two days to get to Taddenlæge and he spent the night telling Tadda of the happenings in the north. He told the tale of the strange mound in the forest and the grey-headed, one-eyed, hanging man. Uthric realised that the people listening to his tale reacted badly and he resolved that he would not tell this tale again. He set off in the morning having bid farewell to Tadda and Rowena and walked through most of the next night to reach Wincen Cæster. He stayed in Stuf's Hall. Cerdic was in the South dealing with Aelle. Stuf said he hoped that they would conclude a peace treaty so that he could go back to fighting Dumnonians. Uthric stayed a day with Stuf but he spent most of the day asleep because he had walked through the previous night. In the morning he set off and spent the night at Old Wincen Cæster Hill. Uthric was amazed to see that there were many new farms built or being built along either side of the road. He stopped to ask one farmer where he had come from. The man said that he had brought his family from Saxony and had been given the land by Atheling Cyrnic. It had taken two days to get to Glawmæd from Wincen Cæster but as he approached he noticed something was wrong. The village had been burnt and he could see no living thing. There were fresh graves alongside the road but although he searched and called out he could find no one to tell him what had happened. Uthric thought that Tæthle or Osberht might have some news of Meire so he thought it was best to go there and ask what they knew. He found Cædering also burnt and deserted. He could find no-one to talk to and he walked on to Cælctun hoping for answers to the mystery. He found more unanswered questions at there. The village was deserted but there was no destruction. Uthric puzzled over what might have happened. It was as if everyone had disappeared and taken all that they owned. He spent the night in Cælctun and resolved to go to see Cerdic in Portus Cæster in the morning. Cerdic was not in Portus Cæster, having gone to meet Aelle to conclude a peace treaty. Some of the Huscarls recognised Uthric and told him the story of what had happened. Octa had attacked and captured Hamafunta and then gone on to attack Cissa Cæster but could not take it due to the high, well-defended walls. Aelle had gathered his army and had surprised Octa outside Cissa Cæster and after defeating the army had then killed Octa. Aelle had decided Cerdic had told Octa to attack him and took his army to besiege Portus Cæster. While part of his army had stayed besieging Portus Cæster the other half had ravaged the county side. He had taken Glawmæd and Cædering killing both Oshehrt and Tæthle. Cælctun had surrendered as there were no warriors left to defend it. All the survivors of the three villages were taken as captives. The Huscarl assumed they had been sold as slaves. Uthric asked if they knew if anyone had escaped but none of the Huscarls knew anything more. They said Aelle had moved so fast that no-one had been prepared for his attack. Cerdic had eventually brought his army south and he and Aelle fought some indecisive skirmishes before Aelle decided to withdraw. Cerdic had threatened to attack Aelle's lands and Aelle had agreed to a peace treaty. Uthric thought he should go back to Glawmæd and from there go to Llys. He hoped that some of the people of Glawmæd might have escaped through the forest and then made their way to Llys. At Glawmæd he thought about digging up the silver he had given Meire but realised that a single warrior with so much silver would be vulnerable and they would need to keep the silver for later. He travelled through the forest of Mœn, visited the Pool of Butterflies but did not see anyone until he got to Llys. He met with the Þegn of Llys, Thorold, and asked for his advice. Thorold told him that as far as he was aware Aelle's Warband had caught everyone by surprise and no-one had time to react. It had been assumed Aelle would have been content with killing Octa but he blamed Cerdic for the destruction caused by Octa and took revenge. By the time the peace treaty was agreed, Aelle had started to see sense and was willing to make peace. Thorold thought that there would be more wars with Aelle but for now both sides were content to shout insults. He said that no doubt that border raids would continue and that might provoke a major fight. Llys had become prosperous. All along the Mœn river, new farms had been built and Thorold hoped if there was peace they would have a good harvest. Uthric said that the land would need a good harvest for in the north there had been so much destruction it was likely that people would starve. Thorold said that he could not imagine how he would deal with losing his wife and children and asked Uthric if lending him a horse would be useful. Uthric thanked him and said it would certainly make the journey more comfortable and save him having to buy new boots this year. However, he was not sure it would be any quicker for he was not used to horses and worried about falling off. Thorold said that he would give him a horse that was of good temperament and as long as he did not try to gallop he should remain safely on its back. It took Uthric another four days of travel to return to Hambladensted and to tell his brothers what had occurred in Glawmæd and the disappearance of their wives and children. The brothers held a conference. The situation in the north was still delicate. They had been tasked with securing the area by Cerdic and Stuf. If they left on a journey they would be going against Cerdic's express orders. Dunstan said equally that he did not have to think too hard to imagine the trouble they might be in if they left their wives in captivity for a whole year. He said that he was not a violent man but the man who had taken her would have to give her over or suffer the consequences. He resolved that he would not offer payment for his wife. Uthric said that he felt he had been reacting to events over the last number of years and would for once he would like to be on the offensive. The more Dunstan thought about the situation the angrier he got. He said he was of the opinion Cerdic was disorganised and did not protect his people as he was sworn to do as the Westseaxacyning. He said if it came to an election he would not vote for him again. He asked his brothers to remember the time when they were in trouble at Taddenlæge and no one knew where Cerdic was. He thought Cerdic might want to improve his communication lines and he was never where he was supposed to be. Wulfhere said that Dunstan would be better to keep his opinions to himself as he thought others might not share such views. He thought it was fair that Dunstan held these views but he needed to be careful before talking too much. Wulfhere told Uthric that while he had been away there had been grumbling that he had not tried to pay the wergild for the son of Wictrum the woodcutter. Uthric said that he was reluctant to pay the wergild as he thought Wictrum and his son had something to do with the deaths of the captured women and the spearmen. However, he used the treasure that he had got from the battles to pay Wictrum. People said that they hoped the new Þegn would not always be so late in paying his debts. Wulfhere said that they needed to go to see Cerdic and ask him for permission to seek their wives and children. Halig said he agreed with this but he thought finding their mother and siblings was also important. Uthric and Dunstan said they were sure that their mother would be fine and Dunstan was certain that she would have likely married someone again. They travelled to Taddenlæge and stayed the night in Tadda's Hall. They asked Tadda and Rowena for advice. Dunstan said that he was not that interested in advice at the present and would prefer vengeance on those who had wronged him and his family. He began to make growling noses and every time someone talked to him he just growled. Rowena said to Wulfhere that she would not be too hopeful that their journey would be successful. Their wives and children could be dead. She said that she had a daughter of marriageable age and she would have no objection to making a match with Wulfhere if they were unsuccessful. Wulfhere thanked her but said that he thought he at least needed to try before thinking of a new wife. They left the next morning and went to Wincen Cæster hoping to meet with Cerdic but were told he was not there. They asked to meet with Stuf and were taken to his Hall. Stuf was with his war Þegns and planning raids into Dumnonia but he agreed to see the Hrothgarsons privately. Wulfhere told him of their problems and their missing families. He asked what Stuf thought Cerdic would say. Stuf was sympathetic to their problems but he did not hold out much chance of success. He thought they could go chasing women all over Britain and will not find them. He advised that there were too many British slave women and it would be unlikely that anyone would be able to remember the difference. He suggested that if they had no clear leads they should take new wives and go back north. Uthric said that Meire was memorable. He explained that Meire had a slight greenish tinge around her temples and he thought people would recollect her. Stuf said that he hoped for their sake it was true but he thought their biggest obstacle might be Cerdic. Cerdic had been annoyed with everyone after Aelle attacked and had not been that approachable about anything. He said things had got that difficult both he and Cyrnic had made sure they had other things to do rather than be in his presence. Wulfhere and Uthric were downhearted with Stuf's news and Dunstan just growled. Stuf looked at Dunstan and was about to ask a question when Uthric said that it appeared to be another fine mess they were in and they were now setting off to heroically buy back their wives. Dunstan growled again. Stuf said that he needed to meet with his Þegns but invited them to stay in his Hall for the night and they would talk more. At food that night Stuf asked the Hrothgarsons to tell him about their meeting with the Bannucman. Dunstan would usually have told the tale but he was in no mood to do so and continued growling when anyone came too close. Uthric told the tale and people who listened were impressed. Some called for an anvil to be brought in as an argument had erupted on the warrior’s benches about who could possibly throw an anvil. Stuf put a stop to the argument by saying no-one would be throwing anvils in his Hall unless a Bannucman appeared. If that happened he said that everyone would be welcome to try and throw anvils. Wulfhere asked Stuf what he knew about the slave markets in Cissa Cæster. Stuf said that unfortunately he had no real knowledge of how they worked so that he could add nothing to what they already knew. He asked Wulfhere about the food situation in the north. He said that he hoped the harvest was good this year and the weather would remain mild. Stuf said he was becoming concerned that if the harvest was bad, or ruined by rains and storms there could be serious famine. He intended to make raids into Dumnonia after their harvest in the hope that he could capture enough food. Wulfhere and Uthric thought that if they were able to they would like to take part in raids to get food. In the morning they bade farewell to Stuf. He wished them luck in their quest and in particular with Cerdic. He also gave them each two silver bars which he felt might be useful for their quest for the families. They went to Glawmæd to recover their buried silver and were surprised that new famines had settled in the ruined village and were beginning to rebuild the houses, palisade and tend the fields. They spoke with the Þegn, Wictred, who confirmed that they had all newly arrived at Portus Cæster from the Eider in Saxony. Dunstan was angry with this new development saying that no one was respecting the law anymore and land rights were being ignored. Wictred said that he had been given the land by Cerdic and was unaware that any other people had a claim on the land. Wulfhere said that they used to have land here but they now lived on the south side of the Tamyse valley and he should not be concerned about Dunstan who was angry for lots of reasons. Dunstan made more growling noises and people moved away from him. Wulfhere told Wictred they would be gone soon but they needed to get their silver that they had buried for safe keeping. Wictred said they were welcome to get it and wished them all the best for their onward journey. At Pontus Cæster they found both inside and outside the walls of the city were packed with new people. Abandoned boats in various states of decay lay on the beaches. It was clear that many new settlers had come from Saxony, Danevirke, Friesland and Jutland. Uthric thought it might be good to advertise the south Tamyse valley as a place to live but Wulfhere thought it best not to invite them north until they got back there. He thought that large numbers of new settlers might not go down well unless they were there to make sure there was no friction with the people already settled there. There was also the issue of a lack of food. Wulfhere asked if Cerdic was in Portus Cæster and when he was told that he was in his Hall he asked to see him. Cerdic was surprised to see them and asked why they were in the south when there was so much to do in the north. He asked if they had already secured a crossing over the Tamyse and rebuilt the damaged settlements. Wulfhere said that work was ongoing on all these projects but they had come to seek advice from Cerdic and permission to find their wives and children. Cerdic was clearly not happy about their request. When Dunstan tried to speak he cut him short and would only allow Wulfhere to talk. Cerdic said that women and children were important but the Hrothgarsons had all been given responsibilities. There were dwellings to rebuild, fortifications to make secure and importantly the harvest needed to be brought in, assessed and preparations made for the next Spring planting. They needed to be there to choose the livestock for slaughter and which should be used for breeding. Cerdic said he had made Wulfhere responsible for that and now he was asking to ignore his duty to his people and go off on a journey into hostile territory. Cerdic said he had heard stories that they frequently wandered all over Britain and were not good about coming back on time. He reminded Wulfhere that he had sworn an oath to him and Cerdic wondered if he was now intent on breaking it. Wulfhere said that he was asking for seven days to try and get their children back or at least find out what had happened to them. Cerdic said he would reluctantly agree to a seven-day period but if they were going to Cissa Cæster they should do nothing to upset the treaty he had made with Aelle. Cerdic said that there would be a reckoning for Aelle but he was not ready for that battle yet. Cerdic said that he would expect them back in seven days. He had over two hundred people that he was sending north with Wulfhere and they needed to be back to collect them. Wulfhere thanked Cerdic and asked if he would object to building a Burgh on the south side of the Bridge at Pontes. Cerdic said that he had no objection but Wulfhere was the KingsÞegn and he had to decide if he could keep and support a garrison in the area. Wulfhere said he thought that having some control of the Bridge would be a good strategic move and would consider it over the winter. Cerdic dismissed them but said that they needed to think how they could balance their responsibilities to him as their Oathlord and to their people who they had sworn to protect against their personal troubles. He had noticed in the past years that people in positions of responsibility had to put the good of everyone ahead of the good of the individual. Dunstan suppressed a low growl which fortunately no-one else heard. Wulfhere said that before they left Portus Cæster he wanted to talk to Hereweard. They found Hereweard in a tavern and he greeted them warmly. Wulfhere told him of the mound with the cleft, the hanged man and the altar with the heads and asked him for his opinion. Hereweard said it would be hard to make any other opinion than someone was completing a ritual to gain knowledge much like Woden had in the sagas. Without examining the site further and looking for signs that only leæces might notice he could have no further views. Wulfhere asked if it could actually have been the All-father himself. Hereweard said that could be possible but again he would have to see the place himself. Uthric asked what Hereweard’s opinion would be if they filled in the cleft from above. Hereward looked at Uthric but did not answer. He asked Uthric what he thought about the idea. Uthric said that when he said it aloud he had immediately realised it was a stupid idea. Hereweard patted Uthric's hand and said he was glad to see that becoming a Þegn had brought some small amount of wisdom. Wulfhere thanked Hereward and they left to travel to Cissa Cæster. Dunstan growled as he left and Hereward looked at him for a long time and remained watching him as he left. Dunstan said that he remained angry and he was of the opinion that someone would lose their head for this. They avoided Hamafunta in case they were recognised but they could see that it was being rebuilt after being burnt in the war. Wulfhere said that they must be careful about telling people who they were and what business they had. He suggested that they call themselves the Coerlsons and say that they came from Wiht. They would keep their first names as that would minimise any mistakes. He reminded them all that they should not do anything to attract any attention. Cerdic and Stuf had said that the peace treaty was fragile and they should not be the ones to start another war. The gates to Cissa Cæster were guarded by four spearman who asked their business. Wulfhere told the leader, Calemund that they were the Coerlson brothers and had come to buy slaves. Calemund asked where they had come from and Wulfhere said that they lived on Wiht. Calemund demanded to know if they were Octa's men as he was aware that Octa had been the Wihtcyning. He said that they should know Aelle might have made peace with Cerdic but they still had an argument with Octa's men who had killed their men and women without pity. The other three guards who had been amusing themselves playing knuckle bones for scraps of hacksilver sensed the increase in tension and picked up their spears and began paying much more attention to the conversation. Wulfhere said that they had never been Octa's men but they were Cerdic's men. Calemund said that it was just as well for they would be dealing with Octa's men like they dealt with Octa himself. They looked up on the walls where a body covered with pitch was impaled on a spear. Calemund explained that they had had to cover Octa's body in pitch to stop the crows eating it after Aelle had flayed him. We wanted to keep him safe for a while and Aelle has a new war banner called Octaferygt which the leæces had told him would bring victory as long as Octa's body did not decay. To stop that happening Aelle had Octa dipped in pitch. One of the other guards, Athmund, was paying close attention to Uthric. He asked what they said their names were. Wulfhere told him they were the Coerlson brothers but Athmund said that this was not the truth. He said that he had been at Cœlfrith’s Moot and in Anderida when Uthric and his brothers had brought a case against Cœlfrith and had humiliated him. Wulfhere said that this was true and they had only said that they were Coerlsons to stop any possible trouble while they bought some slaves. Calemund said that there was peace between Aelle and Cerdic so he would not be stopping them coming into Cissa Cæster however he thought it only fair to warn them that Octa was lonely. When Wulfhere looked confused, Calemund said that if they caused any trouble they would be joining Octa on the walls. He said he doubted that their flayed skin would make a good Battle banner but he would enquire of the leæces. Wulfhere thanked him for his advice and said that he would be mindful of it when they did business at the slave market. Dunstan had not said anything in the entire exchange but only emitted growling sounds. Calemund warned Wulfhere he would also be telling Cissa they were here and they might hear more from him. He thought that it might also be useful for Dunstan to be put on a leash as he seemed to be acting like a dog. The two men that ran the slave market were Guthmaer Sleddeson and Grimwold Frithowulfson. When Wulfhere explained that they were looking for particular slaves both men expressed surprise. They said that one British slave was much the same as another and there would be no way they could possibly be of help. Uthric said that his wife was memorable because she had a greenish tinge at her temples. Guthmaer said that Uthric was right, she was noteworthy and he had no difficulty remembering what had happened to her. She had been bought by Hrof's daughter. Uthric looked puzzled and Guthmaer said he was happy to enlighten him. He told him that Hrof’s daughter was called Ealhwyn. He thought that most of the other slaves brought in at that time were bought by the army which meant they could be anywhere in Ceint. Wulfhere thanked the two men for their information and declined their invitation to buy some slaves. Dunstan was angry and said that he would not be wrong in predicting a dark future for the two slave traders. Wulfhere warned Dunstan that they must do nothing to bring them any attention. They walked through the market to find somewhere to talk without other people hearing. Dunstan suddenly saw Hildegard. She was buying fruit and vegetables and handing her purchases to a younger woman. She looked well cared for and was wearing a rich and costly cloak with gold ornaments at her throat and wrists. She suddenly saw her sons and screamed. Dunstan went over to Hildegard. She was shocked to see them. Hildegard spoke quickly to the young woman she was with and gave her the purchases she had made. The young woman then left. Hildegard wanted to give Dunstan a hug but he stopped her with a motion of his hand. Dunstan said that he was surprised to meet her in a market in Cissa Cæster and he thought she was obviously doing well for herself. He said he could see that her clothes were of good quality and she wore gold and silver ornaments at her neck and wrists. Hildegard said she would explain all this in good time but asked him why he was here and where were her other sons. Dunstan pointed to Wulfhere and Uthric who had been watching from a distance. Hildegard began to cry and said that she would explain the situation to the best of her ability but they should go somewhere to talk rather than stand in the busy market. Dunstan refused her offer to go to her house but said he would wait to hear her explanations before making any judgement. Hildegard took her three sons to a tavern and ordered food and drinks. She asked her sons what they had been doing and Wulfhere gave a short explanation of how they had secured the north at the expense of losing their families. Hildegard said that the attack on Glawmæd was so swift that if they had been there then they would likely have been killed like most of the other warriors. She said there had been no warning and no time to prepare. Aelle’s army has descended and killed anyone who had resisted. Uthric said that this was why they had come to Cissa Cæster in order to find out what had happened to their families. Hildegard said that she would expect no less from her sons. She said they might not be strong on timekeeping but they were dogged about tasks and would keep going until they succeeded. She said that Hrothgar had the same virtues and he would have been proud of them. Dunstan growled when he heard this and said in his opinion his mother had forgotten their father very quickly. He said he was interested to know how come Hildegard was dressed like a noblewoman when he knew the survivors of Glawmæd, Cædering and Cælctun had been sold into slavery. Uthric said while he was glad his mother seemed to be doing well, he would be interested in her news about her daughters-in-law and her grandchildren. He said he thought it might be interesting to hear if they were doing as well as his mother. Hildegard said that Aelle's army had taken Glawmæd by surprise. Many of the warriors were killed trying to protect their families and there had been no organised defence. There had been a lot of confusion and captives had been allocated to different warriors. She knew that all three of their wives had been alive after the attack and had managed to talk to them briefly on the journey back to Cissa Cæster. There had been so many slaves after the war that not all were kept at the pens of the Slave market. She knew for sure that Meire had been claimed by Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter and she had seen her being taken away with her children. She did not know what had happened to Bronwyn or Gwenith, but she might have more news soon. Wulfhere said this was all well and good but he would really like an explanation of why Hildegard was dressed like a noblewoman having been sold into slavery. He said as far as he was aware slaves might be treated kindly by their owners but he had never heard that kindness extended to giving gold jewellery, but he was keen to learn if he was wrong in his assumption. Hildegard began to cry and said that she had left the most difficult news to the last. Dunstan kicked a chair across the tavern causing other customers to stare and the Taverner to come over and ask if everything was all right. Uthric assured him that it was and that Dunstan sometimes reacted to difficult news this way. The Taverner said that if they had more bad news to share it might be best that they should hear it outside. Wulfhere calmed the man down and offered to pay if the chair had been broken. The interruption had enabled Hildegard to compose herself. She said she had been bought by a benefactor who had known her and she had benefitted from that. She told them that her benefactor had spent silver trying to find out where their wives had been taken. Dunstan kicked another chair and said that once again she had disrespected their father and her dead husband. She had even forgotten Beorthric who she had professed to love. Uthric asked who this benefactor was and what he had found out while Wulfhere promised the now angry Taverner that there would not be any further kicked chairs. Hildegard said that she knew that they would not like this but that they must start to live in the present rather than the past. Uthric asked again who the benefactor was and Dunstan had to be restrained by Wulfhere when Hildegard said that it was Beorthric who had rescued her. Uthric asked why he had not also helped their wives but Hildegard said that they had already been sold by the time Beorthric had found her. She said he had tried to find out what happened to their families and hoped that there would be information in the next few days. Wulfhere asked what had happened to their brothers Sighard, Egfryd and sister Idris. Hildegard said that they were all safe with her and they were welcome to come and visit. She said she noticed that Wulfhere did not ask about the whereabouts of their other brother Beorthric. Wulfhere said that this should really not surprise her as they were still intent on killing his father. Hildegard begged them to come and make peace with Beorthric. She had sent a messenger and he would be expecting them. Uthric was angry that she had told Beorthric that they were here as he was likely to make trouble for them. He asked if Winfrith was with Beorthric and if there would be an ambush if they went to meet him. Hildegard said that as far as she knew Winfrith had gone north to Lundenwic but Beorthric was keen to make peace. Uthric said he was not going to listen to this anymore and said to his brothers that they should leave now. All three left Hildegard crying and waited until they got a safe distance away from the tavern before stopping to agree a plan. Uthric said that in his opinion they were in danger and needed to leave immediately. He thought that either they or Beorthric would begin a fight and if they were caught by Cissa they could only expect death by flaying and thereafter decorating the Westgate until the crows ate them. Wulfhere said that this was not the fate that he had in mind and agreed they should leave. Dunstan said that he could not believe what their mother was doing. Beorthric was a sneaking, conniving arschloch and that he thought they should go to Lundenwic to get their wives. He said he felt let down by Cerdic and blamed him for not protecting his people. Wulfhere said that he thought Cerdic had been taught a lesson by what happened. Uthric said that the problem had been Octa and then Aelle's interpretation that Cerdic had been supporting Octa. Dunstan said that he would still blame Cerdic. A king is meant to protect his people and, in his opinion, Cerdic had failed to protect all three villages. The Hrothgarsons left through the Eastgate and travelled east along Stane Street before striking north and then northwest through the forest to the ridges that led to Cælctun. They were concerned that Beorthric or Cissa would send men after them either to kill them or force a return to Cissa Cæster. They did not see anyone except for some woodsmen and charcoal burners until they got to Cælctun. They introduced themselves to the new Þegn of Cælctun, a man called Seirhead. He welcomed them and they told them about Cælctun's history. Seirhead said that he was sorry that they had suffered so much and he hoped that they would find their families. Uthric said that he understood the situation and it was difficult to blame anyone. Wulfhere said that they could blame the gods for their capriciousness but that would probably only bring further bad luck. They took their leave of Seirhead and went to Portus Cæster to tell Cerdic they were back. He had been doubtful that they would return on time and Wulfhere wanted him to be clear that they were now heading north. Uthric thought that if their mother was lost to them by remaining with Beorthric, then Cerdic might be a good substitute as he did not have much faith in their time keeping either. Portus Cæster was full of families and warriors from Saxony, Friesland and Jutland who had arrived on the last days of sailing before the Autumn and Winter storms made travelling by boats too dangerous. Uthric spoke with some of the farmers, encouraging them to come north. He told them there was plenty of spare land and they could have farms in return for swearing an oath to Wulfhere as Þegn. Wulfhere told Uthric to tell any families that wanted to come north that they would need to wait to travel with the Hrothgarsons. He was not keen that people just picked land themselves as he would rather allocate it in a strategic manner. He said he was also not keen to have warriors wondering around aimlessly in sensitive borderlands. Cerdic listened to their report as Wulfhere told him that he had learnt his wife had been sold in a slave market and they were unaware where they had gone. Uthric also told Cerdic that they had talked to their mother who had been living with Beorthric. Cerdic was interested in that development and asked about their thoughts. Wulfhere said that he had no thoughts except sadness. Cerdic said that to lose a wife and children was difficult but it might be time to move on and that there were plenty of other women. He said that he had lost his own wife to childbirth and while he had never taken another wife, he had always had a woman. He gave each brother a gold torc as compensation for the loss of their wives and children and then turned to other business. He had over 200 people that he was sending north to repopulate the Tamyse valley. Wulfhere thanked him for the torcs and they left Cerdic to go and find the families that were to come north. Wulfhere discussed what had happened with his brothers and all decided to get drunk before meeting with their new settlers. As they were drinking Hereweard the leæce came to join them. He said that he had been thinking about Dunstan since their last meeting and had been worried about him. He was keen to know if Dunstan had had any changes in personality and if he had been making any animal noises. Uthric said that Dunstan had not stopped growling since he left the north and had been particularly angry for some time. Hereweard said that he thought that maybe Dunstan had had his soul stolen when he stayed too long in the ritual mound. Dunstan thought that Hereward was talking nonsense and that he only growled so that he didn't say anything stupid or people didn't talk to him. Hereweard said that he would give Dunstan a potion to preserve his body because sooner or later he was going to burn up. His body would not survive without its soul for long. Dunstan was still sceptical but Wulfhere said it might be best to let Hereweard make further investigations. Dunston was suspicious about the potion. He thought that Hereweard was only trying to relieve him of his silver but relaxed when Hereweard said that there would be no cost for the potion. Hereweard asked Wulfhere if he could travel north with them when they were going. He thought he might find it useful to understand the situation better if he was closer at hand. When Hereweard left them drinking, Wulfhere said to his brothers that they were facing lots of problems. They had to rebuild Hambladensted, find enough food until harvest so that people would not die, find their wives and children, find enough land for their new settlers and finally find Dunstan's soul. He thought that this was a depressing list and made him feel that he'd like to buy a horse just to cheer himself up but with the luck that they had had recently it would be likely they wouldn't have enough food and the horse would die. The next days were spent in Portus Cæster buying supplies, oxen and carts and arranging for the families who were going north to get equipment to build new farms. It took almost ten days to travel back to Hambladensted but they did so without major incident. Wulfhere then spent a week allocating land for new farms in the bend of the Tamyse. The Harvest was good despite the war over the growing season and Wulfhere was content that no-one would starve. He sent thirty men to Stuf to help raid the Dumnonian harvest. Dunstan spent time with Hereward and Uthric continued to supervise the re-construction of the stockade at Hambladensted.
  8. The Battle for the Thames In the first year of Cerdic's reign the Yule feast was held at his new capital of Wincen Cæster on the banks of the Itchen. Looking back over the year Cerdic was pleased with how things stood. He had taken land from the Dumnonians and had captured Venta, renaming it Wincen Cæster. The siege and battle had been costly in men but those that had survived had been richly rewarded with silver and lands. Cerdic had made a treaty with Octa having killed enough of his men to make him think about who held the real power in the land. He had not wanted to expend more troops in an assault on Whitwarasburgh which would have been bloody but would have been of little value either strategically or in treasure. Cerdic wanted to weaken Aelle and the price for the treaty was that Octa would need to be active in keeping Aelle busy. Aelle did not seem overly concerned that Cerdic had declared himself Westseaxacyning but he was demanding that Cerdic acknowledge him as Brytenwealda. Cerdic had not done so yet. He informed Aelle that he had important tasks of pacifying the land between the Moen and the Itchen and would not be able to visit him. Cerdic had raided across the Itchen into Dumnonia and the Dumnonians had raided his new lands. Both sides had been content with raiding but it was rumoured that the Dumnonians would try and take Venta back. Cerdic was also keen to push north and secure a way to get over the Tamyse River into Mierce. He had spoken to Wulfhere after the taking of Venta to sound out his views on an undertaking to the Tamyse valley. Cerdic was aware that Aelle was also keen to establish more settlements along the Tamyse valley and that meant they were likely to come into conflict with Guercha One-eye, the Angelcyning. Guercha had long been a rival to Aelle and had been annoyed that Aelle had claimed to be the Brytenwealda. This year Guercha decided that he would challenge Aelle and his supporters had acclaimed him Brytenwealda too. The Yule festival was not as extravagant as the previous year. Cerdic had put a lot of effort into repairing the damage to Venta after the city was sacked. It had been a frontier fortress for years and many of the buildings had fallen into ruin before the city was partially burnt during the sack. Cerdic had repaired the walls and had taken over the barracks as his feast hall, digging a fire pit down the centre of the main hall and building benches for his warriors to eat at and sleep after a feast. Cerdic called the Hrothgarsons to see him in his private chambers to hear Wulfhere's reply to his suggestion about securing the north. Wulfhere had talked it over with his brothers and had agreed that it would present a good opportunity to gain land and wealth. Cerdic told him he was pleased with the decision and made Wulfhere a KingsÞegn. He was keen that they use their knowledge and relationships to scout out the Tamyse valley and try and secure a bridge or at least a passage across the Tamyse into Mierce. He also was keen that they develop more alliances and eliminate any hostile settlements. Wulfhere said that he was honoured by being made KingsÞegn. Cerdic reminded Wulfhere that this task was important to him and he was keen that it did not fail. He gave Wulfhere eighteen warriors, five pack mules and five bars of silver and one of gold to help complete the task. Cerdic said that since Wulfhere was likely to remain in the north the situation in Glawmæd needed to be resolved. He therefore made Lucnot the Þegn of Glawmæd as he had been loyal and he thought it a good thing that Britons also got promoted to positions of responsibility. They all returned to Glawmæd to prepare for the trip into the north. Wulfhere made a list of things that he thought might be useful and paid for it with the silver Cerdic had given. Dunstan wondered if they were expected to build a fortification and thought that perhaps they did not have the right skills to do it properly. He did offer to make withies for the settlement but Wulfhere thought that if the area was hostile that he would prefer the gates to be of something more solid than withies. Uthric said that solving that problem would be Wulfhere's task. He was now a KingsÞegn and Cerdic would be asking Wulfhere why their mission had failed. Wulfhere said that this was not an individual task but one that they all had a responsibility to fulfil. Uthric disagreed. He said that in his opinion Wulfhere had accepted the responsibility and as far as he was concerned Wulfhere was also the buffer between himself and Cerdic. So it would be Wulfhere that Cerdic would be asking if they failed in their task. They all thought that they would be in a relatively good position to achieve their task as they were held in high esteem in the north. They had restored Tadda to health, eliminated the threat to Taddenlæge from Cœlfrith and helped the Artrebates get justice. Wulfhere thought that Orin would he useful contact. He was not only likely to know the area but would have contacts with local settlements and people. The major concern that all had was how they would tell their wives that they were going away. This was always a point of contention and always fuelled by their mother, Hildegard, who had no faith in their timekeeping. Halig who was going north with them was keen to remind them that they had not been generous to Hildegard when they had gone to Ratae which had had negative consequences for their lives and relationships. Dunstan thought it was unfair of Halig to bring up their failure again. Halig said that he could accept that they had not meant to let their mother starve to death but he found it upsetting that they were still intending to kill Beorthric. He said he had only fond memories of Beorthric and particularly since he had paid with his own money to provide Halig with weapons and armour. He did not feel it was appropriate that has three elder brothers intended to kill Beorthric when they were the ones that had been negligent towards their mother and siblings. Wulfhere said this was an old argument and that it was his opinion it was not important at present. If and when they found Beorthric they could decide on the proper course of action. Dunstan agreed but said that he still intended to kill both Beorthric and Wilfrith. Wulfhere stopped the argument by sending Dunstan to get some dry firewood for the trip that they could load on the mules. Uthric told Meire that he was likely to be gone three or four moons and gave her silver that would last for a year. Wulfhere told Bronwyn that it was likely that he would be back within one and a half Moons and Dunstan told Gwenith he would be home inside a moon to be on time for the birth of their child. Both Wulfhere and Dunstan left their wives silver that would last half a year. All three woman discussed the Brothers intended absences with Hildegard. Hildegard said that in her opinion her sons had no intention of being back either in one moon or in four moons. Why else would they have given them so much money? She said it was her greatest regret that she had not been able to breed sons who were able to keep to their word and were good at time-keeping. She thought that they had taken after their father in this and had not inherited her nature. Hrothgar had frequently left her and never returned on time. Wulfhere met with the warriors that Cerdic had sent when had arrived in the morning. They were led by Mærleswein, a veteran of many Shieldwalls. He has tall and his face was covered with scars from fights he had had over the years. Five of the others were also veterans and the rest had arrived from Friesland either last summer or had just come with the opening of the seas after the Winter. Wulfhere asked if they had any other skills other than fighting. Helpric said that he was a Smith in Jutland but had given that up to get land and silver in Britain. Most of the others were farmers or hunters. Eadbald said that he had trained dogs for an Ealdorman but when his lord was killed in a fight with another Ealdorman, he left and came to Britain to seek his fortune. The journey to Taddenlæge was without incident. They had stayed the night in Wincen Cæster and had been surprised how much repairs had been completed since Yule. Cerdic was not in Wincen Cæster but had gone south to meet with Stuf. At Taddenlæge they met with Tadda who had recovered from the sickness spirit that Dunric had sent to him. Tadda had not met Wulfhere, Uthric or Halig. Dunstan had been the only one to see Tadda after his recovery but he had been told how the others had thwarted Cœlfrith's attempt to kill him. He welcomed them and asked for their news. Rowena was also glad to meet them again and told them that she had gone back to being a merchant. She thought that her warrior days were now finished. Tadda held a feast and afterwards discussed how he could help them with Cerdic’s task. Wulfhere had already talked to Uthric about asking Orin ap Brinn if he could be of help and Tadda also suggested that this could be a useful idea. They thought it was better not to arrive at Orin's village with a Warband and left Mærleswein with twelve of their warriors. They took five warriors with them in case there was trouble but nothing of importance happened on the journey. They found Orin helping to re-construct his ruined village. He was welcoming particularly of Uthric for Uthric had saved his life when he had been imprisoned. Wulfhere told him of their task and asked Orin for information. Orin told them that the people who lived in these parts were fiercely independent. Most had chosen to live here because they did not want to be tied by oaths to some distance Ealdorman or King. Orin felt that Wulfhere would have his work cut out for him. Nevertheless, he explained to Wulfhere about the closest settlements that he knew. Some of them were friendly and others would be neutral to any proposal of alliance. Orin told them that in the north the old peoples road split into two. One branch went north until it came to the river Cunnet that in Saxon was known as the Kinnete. The river was the boundary for the Kingdom of Gwent and the bridge was guarded by a fort called Brige. If they had followed the north-west road they would have come to Spinae, a town that also guarded the crossings of the Kinnete. The Kinnete was a long and wide river and flowed into the Tamyse. If the Hrothgarsons took the road east from Calleva they would come to Dunbriwan. The Chieftain there was Taran and his Hillfort guarded the ford at the Bourne. Taran was friendly to Tadda and paid taxes in previous years. If they followed the Bourne to the Tamyse then they would come to the wide marsh that protected Duromagus. Issa was the Chieftain and he was friendly with Tadda. His marsh people were famous for eels and fish which they traded with Taddenlæge. He had heard Rowena packed the eels in salt and sent them south. Further to the west of Dunbriwan were two Saxon villages. Farnhamble had a Thane called Darwyne. They were fiercely independent and had not paid any taxes to anyone in years. They worked a salt mine and made charcoal for the smiths of Venta. On the banks of the Tamyse was the village of Hambladensted. The Thane of Hambladensted was a man called Aart. It is a strong village that made their living from fishing the river. They too are independent and pay no taxes. Wulfhere asked if they had boats that could carry people across the Tamyse but Orin said that he thought it unlikely as their boats would be small and light. The villagers lived by fishing and were unlikely to be interested in wars. Another half day march from Hambladensted they would come to Pontes. Pontes had a large bridge that stretched across the Tamyse. Dunstan asked if Pontes was occupied by anyone but Orin said he thought it was unlikely. Pontes was difficult to hold without a big Warband because it had no fortifications. Uthric thought that whoever had built Pontes had done a poor job if they had not fortified such a strategic point. Orin said that he had not been there for many years. but when it was built by the Romans, people had not needed fortifications. Dunstan asked who the Romans were and where they dwelt. Uthric said that he had heard that they lived near Kernow and were allied to the Dumnonians. Orin said that the Romans had left Britain years ago to go back to their city called Rome. They had lived in Britain for hundreds of years and all that was left of them were their buildings and roads. Wulfhere asked if they would come back in the future but Orin said he did not expect them to return. Their cities were being attacked and their kings were fighting each other. He thought it was likely they had been defeated by their enemies so Wulfhere did not have to worry about having to fight Romans. Wulfhere asked Orin if he could travel with them to be a guide and help with the people they met. Orin declined. He said that they were trying to rebuild their destroyed villages and make sure the fields were planted. He said that Tadda had helped getting more livestock but it was going to be a hungry year. He needed to be sure that the people had proper shelter for the winter. The Hrothgarsons returned to Taddenlæge and got their men ready. They were heartened that Orin’s son, Brinn, had come to join them. He was keen for some adventure and told them he had persuaded his father to let him travel as a guide for the Hrothgarsons. Brinn was a tall, well-built 14-year-old. He said that he had experience in fighting when Cœlfrith's men had attacked their villages and had fought at the battle of the Calleva Road and at the taking of Venta. Wulfhere said that despite his experience in recent wars he would prefer if Brinn didn’t join in any fighting as he was unsure how he could tell his father that Brinn had suffered a misfortune. They discussed how they might achieve Cerdic's aims. Dunstan thought it would be best to go directly to Pontes. He was keen to see a bridge that the Romans had built. Uthric said that one bridge was much the same as another and it was unlikely that it was as impressive as the bridge at Lundenwic. Tadda had told them what he knew of Pontes. He was of the opinion that no-one had tried to hold it because there was no hinterland to grow food. Any Warband stationed there permanantly would need others to supply them so it would be costly. Wulfhere was unsure how they should proceed. He was keen to visit all the villages to find out how things stood but was rather pessimistic about finding a bridge if they could not hold Pontes. Halig said that they might not be able to eliminate hostiles but they could make alliances. After more discussions they agreed that Pontes should be their first goal and they could visit the villages along the way. Wulfhere thought that the settlements in the north in Gwent were unlikely to be helpful in their fulfilling their task and he did not think Cerdic would be pleased if they invaded Gwent. Dunstan remembered that he had heard Aelle's son, Cissa, was in Aeglesburgh and he asked Tadda if he had heard any news of his visit. Tadda said that he had not had much time to listen to the news but he had heard that Cissa was hoping to secure the area for Aelle. Dunstan said that they would need to be careful. Wulfhere agreed and said that he did not see their job as starting a war between Aelle and Cerdic. Brinn proved an interesting guide. He was able to tell them stories about this land they walked through. When they came out of the forest they could see the valley slope down to the river Tamyse. They all felt a bit exposed by the open lands. Smoke from villages’ cooking fires could be seen to the west, north and east. Dunstan thought that a lot of people lived in this area. Brinn said that previously more people had lived along the banks of the Tamyse but war and plague had reduced their numbers. People had moved away from the river and into the forests where they could be safe. At evening they came to Dunbriwan. Their approach caused concern and they could see the villagers running to the safety of the Hillfort. Brinn said that this was a usual reaction if armed men approached. People were suspicious and with good reason. Most Warbands took what they wanted without paying. Wulfhere took his brothers and Brinn forward. They laid down their spears and shields and went forward signifying they wanted to talk. Four men left the village and walked towards them. One of the men introduced himself as Taran ap Gweir, Chieftain of the village. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers. Taran knew Brinn and he gave them welcome for his sake. Wulfhere explained that they had been sent by Cerdic who was King of these parts. Taran said that he was surprised by this news and that he had not heard of Cerdic. He said that he usually paid his taxes to Tadda and he was sure that Tadda was not called Cerdic. Wulfhere had to spend some time explaining the new political situation. Taran said that in his opinion it didn't change his situation as he would continue to pay his taxes to Tadda and what Tadda did with his own oath was of little concern to him or his people. He did invite the Hrothgarsons to spend the night in his Hall. He would not allow eighteen warriors inside the Hillfort but made room for them to sleep in one of the outhouses outside the palisade. In the morning Wulfhere gave Taran a silver armring as a gift from Cerdic. Taran was impressed. He had not been given an armring from a King before and asked them to send his gratitude. He said that he would keep his oath to Tadda who he knew to be a good man despite the recent troubles in the area. From the hilltop they saw the valley better in the morning light. Their initial impression that the valley was well populated was confirmed. To the west they could see the border fortress of Brige on the banks of the Kinnete and further off the town of Spinae. They bade farewell to Taran and went to the north along the Bourne to talk with Issa in Duromagus. Duromagus was built on a hill in the middle of a marsh. They could not get closer than five bow shots. Dunstan thought that there might be a path through the marsh and pointed to the withies that seemed to mark out a hidden way. If there was a path it was under water and none of them wanted to attempt a passage without a local guide. Uthric and Dunstan waved until they saw one of the marsh boats come toward them. The Warband moved back at Wulfhere's request and he rest laid down their weapons to signify they came in peace. The boat stopped a bow length away and a man who named himself as Issa ap Arryn asked them for the news. Wulfhere told Issa that he brought messages from Cerdic. Issa agreed to come closer and Wulfhere explained why he had come. Issa was obviously an experienced warrior but he said that that life was now behind him and that now his goal was to protect his people. He confirmed that he would continue to pay his taxes to Tadda and when Wulfhere gave him an armring he was pleased. He did not offer to take the group to Duromagus and none of them pressed the issue. Issa bade farewell and told Brinn to tell his father to visit when Orin had time to do so. The Warband returned to the Roman road and went north-east towards Pontes. On the way they passed numerous ruins of houses. Dunstan thought that the Romans must have needed lots of space. Their houses were larger than most Saxon or British houses and were constructed with stone. Some of the houses still had colourful pictures on the walls but most were ruins which had been scavenged for stone. Wulfhere decided that they should press on to Pontes and visit Farnhamble and Hambladensted on the way back. He thought otherwise they would arrive in Pontes after dark and he thought that could make for a difficult situation. Pontes is dominated by a huge stone bridge that crosses the Tamyse. There is another tributary river that joins the Tamyse from the north and there is a lesser bridge there too. Nearly all the buildings on the south bank were ruins but the bridge remained. There were two towers on either end of the bridge that must have at one time been able to stop people crossing. They could not see any sign of life on the buildings of the north bank. They crossed the Bridge and searched the buildings. There were recent signs of occupation but whoever had lived there had left. One of the large buildings had been used as a byre for cattle and they found difficulty exploring it because of the dung, the smell and the flies. Dunstan thought the smell of byre reminded him of Kernow and he shuddered at the thought. In other buildings there were signs that people had cooked but the ashes were cold. Ingeld and Brynstan told Wulfhere that they had found a large building that was defensible which they could all sleep in. The floor had been tiled but someone had broken sections in the middle to make a fire pit. They brought their gear into the building but when a strong gust of wind lifted dust and swirled it around several of the men thought that Old peoples’ ghosts were coming to haunt them and wouldn't go in. Wulfhere had to re-assure them that they would be protected from ghosts but many of the men did not sleep well. In the morning they continued to look at the buildings. Alongside Roman buildings there were halls that had been built by Saxons and British. Dunstan thought many different people had lived here but it seemed none could hold it for long, Uthric thought they should maybe track the cattle who had been here recently as that might lead to a fruitful encounter. Mærleswein had posted guards on the north bridge and the guards alerted Wulfhere that there was a warband coming from the northwest. Wulfhere told his men to withdraw across the bridge to the south bank. He and Dunstan climbed the tower on the north side of the bridge. They could not recognise the badge on the shields and left to re-join their men. Dunstan told Uthric that the men coming towards them had bulls on their shields. Uthric said that he was sure Cœlfrith had a bull on his shields. He wondered if Aelle had really killed Cœlfrith after all and that the rumours of his death had been just rumours. The other Warband stopped on the north side of bridge and a man walked forward. He laid down his spear and shield. Uthric said that he was surprised that neither Dunstan nor Wulfhere had recognised Cissa's charging bull that was on the man's shield. Wulfhere went forward to the middle of the bridge to where the other man had stopped. He named himself as Sæwine Godwinson one of Cissa's Þegns. He asked who Wulfhere was and why he had a Warband in Aelle's lands. Wulfhere acknowledged Sæwine and told him he was Cerdic's Þegn. Sæwine said he was surprised that Cerdic had men in the north and was keen for Wulfhere to explain his purpose in being here. Wulfhere said that they were viewing the bridge as they had been told it was a marvel. Sæwine did not believe that Wulfhere was merely viewing bridges and he said that he had two options. He could either leave immediately or come with him to Aeglesburgh and swear an oath to Cissa. Wulfhere said that he was happy to withdraw as he had no wish to antagonise Cissa. He said he was oath sworn to Cerdic and therefore sadly felt unable to go to Aeglesburgh. The Conference ended and both men returned to their Warbands. Wulfhere took his men along the Roman road and stopped at Farnhamble. He met with Darwyne and told him his purpose. Darwyne said that he was not presently interested in what Kings did or said. In his opinion kings wanted money for wars and the ordinary people got little benefit from these conflicts other than violent death, their farms destroyed and their women and children enslaved. Besides he said Kings come and go and they are only interested in taxes, he was keen that his village was left in peace. He said that Cerdic was welcome to spend as much time around here as he wished but Farnhamble would not be paying taxes. Wulfhere said that he thought Darwyne had a short-sighted view and there were other things to consider when it came to Kings but he said he would accept his decision and discuss it with Cerdic. He gifted Darwyne an armring and left. The Warband travelled to Hambladensted and met with the Thane, Aart. Aart gave much the same answer as Darwyne. He said that he and his people valued their independence and while he would not be hostile to Cerdic he did not see any benefits in swearing an oath to him. Wulfhere said that in his opinion these were dangerous times and that situations could change quickly. Aart said that in his experience the world around here changed slowly like the passing of the river but he had no difficulty in accepting Cerdic's gift of an armring. It was getting toward evening and Wulfhere said that they needed to find a camp. It was too far to return to Dunbriwan so they decided to camp in the ruins of a Roman villa. Dunstan wasn't keen to stay the night. He said that ever since the ghosts had been disturbed in Pontes they had been unlucky. Wulfhere said that he was concerned that recently Dunstan had become superstitious. Dunstan said he had still not got over the horror of Kernow which was making him have evil dreams. Besides he thought it unwise to provoke more ghosts. In the morning they awoke to see people coming down the Roman road from the north. They were a large group of woman and children and when they got closer they could see that all the warriors with them were wounded. All four brothers went to find out the news. The people were led by a warrior called Wulfroth and they had come from a place called Wealdnathorp, on the north side of the Tamyse. Wulfroth explained that they had rejected Cissa's offer to swear an oath to him and several days later their steads had been attacked and burnt. He believed that they had been allowed to escape but did not know for what purpose. Wulfhere gave them food because none of them had eaten for days and offered to escort them somewhere safe. He thought that he could take them to Taddenlæge but they were moving slowly and travelling with them for any long distance was going to be slow. The children needed rest and the wounded warriors could hardly stand. While he was deliberating about what was best with his brothers, Eadbald drew their attention to smoke that was visible in the north. Eadbald said that he was sure the smoke came from burning thatch, which he thought would mean more villages burning. The Warband escorted the refugees back to Dunbriwan and agreed with Taran to let them stay the night. Wulfhere gave Taran another armring as payment and then took his brothers to see Issa in Duromagus. They discussed how things stood and warned Issa that it was likely trouble was coming his way. Issa said that he thought Duromagus would be safe because the marsh protected it from attack and unless someone spent time and effort to understand the twists and turns of the marshes. He acknowledged that Aelle's men seemed to clearing the area of any settlements that would not swear oaths to him. Wulfhere gave him another armring as he felt that Issa might need silver in the near future. They spent the night in Dunbriwan to allow the woman and children to rest and get food. Wulfhere fretted that any attempt to move fast would be thwarted by slow moving children and he was in a hurry to make sure the settlements were protected. The next day it became clear that the refugees would not be able to travel. Many of the children were unwell after two days of travelling and the old people were still exhausted. The fires on the north side of the river continued to burn throughout the day and Wulfhere warned Taran that he could expect more refugees coming south. Uthric thought it unlikely that the refugees could be absorbed by Taddenlæge and its surrounding villages. The death, destruction and ruin of the crops last year had put a strain on the available food and shelter. Dunstan and Halig thought it would be better to send them to Wincen Cæster but all wondered how many would die on the way, They stood on the fighting platform and watched to the north throughout the day. In the late afternoon, more refugees could be seen coming down the Roman road from Pontes. Wulfhere took some of the Warband north to help the refugees and find out information. They were led by Stranebeorg. He had three injured warriors and fifty-two children, woman and older people. Stranebeorg told of sudden attacks by Aelle's men and destruction of their village. They had been driven south by Spearmen until they crossed the bridge at Pontes. The Hrothgarsons wondered at the strategy behind the refugees. Dunstan said that he thought it was a simple answer, Aelle was clearing the north of people who would not support him. Wulfhere agreed and said he suspected if the positions were reversed Cerdic would be doing exactly the same. They discussed what they should do about the refugees. Wulfhere was quite forthright in his view. In his opinion it was not possible to look after all these people. He said that he was prepared to give them what food they had left and then they must make a decision to either go to Wincen Cæster and seek help from Cerdic or to continue down the Roman road and found a new settlement on Old Wincen Cæster Hill. The people were not happy with Wulfhere's decision. They pointed out that many of the children and older people would die on such a journey. Wulfhere said that this was the way of Miðgarðr and that he had done what he could and could do no more. Stranebeorg said that this was the reason that they never gave their oaths to kings. In the end, ordinary people were left to find their own way unless the king wanted taxes. Wulfhere shrugged and said that he had done all he could. He gave Taran another armring to help look after the refugees until they were strong enough to continue their journey. Towards late afternoon a shout came from the guards on the fighting platform. They had seen smoke rising from the direction of Hambladensted and people went to the walls to see if they could see what was happening. The smoke was definitely from south of the river and there was a discussion on what that portended. Wulfhere agreed that the most likely explanation was that Aelle had sent troops over the river and was now attacking villages that would not give him their oaths. Wulfhere said that he had invested an armring in Hambladensted and that in order to protect that investment they should see what had occurred. Wulfhere told Uthric to take the men to Hambladensted and use this as an opportunity to make friends and alliances. Wulfhere sent his brothers and sixteen warriors to see what was happening at Hambladensted. He kept two warriors to accompany him to Wincen Cæster. He was of the opinion that Cerdic urgently needed to understand what was happening in the north and send more men. He thought that it would be best to argue the case himself rather than just send a messenger. He delayed his departure while he talked to Taran about his thoughts for the refugees. He was interrupted by one of the guards who told him there were more refugees on the road. Wulfhere and Taran went to the walls and watched the crowd of people moving down the road. There appeared to be spearmen behind them who were marshalling them toward Hambladensted. It was too far to count how many spearmen there were but their red and black shields identified them as belonging to Aelle's son, Cissa. There was no sign of the troops Wulfhere had sent to Hambladensted so he assumed that they must have got there and would probably be trapped by the force behind the refugees. In Hambladensted, Uthric was discussing the situation with the Thane, Aart. Aart had allowed them inside the palisade and Uthric's men had helped extinguish the fire in the storehouse where the boat supplies were kept. Uthric asked Aart what had happened and Aart told him that they had been attacked by people from boats who had come ashore and killed a few villagers and had then set the store house on fire and had gone away again. He thought they might have been Aelle's men but could not be sure. Uthric and Dunstan discussed the raid. Dunstan thought that the purpose might have been to calculate the defences. They were interrupted in their discussion by shouts from the guards on the wall. A crowd of woman and children had appeared out of the forest and were asking for entry. The women were saying they had been forced to come here by spearmen. Aart refused to open the gates as he feared that the spearmen were hiding in the woods and would use the opportunity of the open gates to force an entry into Hambladensted. He was forced to reconsider when his own people appeared running out of the forest and demanded entry. They appeared to have been forced from their steadings by spearmen. Dark clouds of smoke rose behind them. Aart ordered the gate to be opened and got his warriors to form a shield wall outside the gate to protect the people as they were going in. In the end no spearmen appeared out of the forest and the people were bought inside. Aart tried to get information from the people who had seen the spearmen but no-one could give accurate numbers. Most people said there were hundreds. Aart admitted he was at a loss about what to do. Uthric said that he and his men would support Aart in the defence but he should remember that they were Cerdic's men and that without Cerdic’s help they would likely be overwhelmed. Aart said that he was mindful of such connotations and if they survived this then they could talk about it more. In the meantime, they calmed the distressed people who had fled the spearmen and gave the northern refugees food and water. Many of those that fled had not brought weapons and Aart feared that their defence was severely reduced. The arrival of spearmen on the northern road forced Wulfhere to rethink his plans. He decided that he would gather what warriors he could from the surrounding villages and defend their settlements. Wulfhere left Taran to gather the warriors. Taran was willing to commit to the actions Wulfhere proposed but he was not willing to leave Dunbriwan undefended. They eventually agreed that the nine wounded warriors would stay in Dunbriwan and would be supported by the fyrd. Taran armed his fifteen warriors and awaited Wulfhere's return from seeking help in Duromagus with Issa. Wulfhere did not find Issa hard to persuade but like Taran he was not willing to leave his village undefended. He left five warriors and the fyrd to defend the village. He did not think the risk great as no Warband could easily attack Duromagus because of the surrounding marshes and wetlands. Wulfhere was disappointed that Issa could only give a further nine spearmen but he did not make his disappointment known and only grumbled to himself. Issa was an experienced spearman and had led Warbands in his youth and was only too keen to get involved in fighting. Now that he was going to war again Issa was of the opinion that life had been too tame recently. Wulfhere had now twenty-six spearmen which he thought formidable but he did not know the number of his enemies. He thought it wise to talk to Darwyne and ask his views in joining an alliance against Aelle’s forces. They set off along the Roman road but their scouts reported that there were spearmen on the road on the south side of the Pontes Bridge. It was too far away for the numbers to be counted but it looked like there were more than forty spearmen. Taran asked one of his hunters to take them through the forest game trails to Farnhamble so that they would not been seen by the enemy. Darwyne had seen the burning steads in the south and had withdrawn his people and their animals behind the stockade. The arrival of spearmen caused a panic but Wulfhere identified himself and Darwyne came out to meet him. Darwyne was not at first interested in Wulfhere's proposal to join forces to fight the invading Warbands but when he saw the Warband that had come over the bridge at Pontes and he listened to Wulfhere's views that Aelle would not allow any independent settlements remain in the area. Wulfhere said that they had two options that they could either all fight together or get destroyed individually. He pointed out that Issa and Taran had also had to make decisions to fight. Both could have stayed behind their walls and been safe. Darwyne recognised the truth in Wulfhere's words. He agreed he and ten warriors would join Wulfhere's alliance. Darwyne sent the old, the women and children into the forest. He kept some men of the fyrd to guard the walls so that they would have a fortified place to retreat to if they were overcome by Aelle's men. The battle took place on the Roman Road south of Farnhamble. Wulfhere, Darwyne,bIssa and Taran met with Bryning and Mearcred before the battle. Bryning was an Ealdorman of Aelle and offered to accept their surrender. He said that they would be treated well if they swore allegiance to Aelle. Wulfhere declined his offer and suggested that Bryning might want to go back north of the River. Wulfhere thought it might be a pity that Bryning and his men would leave their bones on the road. He said he would try to make sure they were buried but he said he could not be sure it would be his priority as he was busy at that moment. Bryning laughed at Wulfhere and pointed out that he was outnumbered and faced hardened warriors whereas his force had spent their time farming for the last number of years. He was also dismissive of the Artrebates who he declared to be an effete and weak force. Issa, when it was translated for him, spat at Bryning’s feet and promised he would use his head as a standard. The conference was finished and both sides separated to marshal their warriors into a Shieldwall. Wulfhere encouraged his men by telling them that they were fighting for their villages and the right not to be dictated to by Aelle. He told them they had worked hard to build their farms and their children deserved peace and should inherit their hard work. His men cheered him and were strengthened in their view that they would win the battle. Bryning was confident of victory but his men were not keen to close the Shieldwalls. They knew they were going to win but they would rather not have to fight and risk injury or death. As they advanced they did not lock shields properly and advanced slowly. Issa was an experienced Warleader and although it had been many years since he stood in or commanded a Shieldwall, he organised it well. He recognised the reluctance of the enemy and shouted at his troops to advance quickly. The Shieldwalls met and pushed and shoved each other. Greater numbers began to tell and the wings of Wulfhere's force were under pressure. Issa roared at his men in the centre to follow him into a gap in the enemy wall where the fighting had become ferocious. Issa speared Bryning in the throat and the enemy recoiled when they saw their Warleader die. Issa encouraged the men forward again and the enemy centre broke and started to flee. Issa however did not see his victory. An axe caught him in the helmet and while he was stunned one of the enemy rear rank stabbed him with a spear in the eye. The force of the blow was stopped by the cheek piece of his helmet and although he lived he was known from then on as Issa One-eye. Darwyne too was seriously injured defending the right flank, taking a spear wound to the thigh and it would be weeks before he would be able to walk. Taran had also suffered a serious wound from an axe in the shoulder. Afterwards he developed a fever and spent several days close to death before he eventually recovered. Wulfhere allowed his men to pursue the broken enemy but called them back as he was keen to go to the help of his brothers in Hambladensted. He could see smoke rising in the forest and thought it did not bode well. Wulfhere's decision to recall the men from the pursuit allowed many of the enemy to escape over the Pontes bridge but he thought it would carry the message to Aelle that taking the south of the Tamyse would be difficult. He took their wounded back to Farnhamble and took Bryning's head and put it on a spear for his standard, just as Issa had promised. He thought it might discourage the enemy if it came to another battle. At Hambladensted the village was overcrowded by the people driven in by the spearmen from their scattered dwellings outside the palisade and by the refugees from the north. From the fighting platform they could see spearmen in the forest watching the defenders. Dunstan thought they were in trouble. They had about forty warriors and it was unlikely they could hold the palisade if the enemy had large numbers. Three men came out of the forest and laid down their weapons seeking a Conference. Aart, Uthric and Dunstan went out to meet them and introduced themselves to Edric, Sæwine and Wynsig. Edric who was an Ealdorman, asked Aart to surrender and spare his men and their families slaughter. Edric said that Aelle was a good Brytenwealda and would support them if they agreed to swear an oath to him. Aart said that he had not been keen to swear an oath to any king. He said he wanted to be clear that he was not particularly against Aelle but his people had come north to avoid the wars that kings always brought. Edric said that unfortunately this was a time to choose sides and that independence was no longer an option. Aelle was asserting his right to these lands and they could choose loyalty or death. He said that it didn’t matter to him what they chose. Dunstan offered to fight Edric in single combat but Edric just laughed at him. Edric said that it was beneath his status to dispatch young boys. Dunstan would have pursued the matter but Uthric told him to let the matter go. Dunstan complained to Uthric that he just did not want to see him triumph again. Uthric pointed out that Edric was a battle-hardened veteran who looked like he had spent his whole life fighting. While Dunstan’s victory over Anyon had been impressive he was like a lamb in comparison with Edric. Halig said that despite their differences about Beorthric and their mother, he would prefer Dunstan to be alive. and he was glad Edric had refused the fight. Aart arranged fifteen men on the palisade either side of the gate. Uthric commanded the left side of the gate and Aart took the right. A small force of ten warriors under the command of Dunstan and Halig were left in reserve in reinforce either palisade if they became overwhelmed. Their plans went array when they saw five small boats approaching the shore where there was no protecting palisade. Dunstan and Halig knew that they would have to beat the men landing from the boats or they were doomed. Outside two separate Warbands formed up to assault the palisade. The war band in front of Uthric's section made an assault against the palisade. His men met the assault by throwing a hail of javelins and rocks. They repulsed the attack and one of his men wounded Edric with a javelin. Edric’s men dragged him out of range of more missiles. Uthric saw that Edric looked badly wounded and thought that he was unlikely to participate in further fighting. Dunstan and Halig had told some of the woman to collect rocks and asked for volunteers to pelt the boats with missiles. There was thick mud on the shore and the boats grounded before they reached solid ground. Two men jumped out of the two lead boats but were immediately struck down by a hail of javelins and rocks. The next two men floundered in the deep mud and could not move toward the shore. One was injured by one of the hunter’s bows and their comrades pulled them back into the boats. They rowed off seemingly having no appetite for a landing. The men on the bank jeered at them and made obscene gestures. Halig said that if he had been attacking by boat he would have checked that the river was higher before trying to land. Dunstan acknowledged Halig's view and said that it is definitely hard to fight if you are up to your knees in mud. Their jubilation was short lived when they heard screams and warning calls from behind. Aart had a larger section of the palisade to defend than Uthric. Some of the Warband outside engaged his men in throwing javelins and making feint charges against the wall while others went to the far side and climbed over the undefended palisade. Aart had tried to warn the Uthric and Dunstan but they were already engaged in fighting and did not hear his warning in time. By the time the others realised what had happened there was already an enemy shield wall forming inside the palisade. Aart withdrew his men from the palisade so that they would not be attacked from the front and the rear. He formed them up in a thin shield wall hoping to protect their woman and children. He shouted for others to join him. Uthric saw the Warband in front of him running to the right and guessed that something must have happened on the other palisade. He brought his men to strengthen Aart’s thin wall. Dunstan and Halig brought their men too and added to the line that protected the children and woman. The two Warbands faced each other only briefly before both Shieldwalls clashed. The sounds of battle drowned out all other noise with the grinding death of the Shieldwalls. The defenders although outnumbered, were fighting for their lives and fought fiercely and their ferocity at first seemed to take them forward. However weight of numbers began to tell. No matter how many of the enemy they killed, their Shieldwall was getting bigger as more of the enemy climbed over the palisade and the defender’s wall grew smaller as men fell wounded or dead. Despite their loses the defenders did not give way until both sides became exhausted and the Shieldwalls drew apart, separated by a wall of dead or dying. By this time many of the woman and children had escaped out the now open gate. All or most of the enemy were now inside the palisade and their escape was unopposed. Both sides had fought themselves to a standstill. Aart had been killed trying to rescue his son who had been wounded and the remaining warriors looked to Uthric for leadership. Uthric knew that if the enemy charged again their end would be swift. Dunstan said that he thought that they had given a good account of themselves and despite being outnumbered they had outfought their enemies. He said he was content to die knowing that he had sent many warriors to their deaths. Halig said he had a different opinion. He said that while he was not afraid to die, he had only begun to enjoy seeing different lands and that this had encouraged him to do more travelling. He also thought that if they tried to escape now most of them would likely make it as the enemy, in his opinion, did not look up for more fighting. Uthric agreed and on his command, they ran out of the gate. The enemy warriors only half-heartedly chased them. They seemed content that they had won the battle and not particularly interested in putting themselves at further unnecessary risk. Uthric led his few warriors south hoping to find safety at Farnhamble. He did not think that the men would make it to Dunbriwan without being overrun by the enemy. As they came out of the woods they met Wulfhere coming north with the remnants of his army. Wulfhere discussed if they should go back to Hambladensted and attack when the enemy thought they were safe. Uthric said that he was unsure how many of the enemy were left but he knew that none of the men he had brought could fight again without a rest. Wulfhere only had thirty-seven warriors but both Dunstan and Halig estimated the enemy still had twice the numbers. Wulfhere agreed reluctantly to retreat to Farnhamble. They collected the woman and children who had fled and were scattered throughout the woods and took them to Farnhamble. Wulfhere and Halig inspected the fortifications at Farnhamble and decided that they could not be held against an overwhelming attack. They reluctantly thought that they would need to retreat to either Dunbriwan or Duromagus. Dunbriwan was a hillfort and had steep embankment with a palisade and fighting platform. To assault it the enemy would suffer significant loses. Duromagus was built on a hill in the marshes, and would be almost impossible to assault either by land or by river. Both were good sites for defence but in the end, they chose Dunbriwan so they could control the road coming from the south. Wulfhere still hoped that Cerdic would send warriors north to support them. It took almost a day to get everyone ready to leave Farnhamble. They collected everything of value that they could carry and buried whatever they couldn't take in the hope that they could return to get it. Wulfhere asked that the hunters who knew the trails through the forest, to mark out a path that the people could take so they would not be seen by the enemy. They could see the enemy watching them from a distance. It seemed that no-one was really intent on fighting at present. Aelle's men collected their dead from the battle on the road and buried or burnt them on pyres. They were content to watch Farnhamble and did not come close enough to see the preparations to leave. Wulfhere kept as many men on the palisade as possible to keep the pretence that they were prepared to defend the village. The battles they had fought had been vicious affairs and not many of either his own warriors or seemingly the enemy wanted another battle. When darkness fell, Wulfhere got the villagers to leave in small groups and make their way through the forest. The distance to Dunbriwan was not far but they were encumbered by food, livestock, children and the old. It was just before dawn when the last people left Farnhamble. Wulfhere hoped that the enemy would not notice they had gone and that by the time they did it would be too late for pursuit. Wulfhere did not want to fight a running battle through the forest. He knew his men would not keep in any order as they would want to protect their families. Fortunately, either the enemy had not noticed their departure or were not interested in pursuing a retreating enemy. It took most of the day for all the stragglers to make it to safety. The warriors were exhausted in trying to move so many people and there were lots of grumbling but not within Wulfhere's hearing. Wulfhere called his brothers and Issa to make plans for defence. Taran was still feverish and did not take part in the conference. Darwyne was equally too hurt to attend and his daughter told Wulfhere that she feared he would die of his wounds. Issa was keen that Duromagus be reinforced with some more warriors. He had only left five when he had gone with Wulfhere. He was willing to stay in Dunbriwan to help organise the defence and help with the Artrebate warriors who might not be keen to take orders from a Sais. They also made a decision to send the women and children to Taddenlæge and Dunstan volunteered to take them. The plan was to get all non-combatants out of Dunbriwan and also ask Tadda for some help. If the northern villages fell to Aelle it would be likely that Taddenlæge would be next. Dunstan set off in the morning and by midday an enemy army had encamped outside the walls of Dunbriwan. Uthric and Wulfhere counted the warriors and estimated there were at least 150 of them. Halig was of the opinion that even with an army that size they would be safe inside the walls. They had food to last several months and the army outside had a long supply chain. Over the next few days the besiegers tested out the strength of the defences by feinting attacks but they did not press any attack home. It was clear that climbing the bank to the palisade would end in death and whoever commanded the troops would likely not risk it. The besiegers spent the time making shelters on the other side of the ford. They did not seem worried about surrounding the village and Wulfhere thought it would be possible to get men in and out. After two day of slow travel, Dunstan arrived in Taddenlæge. He spoke at length with Tadda and Rowena, explaining what had befallen the settlements on the Tamyse. Tadda said that he was willing to send men north became both Taran and Issa paid taxes and he was obliged to help them. He was not that thrilled by the number of refugees Dunstan had brought. Food was still in short supply and Dunstan had added almost 200 hungry people. Dunstan was apologetic and gave Tadda two armrings to go towards some of the cost. He thought that Tadda might want to send some of the northern Tamyse refugees on to Wincen Cæster in the hope that Cerdic could feed them. Tadda agreed that if they were to have a chance of survival he had no other option but he thought Cerdic might equally not be impressed as he was aware there were food shortages until the harvest was gathered. Dunstan was keen to return north as soon as possible and asked Tadda how quick he could have men ready. Tadda said that ideally he would like three days to get the men equipped and make thrice-baked bread for trail rations. Dunstan thought that if they didn't hurry they might arrive too late and all they would be able to do would be to bury the dead bodies. Tadda agreed that this could be a possible outcome but he thought that Aelle would have difficulty assaulting either Duromagus or Dunbriwan. Dunstan asked if he had seen the messenger Wulfhere had sent five days ago. Tadda confirmed that Heathbeorht had passed through four days ago and would have been with Cerdic two days ago. Tadda asked Dunstan how large Aelle’s army had been but Dunstan said that he could not be sure. The fighting had been ferocious and they could not rule out that Cissa had not sent reinforcements. Dunstan left at first light with twenty warriors. He asked Tadda to tell Cerdic to hurry if he did not want to lose the south side of the Tamyse. As Dunstan approached Dunbriwan he could see that his brothers still held the village. He came along the road hoping to get inside before the besiegers on the other side of the ford noticed. Wulfhere was told by some of the guards that Dunstan was coming along the road with reinforcements. Wulfhere sent Halig and Uthric to guard the east walls with ten men each and some of the fyrd. He took forty men outside the walls and formed a Shieldwall outside the west gate. Aelle's men noticed the newcomers and sent over a hundred warriors across the ford to intercept Dunstan's force. They did not see Wulfhere's force hidden behind the hill of the fortification and where surprised by an already formed Shieldwall. Their Þegn shouted at them to move toward Wulfhere’s force to engage them. It seemed that it was a race for Dunstan's men to get to the gate before Wulfhere's force was engaged by an overwhelming greater force. Uthric could see that Wulfhere's force was in danger from the east wall but he could not move to help because two smaller forces had moved to their section of the wall and if he took his men to the west gate they would climb over the palisade and the fortress would be lost. He and Halig had to content themselves with exchanging javelin throws with the enemy. Outside Wulfhere knew he had misjudged the speed of the enemy reaction and the numbers they had sent. The enemy was coming fast over the corn fields and was likely to engage him before Dunstan arrived. Wulfhere had never claimed to be lucky but that day his luck was there for everyone to see. The front ranks of the enemy force ran into an irrigation ditch and tumbled over. The following ranks either fell or jumped their comrades. Either way their momentum was stopped and they could not reform in time to engage Wulfhere's men. before Dunstan got to the gate and Wulfhere was able to withdrew and close the gate. He did say afterwards that he had considered charging the enemy but if he did not break them then he would have been heavily outnumbered. His men jeered at the enemy from the safety of the fighting platform. The next day three men came forward and laid down their weapons looking for a Conference. The leader introduced herself as Aethelstan Dycgheorhtson. Aethelstan said that he had decided to offer the defenders terms. If they surrendered then Aethelstan would allow them to leave unmolested. They could take their weapons and any goods they could carry. Wulfhere thanked Aethelstan for his offer but he felt compelled to remain in his place. Dunstan momentarily thought about challenging Aethelstan to single combat but decided that he would need to be very lucky to beat the Ealdorman. Aethelstan noticed Dunstan had been paying him close attention and asked Dunstan what had been on his mind. Dunstan was surprised at the question but decided to be forthright in his answer. He said that he had been weighing his chances if he challenged Aethelstan to single combat. Aethelstan laughed and said that he was more than welcome to try but Dunstan should be aware that he had fought twenty-three single combats and won them all. He said he admired Dunstan's thinking and if he would consider joining Aelle's men, he would be made very welcome. Dunstan thanked him for his offer but thought he should remain with his brothers. Aethelstan said that his offer to leave remained open until nightfall. He would come back tomorrow but the offer would be reduced and that every tenth man would be killed. The offer would remain open but increase by a tenth every day. Wulfhere said nothing in reply and left. Wulfhere called a conference and discussed Aethelstan’s offer with the other Þegns and his brothers. He said he thought the offer was to scare them. Wulfhere reckoned they had enough food for a month and it was unlikely Aethelstan could take Dunbriwan by assault. He hoped that Cerdic would send help within that time. Aethelstan met Wulfhere and Dunstan for three more days. He and Dunstan grew to respect each other in their exchanges and Aethelstan said he would exempt them from being killed when they eventually surrendered. Wulfhere said that he was expecting Cerdic to send help any day and then they could have a proper battle to see which King would rule south of the Tamyse. Aethelstan was amused by the boast and said he was confident that the King would still be Aelle. On the fourth day the defenders could see a Warband coming up the road from the south. The men on the wall cheered which alerted the besieging warband. They could see Aethelstan ride out alone towards the new warband and he had a conversation with the leader. He then rode back to his men and they began to leave and went east towards Pontes. A short time after, they could see Stuf's Wolf Standard approach and Wulfhere and his brothers went out to meet him. Wulfhere thanked him for coming. He told Stuf that they had been heavily outnumbered but had managed to hold unto most of the territory. Stuf listened to the news and praised their actions. He said he had agreed to meet Aethelstan in Pontes in two days to conclude a treaty and they were welcome to join him. He told them news from the south that Octa had declared war on Aelle and had besieged and taken Hamafunta and was now besieging Cissa Cæster. He thought that might attract Cissa’s attention back to the south. The peace of Pontes was concluded two days later. Aelle would hold the north of the Tamyse and Cerdic would hold the south Tamyse as far as Lundenwic.
  9. The Death of a Ring-giver and the West Saxon King In the morning there was more news that Ealdorman Cœlfrith had arrived with a strong Warband. The Hrothgarsons thought it best that they did not go abroad and stayed in Rowena's Hall. They created a small hiding place in the undercroft by stacking sacks of grain and flour so that it would take a lot of effort if anyone was searching for them. They discussed the situation with Rowena and Wulfhere told her the history that they had with Cœlfrith. Rowena said that there was a leæce who had come with Cœlfrith and he matched Dunstan’s description of Dunric. Dunstan thought that they might really be in trouble and he said to Wulfhere that they should have left earlier. He said that he was not afraid to die but would prefer if it was not at the hands of Dunric. The next day Dunric came to Rowena's Hall and asked for the Hrothgarsons. Rowena said that they had left Taddenlæge the previous night and she believed that they may have returned to their home having thought that there was nothing more that they wanted to do in the north. She said that she thought that they were unlikely to escape the Artrebate blockade and had more than likely been killed. Dunric was polite but suspicious and made Rowena nervous by continually sniffing the air. That night they again discussed leaving. Uthric could still not walk on his leg without frequent rest and he certainly would not be able to fight or run. Wulfhere was not keen to leave him and Dunstan said that the brothers had never been separated before. He thought that if they should die then they should die together. Uthric said he had no intention of dying yet and Dunstan should remember they had separated during the battles at Glawmæd and Cædering and they had managed to do so without coming to harm. He thought that this was one of those times that they should leave each other as they were always lucky in wars. Dunstan said that maybe that they should make their own wyrd and attack Cœlfrith and Dunric rather than leaving because they would be doing the people of Miðgarðr a favour if they managed to kill both of them. Wulfhere said that while this was a fine plan it was unlikely to work. Cœlfrith had over sixty warriors and they had three and one of them could still not walk. He thought that perhaps they needed to think of another plan. Dunstan was concerned that Cœlfrith must have come past Glawmæd on his way north. He thought that this might be bad news for their mother and wives. Wulfhere said that this was unlikely as Coelfrith would have been foolish to openly attack one of Cerdic's villages. That would be a declaration of war and invite reprisals when Cœlfrith had gone north. Yet he conceded that Coelfrith could have been spiteful enough to do something to their mother and wives but consoled himself that when he had left the south, Cœlfrith had not known the Hrothgarsons were at Taddenlæge. The night was dark and cloudy and with Rowena’s help Wulhere and Dunstan slipped over the wall and safely made their way along the Arle and kept east until they reached the upper Moen. They then travelled south over open land and did not encounter many people. Those that they saw in the distance hurried away without making contact. Wulfhere thought people were afraid and he suspected the rumours of war had made people fearful of armed men. They spent the night in Old Wincen Cæster Hill and recalled their fight with the Déaþscufa and Ætremód. When he slept, Dunstan had nightmares about the Ætremód and the darkness that he had been caught in. In the morning he said that Uthric's idea of building a village here might possibly be a bad idea and he thought he would not support it. Wulfhere said he thought there still might be evil here and he too would oppose Uthric’s idea of a settlement. They went on to Glawmæd and met with Lucnot and their wives. Meire was concerned that Uthric was not with them and thought something might have happened to him. Wulfhere assured her that while Uthric had been unable to travel at the time they left, he had been alive and well four days ago. They left early next morning having avoided talking to their mother because Bronwyn had told Wulfhere Hildegard was annoyed about their time keeping again. Wulfhere also wanted to see Cerdic as soon as possible and tell him the news of the north. He hoped Cerdic would give him warriors to expel Cœlfrith from Taddenlæge. Wulfhere asked Dunstan how he felt about going to Cædering to see Tæthle but they decided it would not serve much purpose at present. When they arrived at Portus Cæster they asked the guards at Cerdic's Hall if they could see Cerdic but were refused entry. The guards told the brothers that Cerdic was not in Portus Cæster and no one was permitted to enter. Dunstan began to get annoyed with the Chief guard, Alaric, who also refused to let Wulfhere or Dunstan know where they could find Cerdic. All they could discover was that Cerdic had gone West to attack Dumnonia. Dunstan was incensed by Alaric’s lack of interest and information and threatened to tell Cerdic that he was obstructive. Alaric said that he was not particularly bothered about what Dunstan said or didn't say. Alaric said his job was to protect Cerdic's Hall and he intended to do that as well as he could. Wulfhere stopped Dunstan from doing something to Alaric that he might regret. They decided that they should go north and then west to look for Cerdic. Wulfhere thought that he could ask people where Cerdic was as they travelled. He thought it might be hard to hide a large army and he felt sure that people would tell him. Dunstan complained about Alaric during the days travel. He thought that Cerdic needed to improve the quality of his guards and importantly there should be a system of how to get important messages to him. After a while Wulfhere asked Dunstan to be quiet but Dunstan said he was too angry to be quiet and spent his time muttering to himself. They reached Clausentium at nightfall and spoke with Arnulf, the Þegn in command of the garrison. Arnulf told them Cerdic had been at Clausentium half a moon ago but had gone north along the road with his army. There had been talk about attacking a fortress in the north but Arnulf had not been part of that discussion. He could not tell them any more information as no-one had brought any news from the north and the garrison had been too busy fighting off Dumnonian raids to send their own messenger. Dunstan took the opportunity to tell Arnulf what he had been thinking about for the last two days. Wulfhere recognised what was coming so he decided to see if he could get his spear sharpened at the smithy. Dunstan ignored Wulfhere's look and told Arnulf that he had a good mind to tell Cerdic that if he was off fighting wars then he needed a system that could send messages to his commanders. It was not good enough if people could not find him when they needed decisions made. Arnulf said he would like to be present when Dunstan criticised Cerdic for not being a good leader. He said the last time he had seen Cerdic he had not been in a good frame of mind and had reacted angrily to criticism. Dunstan was a bit surprised and said that he always found Cerdic open to discussion. Arnulf said that this may have been how Cerdic used to be but more recently he had found Cerdic was increasingly intolerant of people who offered stupid advice. Dunstan said that his advice was not stupid and it was clear that Cerdic needed to make changes if the size of his lands was increasing and it only was good governance to be able to know where he was at any given time. Wulfhere returned and was not surprised to see Dunstan still telling Arnulf his thoughts. He was surprised however that Arnulf had not knifed him to keep him quiet. Wulfhere said he thought he was tired of Dunstan's discussions on what should or should not be done and he was going to sleep because they needed to leave early in the morning. They travelled north for another day and were thinking how they could cross the Itchen before they reached the Dumnonian fortress at Venta. Neither wanted to be caught by a Dumnonian patrol but they could not find a ford. Wulfhere doubted that either of them could swim over the river with their armour and weapons so they thought they should try and find a boat. They could see the smoke of Venta in the distance and were unsure what they should do. Wulfhere thought that crossing the Itchen into Dumnonian territory could be very dangerous. They camped for the night but were awoken by Saxon voices calling to each other as they searched either side of the road. Wulfhere and Dunstan shouted to them and they identified themselves to the leader, Ranulf. Wulfhere said he had been looking for Cerdic as he had news that he would like to get to him as soon as possible. Ranulf said that Wulfhere was in luck because they could easily take him to Cerdic. Cerdic was in the process of assaulting Venta Belgarium. The camp was spread out to prevent reinforcements reaching the defending troops before the final assault on Venta. Dunstan thought that it would be a difficult assault on the walls and likely to end in many deaths. Groups of armed men lazed around which Wulfhere suspected were to react to any aggressive move by the Dumnonians but he wondered how effective they would be. Most of the men had taken off their armour and were eating and drinking or playing gambling games using British throwboards. Dunstan thought it amusing that warriors were always complaining about a lack of silver but when they had silver they contrived ways to rid themselves of it quickly. Wulfhere remarked that it was interesting for all the warrior’s belligerence and rejection of British culture, throwboards had made the cultural leap in popularity amongst the warriors. As they were approaching Cerdic’s tent they could hear him shouting which they thought might not bode well. However, when they were brought in by Ranulf, Cerdic looked pleased to see them and asked for the news. He dismissed a group of Þegns except for his nephew Stuf and sat down to listen. Wulfhere told him of the events in Taddenlæge, of Tadda's illness, of the rising of the Artrebates, of Gorbold the new Þegn and the alliance of Octa and Cœlfrith. They could see that Cerdic was annoyed at what they said and Wulfhere thought it was time to stop talking. Cerdic said that he had been under the impression that they had brought him men but they had only brought him more troubles. After a while he calmed down and asked more questions. He asked the Hrothgarsons why they had come and said he hoped that it had not been only to convey bad news and a failure to complete the task he had set them. Wulfhere was hesitant to say that they had come to ask for warriors but, in the end, he saw no easy way to say it other than point out that Cœlfrith had to be stopped. Cerdic agreed but said he had no warriors to spare at present. As it now stood, any assault on Venta would mean that he would suffer loses that might not be acceptable. He told Wulfhere to gather men from Cædering, Glawmæd and Cælctun. All three villages still had their garrisons. Wulfhere asked him what would Cerdic wanted them to do. Cerdic looked bemused and said he thought it was clear. They should kill Cœlfrith and bring men back to Venta for the final assault. Stuf took them out of the tent and said that it was urgent that they completed their task quickly. It was becoming difficult to hold the warriors outside Venta and they would have to attack soon or the army would go home. Stuf said that was the reason for Cerdic's anger and it had not necessarily directed at the Hrothgarsons. Wulfhere and Dunstan left as soon as they could and travelled through the night to reach Glawmæd in one day. Despite their exhaustion they went to see Tæthle and told her of Cerdic's request. Tæthle said that she was not entirely impressed by the plan. Taking most of the Warband north left the three villages dangerously exposed, particularly if Cœlfrith was still an active enemy She suggested that she could only spare forty warriors and even keeping twenty and the Fyrd would leave them open to attack. Dunstan was pleased to see Hereward the Leæce was in Cædering and asked if he would like to come with them. Wulfhere told him Dunric was in the north and they would need Hereweard to counter Dunric’s spells. Hereward said he did not have Dunric's skills in dark or blood magic but as he enjoyed a challenge, he would agree to come. He did warn Dunstan that if things got too dangerous it might be that he would leave them because he was not as young as he used to be and was not keen to end up having his soul tormented by Dunric’s demons. Dunstan for once was lost for words. It took four days for Wulfhere, Dunstan, Hereweard and the forty warriors to get to the Taddenlæge. Travelling with them was their younger brother, Halig, who was going to his first war. They arrived at the ford of Arles to find that it was held against them by Cœlfrith's men. They had not enough men to force a passage and when. more men came out of Taddenlæge to add to the defenders Wulfhere ordered a withdrawal from the ford to the forest to consider how they would proceed. Uthric lay in his hidden room in the undercroft of Rowena's Hall. Her men had stacked more sacks of grain in such a way as to hide the pallet that Uthric was using for a bed. His leg was slowly healing but it would still be at least a week before he could even hobble around on it. Any movement could cause the wound to reopen and set the healing process back weeks. Uthric asked Rowena if some of the men would remove the sacks each day so that he could make brief journeys outside his cramped bedroom to test and exercise his leg. He was not keen that it remain stiff and sore. However, he did not go into the main Hall and Rowena would meet him periodically and tell him the news. On the second day after these arrangements were agreed, Uthric heard his name being talked about by a man whose voice he did not recognise. He could hear Rowena answer but the sound was too muffled to hear what was said. It was only towards evening he learnt from Rowena that Dunric had come to her Hall to ask for the Hrothgarsons. He had seemed suspicious that all three brothers had left Taddenlæge and had been aware that Uthric had been injured and unable to walk. Rowena had denied all knowledge of Uthric's whereabouts and she assured Dunric about her loyalty to Taddenlæge. She also told Uthric that Dunric had begun to execute one prisoner each day outside of Taddenlæge to terrify the besieging Artrebates. The prisoners were horribly mutilated whilst still alive. She said that she was sickened by Dunric's cruelty and the suffering of the prisoners and did not see how it benefited Taddenlæge. After another three days, warriors again came to Rowena's Hall to search for Uthric. They even searched the undercroft but did not discover Uthric's hiding place. Rowena met with Uthric afterwards and he thought she looked scared. He asked if Dunric had threatened her but she said that she just thought he was an evil man and capable of much cruelty. She thought it did not forebode well for the future if men like Dunric did what they pleased. She said she had the impression that darkness followed him. Uthric said that he should leave as soon as he could walk because he thought he would put everyone in danger if he was to be discovered. Rowena said that it was her opinion there was a great difference between walking on his leg and being able to fight. She thought that it was only Uthric who was at risk if he was discovered. Gorbold and Dunric would not dare to attack her or her people. They could not afford to lose warriors when the situation was so delicately balanced. Uthric said he was not sure but was glad she had such confidence. Rowena came again the next day to talk with Uthric and told him that each day Dunric continued to kill a prisoner by torturing them and that he was saving the Artrebate Chieftain, Orin to the last. In her opinion it was not lifting the blockade and meant that the Artrebates were likely to do the same to Saxon prisoners. Uthric asked how many prisoners were left and Rowena said she thought there were three including Orin. Uthric's leg was improving and it could now bear his weight but he was unsure if it would be sufficient to fight with. He was beginning to formulate a plan but didn't think he could wait until the leg was fully healed. He spent the next few days exercising the leg and practicing with his spear and shield. Uthric noticed he got tired early and the leg hurt after exercise but at least he could move on it. He decided it was time to make a move and asked if Rowena would come and see him. Uthric said he was unsure that his brothers would have got any help but he thought it might be good to get the support of the Artrebates in the area. Rowena asked him if lying in the dark had unsettled his wits and in case he was not up to date with the news he should be aware that the Artrebates had surrounded Taddenlæge and had declared war on the Saxon people. Uthric said that he was aware of that but he had a plan to rescue Orin which may persuade the Artrebates that not all Saxons agree with Cœlfrith and that he has manipulated the situation in Taddenlæge. Rowena said she was doubtful that the Artrebates would agree. They remained incensed about the destruction and death in the villages and she doubted that Dunric's continued torturing and killing of captives would have changed their views. Uthric said that he should at least try and siting waiting to be discovered and killed by Dunric or Cœlfrith was not doing him any good. Rowena offered to help but Uthric declined. He thought that the chances of success were low and if he was captured it would be better for her that she was not associated with his actions. There was little light that night because of the clouds and the new moon and Uthric was able to move between the buildings unseen. Rowena had told him there were only two guards watching Orin at night and he thought if he was able to kill both before the alarm was raised he could free Orin and get over the palisade before anyone knew what was happening. Rowena had ensured her men were guarding the section of the wall near to the Arle and they had been told to expect men would be leaving at night. Uthric watched the guards from the shadows. One was standing leaning on his spear and the other was sitting on a log close to the door of the hut they were using as a prison. Uthric moved forward as quietly as he could and was able to get close enough to hit the standing man in the stomach just as he turned. The spear caught on the man’s ribs and Uthric struggled to remove his spear. The sitting man, although surprised, got up and tried to attack but swung wildly with his axe. Uthric easily parried with his shield and thrust his spear at full force into the man’s chest. The force of the blow was so great that the spear protruded from his back. The man was dying but Uthric thought that it would be better if he could die more quietly and decided it was best to finish him off with a well-placed blow of his seax. He paused for a while to see if the noise of the combat had alerted anyone before removing the bar from the hut. He called Orin quietly in Brythonic and was answered cautiously by a man inside. Uthric told Orin that he was here to rescue him and that he needed to act quickly. Orin and another man came out. Uthric introduced himself and reminded Orin of their last meeting. He then briefly told Orin the plan. Orin and the other man took the dead guards’ weapons and both followed Uthric through the buildings keeping to the shadows. They reached the part of the wall where Rowena's men guarded and watched the open ground for possible enemies. Uthric thought it best that they walk calmly to the wall as if they were part of the new guards. Their plan was challenged when they head sounds of alarm. It seemed someone had at last discovered the bodies of the guards and was sounding a horn. Rowena's shieldman, Regenmær, signalled for them to hurry. If anyone saw them they would be caught and Uthric would not be able to explain away the fresh blood on his weapons and clothes. Regenmær had attached a rope to the palisade and told them to hurry. Uthric insisted Orin went first and then his companion, Wynn, went next. Uthric went over last, careful not hurt his leg again. Uthric had asked Regenmær to raise the alarm when they were almost at the forest. He thought that they would be safe at that point because he did not expect that any of the Saxons would pursue them at night in Artrebate infested woods. They paused to catch their breaths on the edge of the forest. Uther stretched his leg and realised that the cramped conditions of the undercroft had not allowed him to exercise as much as he should have and the exertion of the combat and escape had probably hurt it again. Wynn began making barking noises like a fox. The barking was answered to the left and to the front of them. Suddenly they were surrounded by Artrebate warriors. Orin told Uthric to lay down his weapons and not to make any sudden moves. Both he and Wynn did the same and they sat down and waited. The initial suspicion of the surrounding warriors gave way to glad reunion as men recognised Orin and Wynn. Uthric was taken to Calleva where Orin talked to the other leaders of the Artrebates. Uthric urged the Artrebates to send out scouts south of Taddenlæge to look for his brothers. He said he hoped that they would be coming north with a Warband. Uthric explained the situation in Taddenlæge as he understood it. He said he was not aware of all the motivations but he told of the alliance between Cœlfrith, Gorbold and Dunric, the illness of Tadda and that in his opinion that the people of Taddenlæge had been tricked by the Cœlfrith and his men. The attacks on the Artrebate villages had been orchestrated to provoke conflict by Dunric to allow Cœlfrith to take over. The Artrebate leaders elected Orin as their leader. He was not keen to be the Warleader as he felt his skills were more peaceful than warlike but was persuaded to accept the role for the duration of the conflict. He returned the Helmet of Anyon to Uthric as a reward for his actions. He agreed to send out scouts who had knowledge of Saxon to try and find Uthric’s brothers. They were unsure of the numbers of warriors that Cœlfrith had but Taddenlæge was a difficult place to attack without overwhelming numbers and Orin wanted to minimise every death. He thought that it would be difficult enough to rebuild their villages without more massive casualties from assaulting a defended fortification. Orin spent time organising the defence of Calleva and appointed warriors to lead small mobile Warbands that would operate independently but could gather together quickly if a larger Warband was needed. Uthric was able to rest his leg and he felt confident that he could now stand in a Shieldwall if required. On the fifth day after their escape, word came that there was a large Sais Warband coming north toward Calleva along the Old People's road. Orin thought this might be an opportunity to even up numbers if they were able to defeat a Warband outside the walls of Taddenlæge. Uthric thought from the red bull shield design they were Cœlfrith’s men. If they could kill or capture Cœlfrith there might be no need to fight further. Orin agreed but was worried about the number of warriors he could get that had experience of standing in a Shieldwall. Most of the Artrebates had only experience in skirmishing with hunting bows or javelins. Hunting bows were not particularly successful against close order troops in a Shieldwall. They were more often annoying rather than effective. His Javelin skirmishers were likely to cause more damage but then ran the risk of being counter-charged by experienced troops and might get in the way of their own Shieldwall. Nevertheless, Orin organised the warriors and they set off to find a suitable position to offer battle. He ordered his skirmishers to harass the Sais march, slow them down and make them cautious. Wulfhere had withdrawn his forces from the ford. He had spoken with Cœlfrith when the Ealdorman came to support his troops. Wulfhere had kept most of his warriors in the woods to make sure that Cœlfrith would be uncertain of numbers. Wulfhere had suggested that Cœlfrith withdraw from Taddenlæge as he was now outnumbered by Cerdic's forces. Cœlfrith laughed at Wulfhere's suggestion and said that he was welcome to try and come across the food. Wulfhere said that he did not see any advantage for him to try to fight his way across but if Cœlfrith was so confident in his own ability then he could withdraw back to allow his men to cross and then they could fight. Coelfrith laughed again and said that he would be a poor leader if he gave away an advantage due to some misguided principle of fairness. He said that life was not fair and the strongest would always take what they wanted. Wulfhere said he did not see any point in continuing the conversation as he had delivered the warning to Cœlfrith and if he chose to ignore it then he would have to accept the consequences of his actions. Wulfhere hoped that by talking to Cœlfrith that Cœlfrith's men and more importantly the warriors of Taddenlæge would begin to doubt their position. Halig said that although he was inexperienced in these matters there were obviously different factions in Taddenlæge which they should exploit for their own purposes. There must be a number of people who had grave suspicions of Gorbold. They must also see that the attacks on the Artrebate villages were perpetrated by Cœlfrith's outlaws to allow him to take over Taddenlæge. Dunstan thought if they could defeat or reduce Cœlfrith's power then there might be those inside Taddenlæge who would help them or at least not hinder what they were doing. Wulfhere said he thought this might all be true but the problem they faced was that the ford was guarded and they needed to get across. He thought it was also important to remember that Uthric was still inside Taddenlæge and probably in danger. They needed to try and get him out. Wulfhere sent Dunstan and Halig along the Arle to scout out Taddenlæge from that side. It would also give a view of the north side and Wulfhere hoped that they might find another way across the river and perhaps find a weak point to attack. Dunstan took ten warriors with him, choosing those that were good at moving through forests unseen. They all lay at the forest edge and watched the settlement. Wulfhere sent some of the men to guard the ford and others to forage for food. Dunstan and Halig grew bored of watching as nothing appeared to be happening in Taddenlæge. Dunstan wondered how their families were getting on in Glawmæd. Halig said that as ever his elder brothers were not good at coming back home when they said they would otherwise Dunstan would be in his own Hall and able to ask Gwenyth how she was. He said that their mother had been right, none of the women in the family could trust the men’s words. He thought that Dunstan and his elder brothers always downplayed their responsibility and sometimes actually stayed away longer than agreed on purpose. Dunstan grew angry and said he wondered why Halig always saw their mother’s viewpoint. He said it had not been their fault that they always returned late as situations that they assumed were simple turned out more complex. Halig said that this was a situation in point and that a little forethought and factoring in extra complexity would have given a more realistic timescale. This was in his view all the women were asking for. They were always concerned that their menfolk had been killed if they did not come back on time. The argument became more heated. Halig said that the worst time was when they left their mother in poverty and the family had nearly died of starvation. Dunstan said that he was tired of hearing this old narrative and that if Halig did not stop talking about it, then he would be sent home. Halig said that Dunstan needed to remember that he was not a child any more but a grown man and issuing threats to send him home was puerile. They began to tussle and the situation might have developed further if the guards on the palisade had not noticed them and were coming down to the banks of the Arles to investigate. Nothhelm, who was the most experienced warrior with the group, told Dunstan and Halig to stop arguing about their mother and pay attention to the enemy. Dunstan suddenly noticed that his argument with Halig had endangered his men and ordered them to withdraw and keep out of javelin range. The argument meant that they almost missed a large Warband of 50-60 warriors leaving the Callevagate and heading north. Fortunately, Uscfrea had been paying attention and pointed it out to Dunstan as they retreated. Dunstan and Halig returned to Wulfhere to talk with him. Neither mentioned their disagreement but Wulfhere asked what had happened that they both looked angry. Dunstan said that they had seen a large Warband heading north. What they thought was more concerning was that there was still the same number of men guarding the Ford. Wulfhere said that Cœlfrith had more warriors than they had realised and that did not bode well for the success of their task. Dunstan said that he was of the opinion that they should return to Venta and ask Cerdic for more reinforcements. Wulfhere said that this was not possible. Cerdic had been quite clear that he had no further men to give and moreover he expected them to complete the task with the men he had given or die trying. Orin and Uthric set their Shieldwall in the middle of the road flanked by two groups of hunters armed with bows. The bows were more an annoyance than a serious threat but the Saxon Shieldwall kept its distance. Orin and Uthric went forward to talk to the Saxon Warleader, a man called Osred. Uthric translated for Orin. Orin asked the Sais to lay down their arms and they would be spared death. Osred said that he had no intention of leaving but would generously allow the Artrebates to surrender. He said he recognised that it would be difficult for the Artrebates to do so but did not want to cause them more unnecessary death. He said that the only death he would require would be Uthric, who he considered to be a traitor to his people and family and spat at Uthric’s feet to show his contempt. Orin said that he thought they would just have to fight and Osred could try and kill Uthric. He warned Osred that many people had tried to kill Uthric but none had succeeded and they that they were now in Annwn's pits. With that the conference was over and the Commanders walked back to their troops. Uthric was angry after the discussion with Osred and said that he would like to meet him in the battle. He used his anger to make a speech to the men. He told them that Osred had called them barbarians but he told them that they were not the ones who killed and burnt woman and children. Uthric said that they were not Artrebates or Sais but they were heroic men who were fighting to protect their families and their villages. The Artrebate Warband were inspired by Uthric’s speech and shared his anger at the Sais. They advanced quickly before Osred had got his warriors aligned and many of the front-rank warriors fell to Artrebate spears. Osred's men were disorganised by the sudden attack and he desperately tried to hold them together. Orin's archers took advantage of the disorder to appear on the flanks and fire point blank into the sides of the Shieldwall. By force of will Osred get his men to stand firm and they were able to lock shields but the earlier numerical advantage they had was now lying dead or dying on the ground. The Saxon Shieldwall started to push the lighter armed Artrebates back but Orin shouted at his men to target Osred who stood in the front rank. His men responded to the call and the Artrebates attacked strongly, focusing on Osred. Osred was stabbed below his shield in the thigh and would have fallen to the ground but for the press of the Shieldwalls. However, it could be seen by both sides that he was clearly badly wounded. The men in the second rank of the British Shield wall used their long spears to thrust at his head and shoulders. Osred could not defend himself but the men around him tried to protect him with their own shields. Unfortunately for them, they were then exposed to other Artrebate spears and the Saxon Shieldwall began to disintegrate. The end came when the two groups of archers charged the rear and enveloped what was left of the Saxon troops. Not many Saxons escaped the carnage and the pent-up frustration of the Artrebates who had seen their women and children murdered, added to the slaughter. Those Saxons who escaped were hunted through the woods by the Artrebate skirmishers. Uthric reckoned that only a handful escaped and he hoped that because of the cordon of scouts around Taddenlæge, they would be unable to tell Cœlfrith what had happened to his Warband. After the battle Orin sent the wounded back to Calleva and they dispatched any surviving Sais quickly. Uthric thought it would be good to strip the bodies and hang them from the trees as a warning to Cœlfrith. Orin said it might be more perplexing if they removed the bodies and hid them in the forest so that Cœlfrith would be unsure what had happened to his men. They could not hide the fact there had been a battle on the road but if there was no evidence of the outcome then he would be uncertain as to what happened. While they were moving the bodies, a messenger came from the Artrebates maintaining the siege around Taddenlæge saying that a Sais Warband had been seen on the south side of the Arle. The scouts had been alerted by two men arguing and had watched as they retreated into the forest to meet with a Warband of about forty warriors. The scouts did not know who they were but they did not carry red bull shields of Cœlfrith or the Thunor’s hammer of Taddenlæge. Uthric thought that it was likely to be his brothers with reinforcements from Cerdic. He said he had no idea who the men fighting on the banks of the Arle were and supposed that they had been trying to subdue a captive who had momentarily got free. The scout said that this was not the case. He had noticed that they had been lying watching Taddenlæge for several hours before getting up and trying to punch each other. The scout said from watching the strangeness of the Sais that he thought it was a wonder how they ever managed to be successful. Uthric did not respond to the jibe but asked Orin if he could go and meet the new force and asked if some of the scouts would take him. The scouts said they would be happy to him on the condition he did not instigate any wrestling matches at awkward moments. Uthric said he was not that keen on wrestling as he preferred using his spear but would keep their request in mind. Uthric found Wulfhere, Dunstan and Halig camped beneath the trees near the ford that was still defended by Cœlfrith’s men. They discussed what they should do next. Uthric and Wulfhere were certain that if they could gain a tactical advantage over Cœlfrith then the people of Taddenlæge might be less inclined to fight for him. Wulfhere thought that they might fear an Artrebate victory but if they could show a combination of Saxon and Artrebate forces they may be less concerned. The news that Uthric and Orin had managed to destroy a Warband meant that Cœlfrith's forces were already severely reduced. Dunstan reminded them that Dunric was still in Taddenlæge and he needed to be dealt with or neutralised. Wulfhere was unhappy that they could not get across the ford and asked Uthric if the scouts could get his men across to join up with the Artrebates. The scouts were happy to take them north but the route would likely take a day. Wulfhere said the time period might be too long and asked Uthric how he had got across the Arles but he was told that Uthric had taken a small two-person boat across. There was only one boat therefore transporting the Warband and their equipment across would take time. If they were discovered then those men on the far bank would be at risk of death or capture as they could not be reinforced quickly. They agreed that getting across the ford was the next step and how to do it safely was the difficult issue. Wulfhere was certain that he did not want to have to force the ford even if the numbers were initially similar. The defenders could be quickly reinforced from Taddenlæge and any defeat or too many loses would endanger their mission. Uthric suggested that they could gather all the hunters on the south side and use missile fire to force the defenders at the ford to retreat. He said he had been impressed by the use of bows in their battle on the road. The Artrebate scouts agreed that this possible and could be done relatively quickly. The scouts could swim the Arle while their equipment could be ferried by the small boat. They pointed out that there was a risk that the Sais in Taddenlæge could then discover that there was no-one maintaining the siege. Wulfhere thought this was a risk worth taking. The siege could be reinstated if he got his troops on the north bank of the Arle and would have the advantage of being reinforced by his Warband. Uthric said that he had also thought of a way to get inside Taddenlæge. He had proposed to Orin that they dress in Saxon war gear and pretend to be the remnants of Osred's Warband returning wounded. When the gates were opened then they would hold them, kill the guards and the remaining hidden Warband would reinforce them. If Wulfhere had forced the ford then his warriors could join Orin’s men in holding the gates. Once inside he thought that resistance would crumble. The warriors of Taddenlæge would run to protect their families leaving only Cœlfrith's men to fight. He thought that the combined force of Artrebates and Saxons would be then greater than Cœlfrith’s men. And so that is what they planned. The hunters lifted their siege and made their way over the Arle to the south side and joined with Wulfhere’s Warband. Wulfhere readied his troops while the hunters shot arrows from the south side of the Arles Ford at Coelfrith's troops on the north side. The defenders had initially formed up in a Shieldwall but retreated from the ford when the arrows kept falling. None of the warriors were killed but here and there an arrow had found exposed flesh and there had been a dribble of wounded men returning to Taddenlæge. When the Warband retreated out of range, Wulfhere hurried his men across the ford and formed a Shieldwall. The archers then formed a bank of skirmishers on the flank of the Shieldwall. The enemy seeing that Wulfhere had successfully crossed the ford retreated inside the palisade. Wulfhere took his men into the forest on the north side of the Arles and spread them along the eaves ensuring they were out of sight. The hunters returned to their stations around Taddenlæge to enforce the siege. Several hours later a motley band of wounded and injured men bearing the Bull shields of Cœlfrith limped into the clearing. A man wearing a closed helm shouted at the gate guards to open and let them in as they were being pursued by Artrebates. Wulfhere counted twenty-six men in the Warband and he hoped it would be enough. Wulfhere smiled as a rearguard of five men formed up facing towards the road. He thought he might have been convinced if he had been a gate guard. He gave a quiet command for his men to be ready to run for the gate when Uthric and Orin’s men formed a shield wall. Uthric was not sure that the guards were going to open the gate. They delayed and seemed to be more nervous about a rapid attack from a pursuing force that might mean they were unable to get the gate closed again in time. He shouted at his rearguard to fall back towards the gate but when nothing happened he realised that none of them could understand Saxon. Uthric shouted at the gate guards again to open the gates quickly and the foremost of his group began to hammer at the gates. Uthric ran to the rearguard and pushed them back toward the gate. When they saw that there was no enemy nearby the gate guards moved to open the gate and let what they assumed was the remnants of Cœlfrith’s men enter. There was a stampede of men through the gate and by the time Uthric had pushed his way through to the front of his men, the gate guards were dead and a Shieldwall had been formed inside the gates to keep them open. One man was using a Saxon war axe to try and hack off the hinges of the door to ensure they could not be closed again. The guards along the palisade had seen what had happened and alarm horns were sounded. Defenders ran to form up in a Shieldwall to face the Artrebates but Uthric could see no leader and he noticed most of the shields were not Cœlfrith's Bull. He looked behind him in the hope that Orin and Wulfhere's men would have arrived but could not see anything because of his own Shieldwall. He took off his helmet so that the Saxons could see him and asked where Gorbold or Cœlfrith were. No-one answered so Uthric let them know that he had no intention of fighting the men of Taddenlæge. He told them that he his only enemies were Gorbold and Cœlfrith both of whom had contrived the situation by creating a crisis. As no one again responded, he told the Saxons to go to their families and they would be safe. By this time, he could hear shouts of more men arriving in both British and Saxon and he thought that Wulfhere and Orin had now reinforced his original force. He did not want to look round because he was too close to the Saxon Shieldwall and was concerned someone might try and strike at him. He was relieved when Wulfhere and Orin joined him. Wulfhere said that he had no desire to kill any of the warriors of Taddenlæge or to destroy the town but he was going to order his men to move forward to the market place and the Þegn's Hall. Anyone who resisted would be overwhelmed. When he gave the order to move forward, the opposing Shieldwall melted away. Wulfhere led his men to the marketplace where there was another smaller Shieldwall. Gorbold was on the raised platform attached to the Þegn's Hall to direct the defence. Wulfhere thought that Gorbold must see he was heavily outnumbered and order his men to surrender. Wulfhere called on Gorbold to surrender and save his men from certain death but Gorbold said that he would not give in to outlaws like Wulfhere. He told his men to make a name for themselves in songs and fight to the death. He told them that the more of the enemy they killed, the more followers they would have in Neorxanwang. He called for his spear and shield and turned to shout some more instructions to his men when a javelin suddenly pierced his throat. It was likely he was dead before he hit the ground. Wulfhere was surprised. He had not seen anyone throw a javelin until Uthric said loudly that he had promised himself this one pleasure when next he met Gorbold. The situation was still tense. Gorbold’s Huscarls were keening their death songs and it was well known that such men die hard and no-one wanted to be first to attack them. The situation was rescued by Rowena who had appeared with her men. She asked Wulfhere to withdraw his men to the far side of the Marketplace while she spoke to Gorbold's Huscarls. Dunstan said that they had not seen Cœlfrith or Dunric in this confrontation and he was concerned about what they could be doing. Wulfhere agreed with Dunstan but he did not want to split his forces when there was still a possibility of a battle in the market place. It was almost evening by the time Rowena had agreed the terms of surrender. Wulfhere had said he did not require anything from the Huscarls other than their agreement not to take up arms against his men. As soon as the peace was agreed, Dunstan took a Warband of thirty men to look for Coelfrith but quickly learnt that he had left by the Callevagate during the standoff in the marketplace. Dunstan wanted to go after Cœlfrith but Wulfhere said that he had almost half a day start and it would be futile. Orin was annoyed too that Cœlfrith and in particular Dunric had escaped. He blamed himself for withdrawing the hunters from the siege of Taddenlæge to take part in the assault. Uthric said that he should not be angry with himself and in his opinion it could not be helped. They had needed all the warriors to look like they had overwhelming forces. He pointed out that only the gate guards and Gorbold had died and they had taken Taddenlæge and that would be good for the peace. Dunstan said that he hoped that they would not regret Cœlfrith's escape. He reminded them that Cœlfrith would have to go past Glawmæd and they had most of the experienced Glawmæd and Cædering warriors in the north. Wulfhere said this was not such a good thought and agreed to send Uthric and Halig south as soon as possible. Dunston reminded Wulfhere that Cerdic was expecting reinforcements for the assault on Venta Belgarium. Uthric looked doubtful. He was keen to get back to Glawmæd as he knew Cœlfrith was vindictive enough to take revenge on their families. No-one wanted to think what would happen if any of their relatives fell into the hands of Dunric. It was agreed that Uthric and Halig would take Tæthle’s thirty warriors and any of the Artrebates who wanted to attack the Dumnonian Venta. After the battle the survivors were then to travel on to Glawmæd. Uthric and Halig led their thirty warriors and Orin brought twenty Artrebates to the assault of Venta. The battle was bloody but swiftly over. The defenders had been reduced in numbers over the siege but still fought to the death. Uthric was badly injured in the assault and had to spend half a moon recuperating and came late home again. Orin returned north with Cerdic’s thanks and considerable treasure as compensation for the burnt villages and murdered people. Cerdic agreed that the Artrebates would rule themselves with their own lords and laws but pay taxes to Taddenlæge. Orin thought this was fair and he left Cerdic on good terms. Hereweard expelled the spirit of sickness from Tadda who gradually recovered and was grateful to the Hrothgarsons and Hereweard. He renounced his oath to Aelle and swore an oath to Cerdic as his new oath Lord. Cerdic renamed Venta Belgarium the Saxon name Wincen Cæster and decided it would be the chief city of his lands. He also declared himself the Westseaxacyning and independent of the Brytenwealda Aelle. He made his cousin, Tadda, an Ealdorman. Dunstan stayed with Rowena to help restore order in Taddenlæge while Tadda recovered and was late home. He suffered a scolding from Hildegard. Gwenyth was just pleased to see him. Wulfhere and Halig went to Glawmæd and were re-unnited with their families. They discovered that no-one had seen Cœlfrith come south and it was not known where he had gone after leaving Taddenlæge. They heard from some merchants during the next moon that there were rumours that Aelle had killed Cœlfrith for his treachery.
  10. A Very British Coup A dozen years ago Aelle marked the borders of his kingdom. He had sent a man called Tadda, a Kingsthane, north to make a settlement near the abandoned city of Calleva. Aelle had thought to use it as a base for expansion to the north and west but as often happens in uncertain times, he was distracted by other events closer to home and Taddenlæge was forgotten. Tadda was an astute man and one that sought compromise rather than conflict. He made alliances with the local British villages and even traded with the fortress city of Venta before the Dumnonians took it over. Tadda and the Atrebates tribe had common enemies in the Dumnonians who lived on the other side of the Itchen. Taddenlæge grew over the years and the population increased to the point where it was more like a small city. It was the sixth year since Aelle declared himself Bretwalda and the fourteenth since he became King of the Jutes and South Saxons having deposed Hengist’s sons Esc and Octa. Esc had sworn allegiance to Aelle and now ruled the isle of Thanet. Octa had chosen to go into exile but with Cerdic’s help he now ruled Whit from Whitwarasburgh. Kingsthane Osberht travelled to Ealdorman Cerdic’s Yule festival in an oxcart. He was still in pain from his burns but thought that it was time he took up his duties and he was attending the Yule feast to renew his oaths to Cerdic. Thane Taethle, Lucnot and the Hrothgarsons travelled with him. Dunstan asked around the taverns in Portus Cæster if anyone had seen Beorthric or Winfrith. A merchant told him that he had met men with that name in Cissa Cæster two moons ago. They had asked him for information about travelling to Lundenwic or possibly to Anderida and Caer Ceint. The merchant could not remember the exact request but he remembered the names and what they looked like. Dunstan told his brothers and they discussed that the information was already two moons out of date. It was unlikely that either man would still be in Cissa Cæster and they could not go travelling across Ceint in the hope they might meet the two fugitives. Cerdic’s feast was lavish as usual. After last year’s incident the number of guests in the main hall was smaller. There were other smaller feasting halls that had been set up for the Carls and people of Portus Cæster who had an interest in attending. The last year had not gone as Cerdic had hoped but he still felt it was a success. He had curbed Octa’s power by purging his warband of known criminals and turning some of the outlaws over to the justice of those looking for them. It was said that Octa had become much more accommodating to Cerdic’s wishes after Cerdic took his action. Cerdic had had to postpone his war with Dumnonia. The Leæces of the Isle of Halig had warned him that war would be unlucky and although not a superstitious man he had postponed his attack. Instead he had sent the new people who had arrived from Friesland over the Moen to build fortified villages or to take over abandoned British villages that had been cleared of the previous inhabitants. In the north, news had come that the Bretwalda Aelle was planning to move along the Tamyse valley and there was murmuring among Cerdic’s Carls that he should do something about this. Most were of the opinion that Cerdic should declare himself King and break with Aelle. The leæces of Halig Isle had made the old sacred sacrifice, examined the sacrifice’s entrails and read the runes and they had told Cerdic that Aelle would die soon. The Carls thought that it should be Cerdic’s main task to hurry Aelle’s death. Cerdic’s feud with Ealdorman Coelfrith continued after the events at Cædering where a Deáþscúfa had been summoned by Dunric. Coelfrith had disowned Dunric. He has told Aelle that the Leæce has not been seen since the Midsummer festival. Cerdic had complained to Aelle that Coelfrith’s leæce, Dunric had summoned the Deáþscúfa but Coelfrith denied it was on his orders and the leæce had been acting on his own. There was peace with Coelfrith but most were under the impression that the payment was still to be made. Cerdic asked to see the Hrothgarsons on the second day of the Feast. He praised their deeds in their recent help in defeating the Deáþscúfa, their successes in the Battles at Cædering, Cælctun and Glawmæd that had allowed the taking of Llys. He was especially pleased that they had humbled Coelfrith and he had lost power in the area. He told them of his plans for this season with an attack on Dumnonia and a likely push north to the Tamyse valley to secure a crossing point. He asked if they would be willing to take a message to his cousin Tadda, a King’s Thane who ruled in a settlement called Taddenlæge. Cerdic explained that Tadda had been sent north twelve years ago by Aelle and more or less forgotten. Tadda had made a success of the settlement and attracted a lot of the British Atrebates tribe as his allies and building a loose confederation who lived in peace with each other. The Atrebates were traditional enemies of the Dumnonians and had been in conflict with them for many years. Tadda had supported their conflict and helped them maintain their independence. None of the Hrothgarsons had ever heard of Taddenlæge even when Cerdic explained where it lay. Cerdic wanted his cousin to swear an oath of allegiance to him rather than Aelle and send him troops south to help him with his war against the Dumnonians. He was keen for as many troops as possible, either Saxon or British and all would be rewarded when the victory came. Wulfhere said that they would be willing to take the message and Cerdic thanked them. He emphasised the importance of persuading Tadda to join him and said that he would have better support from him than he ever had from Aelle. After Yule they returned to Glawmæd to set things in order. They planned to leave after the Festival of Sol-monath. Dunstan, who felt most responsible for Egfryd and constantly fretted that Hildegard was over-feeding him on honey cakes, consulted Iola, the wise woman. He asked her to make a charm to make Egfryd refuse proffered honey cakes. Dunstan paid Iola who inscribed some marks on a stone and told Dunstan he should bury it underneath a Bee’s nest. Wulfhere asked Lucnot why he had not chosen a wife over the last year. Lucnot said that he had been hoping to ask Taethle to marry him but every time he was in her presence his tongue seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth. He asked Wulfhere if he might sound out the proposition with her as he was Lucnot’s brother-in-law and oldest living relative. Wulfhere promised to do so when he returned from the north. Dunstan decided that Egfryd was old enough to learn a trade. He talked to the boy and Egfryd said that he had an interest in being a Blacksmith. He had often heard Dunstan complain about the cost of armour and he thought if he learnt how to make spears and armour, he would not only help his brothers, but also become rich in the process. He confided to Uthric later that his goal was to become rich because that way he could employ someone to make him honey cakes whenever he wanted instead of having to wait for Hildegard to offer them when Dunstan was not around. Uthric said he thought this was a shrewd move by Egfryd and he swore on his Hammer amulet he would not tell Dunstan. The Hrothgarsons prepared for their journey. On Hildegard’s advice, Meire and Bronwyn insisted that Wulfhere and Uthric set a time when they would return home. Wulfhere estimated they would only be gone half a moon at the most. Their task was simple and according to the merchants they had talked to it was a relatively straight forward journey along the old people’s road heading west. The only dangerous part was to skirt round the Dumnonian fortress of Venta and then go on the road north until they reached Taddenlæge. On the morning they were to leave five riders appeared coming from the north. They were led by an imposing woman riding a white horse who named herself as Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter. She told them she was an emissary of Aelle and she had been made aware that they were going to Taddenlæge to ask for help from Tadda for Cerdic. Aelle’s command to them was to ignore Cerdic’s request and tell Tadda to send him troops to Anderida instead, where they would be needed for Aelle’s forthcoming campaign. If they were successful Aelle would give them all great rewards. Wulfhere apologised but asked how he was to know if Ealhwyn spoke for Aelle as he had never met her before. She told Wulfhere that she was the daughter of Ealdorman Hrof, who they had met on the occasion of their visit to Anderida but she was also married to Aelle’s son, Wlencing and therefore a Princess. Wulfhere bowed his knee for he believed her words. After getting his agreement she jumped on her horse and rode south. Wulfhere discussed what had happened with his brothers and expressed the view that there was a spy in Cerdic’s court. Dunstan reminded him that they had talked to merchants about possible routes but agreed that their mission for Cerdic had not been disclosed. Uthric said that since his eldest brother was a Thane it was for him to work out what they should do. Wulfhere took some time to think through the tangle of relationships. As a Thane he swore an oath to Cerdic who was his Ealdorman. Cerdic in turn swore an oath to Aelle as his King. The King was therefore the arbiter and keeper of all oaths. The conflict in oaths between Cerdic and Aelle was the issue. Wulfhere decided that the simplest solution was to tell Tadda of both demands and let him decide what he wanted to do. They had disagreements about the possible route. They knew that there was a Dumnonian fortress, Venta that they had to pass which was likely to have patrols that could be a danger. They discussed taking more men but agreed stealth was better than strength. Eventually they decided on the quickest route which would be to go along the old people’s road and strike north through the forest before they came to Venta and re-join the road further north which should take them to Taddenlæge. They stayed the first night of travel at Old Wincen Cæster Hill in the company of a Thane called Ælfric and some of his warriors. Ælfric was returning to Portus Cæster having taken his men over the Moen on an errand for Cerdic. Dunstan told them the story of the death of Ætremód and Ælfric shared mutton and ale that they had raided from the Britons. Uthric spent some time looking at the Hill. He had long thought he might like to build a settlement here and was of the opinion that this would be an excellent position for trade and defence. Wulfhere said that perhaps trade would not be ideal at present because apart from Glawmæd, the closest neighbours would be Dumnonians. It might also be difficult to farm if your lands kept getting raided. Uthric said that this was his future dream and he could envision heavily laden Oxcarts taking goods north and staying overnight in the safety of the Hill. They continued along the old people’s road and crossed the ford at the Moen without seeing anyone. The land around had been raided and although it was good farm land no one had lived here for many years. Most existing settlements were heavily fortified Burghs and relied on other settlements far behind the disputed lands for food. They smelt the smoke of cooking fires of Venta before they could see it and agreed that it would be best to go north through the forest. The forest was old and full of dead-end trails and they quickly became lost and unsure if they were heading in the right direction. They turned west hoping to strike the road but realised that they had not gone far enough north and had come too close to Venta. Wulfhere was not pleased with Dunstan and said that he expected more from Dunstan’s skills in woodcraft. He did not think that they were proficient enough with their spears for all three of them to attack Venta and if that was Dunstan’s idea then he needed to have a more realistic view of himself. Dunstan was apologetic and they again went north staying close to the road but did not yet dare to walk in the open. After half a day’s march Uthric realised that they were being followed by some people that were trying to remain hidden. They kept moving north but agreed that they would try and lay an ambush. Wulfhere and Uthric hid themselves in the undergrowth and surprised a group of three Britons who were trailing them. Uthric and Wulfhere used their spears well and the two leading men fell. The third managed to get two arrows off which hit Wulfhere in the chest and Uthric in the helmet. Uthric stabbed him in the leg with his spear and the man fell over incapacitated. He put his spear to the man’s throat and he surrendered. Wulfhere was not pleased that his new leather jerkin had a hole in it and very obvious blood stains. His injury was not significant and was likely to heal quickly. Uthric looked comical with an arrow lodged in his helmet. They removed their prisoner’s weapons. His wound in his leg was serious and it was unlikely that he would walk without help. Uthric stopped the bleeding in his leg and sat beside him and asked him his name. The man was startled that Uthric spoke British but told them his name was Caradoc. Uthric said he had been unlucky to meet the Hrothgarsons and even more unlucky to have a leg wound. Caradoc said that his luck had not been good recently and he had a premonition that it did not look like improving. Wulfhere wanted to know where he was from and why they had been trailing them. Caradoc said that all Sais were his enemy and after they had burnt his village and even killed all the women and children it was unlikely that he would ever be friends with the Sais. He said he had lost all faith in anything the Sais said and considered them wreckers, murderers and without honour. Wulfhere thought that he should perhaps have a more open mind and that not all Saxons were without honour. He said for instance he had a British wife and lived in a mainly British village. Caradoc said that this might be so for him but asked if he had a British or a Sais Chieftain. Wulfhere admitted the village was ruled by Saxons and Caradoc nodded and said that this was how it always started. The Sais would initially be friendly but in the end, they killed the British and took what they wanted. Wulfhere said that he could only speak for himself and his brothers but that was not how they saw things but each person was entitled to their own opinion. He offered Caradoc his life if he would agree to serve him for a year. Caradoc said that he didn’t see any advantage for him in being a slave. He considered himself a free man and he had been a person of importance in his village before the Sais had destroyed it and killed his wife and children. He said he would rather end his life and go to the otherworld to be with his family who were likely waiting for him. Wulfhere said that he accepted his decision and killed him quickly. Dunstan and Wulfhere were perplexed by Caradoc’s words. They had been told that there were good relations between the British and Saxons and yet there was a Saxon Warband attacking and destroying British villages. Wulfhere wondered if the Warbands were the same ones Cerdic had sent out last year and if this was so, it would likely complicate their mission. Uthric said he was interested in the British Otherworld and wondered if it was the same as the Saxon Afterworld. He observed that events in the Afterworld frequently mirrored those in Miðgarðr and he would not be surprised if the British were feasting in their otherworld and enjoying themselves when a warband of Saxons would arrive, kick down the door and kill all the men and take over the feast. He laughed at the thought and said that it would be a great shock to Caradoc if it happened. Dunstan said that this was the British wyrd and he agreed with Uthric that it was an amusing thought. He thought it would be interesting to see the look on Caradoc’s face when Saxon raiders burst in. The Hrothgarsons arrived in Taddenlæge just as the sun set. The gate guards looked nervous but directed them to the Thane’s Hall as they had requested. There were more guards at the entrance which they found odd but they let them past with minimal questions. They approached the high seat where two men were seated. They addressed the older man assuming he was the Thane and named themselves saying that they had travelled form the south with messages for Tadda. The older man introduced himself as Gorbold Gethlison, one of the prominent men of Taddenlæge and the younger man he introduced as Brecca Taddason. Brecca welcomed them although they noticed that he seemed unsure of himself and often stumbled over his words. He told them that his father was ill and had been so for the last two weeks. He was not able to receive guests but that Brecca, as his son, could hear the message. Wulfhere thanked him and asked if they could be assigned a dwelling where they could refresh themselves and meet with Brecca in private. Brecca called the steward, Eadric, who offered them a choice of staying in the Hall or if they required somewhere quieter he could let them have the use of a bur outside the palisade. Wulfhere agreed that the bur would suit their purposes but they did not expect to be staying for long. Gorbold offered to show them the bur and Eadric said that he would need a short time to prepare in order to make sure it was swept, had fresh rushes laid on the floor and the bedding straw was fresh. Uthric and Dunstan thought this was a good thing. They both were thinking of their experiences in Kernow and the difference in Saxon and British hospitality. Brecca said he would be delighted if they joined him tonight in the hall for food and afterwards they could talk but in the meantime they should rest after their journey. That night Brecca held a feast. He asked The Hrothgarsons about their family and what news they had. Dunstan told them of their recent difficulties in the south with Thane Gorm and the battles with the British Regneses tribe. Dunstan told the story modestly and did not overly promote either himself or his brothers. Everyone said that he had spoken well and many were impressed. Gorbold gave Dunstan a ring when he sat down told Brecca to bring him some of the special ale to ease Dunstan’s throat. Brecca was interested in the story of the Déaþscufa and Dunric’s part in it. He told how a leæce of a similar description and name had come to Taddenlæge one moon ago. Dunstan said that Dunric seemed to bring trouble wherever he went and Wulfhere thought it might not be a coincidence that Tadda fell ill after a visit from Dunric. Brecca thought it unlikely that a leæce would have caused so much trouble. He believed his father was ill because he had been Ælfshot having inadvertently offended one of the ælfar. Uthric said it would not be the first time that Dunric sets spirits on his kin. Indeed, trouble didn’t seem to avoid Dunric but preceded and followed him too. Gorbold said that all the talk of Ælfar and spirts was depressing and that the feast was turning melancholy. He thought that they should enliven things by having a riddling contest. He challenged Wulfhere to a contest and put forward the prize of a thick silver torc. Wulfhere said that he would rather not as his last riddling contest had not ended so well. The warriors laughed at him and they shouted that southerners were not as capable as the hardy northerners. Wulfhere reluctantly agreed. The contest went on over ten rounds and was evenly matched, sometimes Wulfhere failed but Gorbold also failed to guess the answer to Wulfhere’s riddle. At last Wulfhere asked a riddle that Gorbold could not answer: My hall is not silent, nor am I myself loud. My lord created a journey together for us two. I am faster than him, sometimes stronger; he is more powerful. Sometimes I rest; he must run onwards. I will dwell in him for as long as I live: If we two part, death will be fated to me. There was loud acclaim for Wulfhere’s final riddle and since Gorbold did not guess it Wulfhere would not tell the answer. Wulfhere said that it will remain a mystery for now. Gorbold willingly gave him the silver torc and with his own hands put it round his neck. The feast was enjoyable and Brecca asked Wulfhere what was the message he had brought for his father. Wulfhere said that he would prefer to deliver it to Brecca in private or with his counsel rather than at a feast where most had already too much to drink. Gorbold thought that the political situation in the world was changing. New powers were arising and the old order might be swept away. Uthric asked why the British were hunting travellers. Brecca and Gorbold looked at one another before answering. It was Gorbold that said that as far he was aware the British had decided that they no longer accepted Saxon rule. He was not sure why but he thought it might be because they knew Tadda was sick and that he might die. He thought it might not be beyond the bounds of possibility that if the sickness was because of evil spirits sent to afflict Tadda then it had been the Britons who had done it. There was a murmur of agreement in the hall after Gorbold’s speech. Brecca tried to change the subject because he said he felt uneasy talking about these things in an open hall with so many people listening. He asked about the political situation in the south and the rumours they had heard about Cerdic challenging Aelle. The brothers said that high level politics were not their concern but acknowledged that there was a growing tension. Gorbold said that he thought that he had heard Wulfhere say that they brought a message from Cerdic and therefore must have some knowledge of what Cerdic was thinking. When none of the brothers replied he let the question go and spoke of lighter subjects. After the feast, Gorbold walked them back to their bur. He said that they should come tomorrow to his Hall for a feast as he would like to talk to them further. Wulfhere said they would be pleased to do so and they left each other on good terms. When they were back in the bur, they discussed the new information they had learnt. They were all most concerned that Dunric had visited Taddenlæge and the troubles seemed to escalate from when he had arrived. Tadda had fallen ill, the British seemed to take exception to Saxon overlords, the British alleged that Saxons were killing their women and children and they were in turn killing Saxons. Dunstan wanted to know why Dunric would have travelled north. He could not think of a reason but thought that maybe they had just not found the answer yet. Uthric wondered if the Carls who had killed Garm were behind the attacks on the British villages and they might have linked up with Dunric. Wulfhere said they could speculate all night on links and causes. He was more concerned about what they should do about Dunric if they found him. There was a proscription on killing leæces and it was well known that it would bring bad luck on the person who did it until the fifth generation. It was also said that the souls of those who killed a leæce would be gnawed by the dragon Níðhǫgg in the underworld. They all shuddered at the thought but Wulfhere said that he wondered how true this was. The proscription on killing leæces came from other leæces and he thought there might be a bit of self-interest in the ruling. None of them were sure that they wanted to test out the truth of the matter. It was left unresolved how they would deal with Dunric if they found he was mixed up in this. In the morning they went to see Brecca. As they arrived in the Hall they interrupted what appeared to be a tense situation. A tall woman was shouting at Brecca, calling him a useless cowardly nīþing and she was demanding that he get off his father’s chair and do something useful. Brecca did not look at her while she shouted at him and spent the time studying his hands. The woman stopped shouting when she saw the Hrothgarsons and abruptly turned and walked off. She paused briefly to stare at the Hrothgarsons before walking on. She did not say anything to them. She stopped and turned again at the entrance to the Hall and said that if Brecca was not prepared to take action, then she would do so on her own. Wulfhere looked at Brecca. It was clear that he was out of his depth and could not take control of what was happening or make decisions to remedy the situation. However, he decided this was none of his business and his job was to deliver a message from Cerdic and another message from Aelle. It was then up to Brecca as Thane to decide on what he would do. Brecca could not even look at Wulfhere as he spoke of Cerdic and Aelle’s requests. Wulfhere tried to be as neutral as possible and not to give either message preference. He thought it might have been lost on Brecca anyway as he did not seem to comprehend what was being asked of him. Wulfhere said that Brecca was likely to need time to consider his response so he would come back tomorrow for an answer. There was a silence in the Hall that became awkward and the brothers exchanged glances. When Brecca continued to say nothing, Wulfhere said they would leave and let him contemplate on his own. They turned and left but as they were leaving they asked the guard at the Hall door who the woman had been. The guard laughed and said that was the Lady Rowena, head of one of the most powerful families in Taddenlæge. They discussed the interview with Brecca when they were alone. Uthric said that he had never met a Thane who appeared so inept and useless. Rowena had been right to call him a nīþing. Dunstan thought that their mission to get reinforcements was doomed even discounting the poisoned cup they had been given by Cerdic and Aelle. Wulfhere sat and stared at the forest for a long time and said it was likely that the Carls would not stand for Brecca’s behaviour much longer. He expected that if Tadda did not recover soon then there would be a new Thane elected. Wulfhere thought they should insist on seeing Tadda. He wondered if they might be able to do something to heal him or even to let him know about the requests. Wulfhere said that he suspected that even if Tadda was well, it was unlikely that any help could be sent south while the British were killing Saxons. They feasted with Gorbold that night. They found him pleasant company and he had good food and ale. The conversation was generally light-hearted but they did ask about Rowena. Gorbold said that Rowena had not been the same since her husband was killed by bandits two weeks ago. She had demanded that Brecca lead a Warband to the British base at Calleva and punish and kill the bandits. Brecca had been incapable of making a decision but it was also unlikely that the Carls would follow him anyway. Everyone viewed Brecca as an unproven Warleader. Gorbold said that he had heard that Rowena was going to take her men north and attack on her own if Brecca would not help. Gorbold said that he felt sorry for Brecca but he thought that it was only a matter of time before there would be a decision by the Carls to replace him as Thane with someone more experienced. Wulfhere asked if Gorbold would be standing for Thane but Gorbold said that despite his prominence in matters of trade, Rowena was a Shieldmaiden in her youth and what Taddenlæge needed now was a War Thane to defend the settlement and destroy the insurgent British. Gorbold thought that Rowena would be the best Warleader for Taddenlæge and he intended to support her if it came to an election. He said that personal ambition had to be put aside for the good of Taddenlæge. Wulfhere and Dunstan agreed that this made sense. Uthric was not sure that he trusted Gorbold. Gorbold offered the brothers to stay the night in his Hall or as many nights as they would be in Taddenlæge. He thought that they might be more comfortable in his Hall rather than in a bur. Wulfhere said that they would likely take him up on his offer but tonight they would sleep in the bur. They again discussed what they should do when back at the bur. It was clear that Taddenlæge could not give troops because of the standoff between the Saxons and the British. It was also clear that Cerdic had not been aware of the situation when he asked them to come and they wondered should they go back and bring warriors from Cædering and Glawmæd to help resolve the situation. They talked around in circles for a while and then decided the best thing was to sleep and see what the next day brought. Dunstan said he felt this was the problem, they were always reacting to situations rather than creating them. In the morning, they were awoken by a commotion and cheering. When they came out of the bur they watched a small warband of twenty warriors led by Rowena heading north in the direction of Calleva. Uthric asked the gate guards why so few were going north and the guard told him that Brecca had refused to send more men so Rowena took her own warriors. Wulfhere said that they thought they should see Brecca and then make some decisions when they had more information. Brecca was in the Thane’s Hall alone and they approached him and asked if he had thought about what they had said the previous day. Brecca said that he could not make any decisions at present and would not be sending any warriors south until the situation was resolved in the north. Wulfhere said that while he understood this he was confused that Brecca had not helped Rowena and sent more warriors with her. Brecca could not answer the question and Wulfhere had to remain confused. Uthric said that he had some skill in healing and thought that he could help if he examined Tadda. Brecca said that he had given up hope that his father might recover but if there was any chance of Uthric healing him then he was willing to take it no matter how small. Brecca took the three Hrothgarsons to see Tadda. He was lying in bed with a fever and was clearly delirious, mumbling and shouting incomprehensible words. Uthric said that unfortunately he had never seen an illness like this before and had no knowledge of his symptoms. When Brecca heard what Uthric said he asked them to leave Tadda in peace. Dunstan asked Wulfhere if there was any point in staying in Taddenlæge if they were unlikely to fulfil their mission. Uthric thought that at least they should wait until Rowena returned which he felt may change the situation. Wulfhere said he thought a positive resolution was slipping away but he needed to make every effort before going back to Cerdic and telling him that he would not get any reinforcements from the north. Wulfhere agreed that they should wait for Rowena to return at the least. It was late afternoon when Rowena and what was left of her Warband returned. They had lost over half of their men on an assault on Calleva where they had tracked the British force to. Rowena went straight to her Hall and did not speak to anyone. Uthric saw Gorbold watching her return from a distance and he went to his own Hall shortly afterwards. Uthric thought it might be good to scout the enemy at Calleva. He said he was tired sitting around waiting for something to happen. If they knew the strength of the fortifications and the numbers of the enemy at least they might be able to add some knowledge to help solve this issue. Dunstan agreed and they went to get their armour and weapons from the bur. They knew the road north went straight to Calleva but thought it unwise to follow it openly because of the danger of enemy patrols. They moved quietly through the forest heading north. Unfortunately, they were not moving as quietly as they thought they were and were ambushed by a British patrol. The arrows that suddenly hit the trees around them or stuck in their shields surprised them but did no damage. The enemy, seeing that they had not hurt any of the brothers, tried to escape but were caught and quickly killed or disabled. One of the enemy did escape and he stopped again and fired arrows. Uthric decided he had had enough of being shot at and charged at the man, crouching behind his shield. The man was either luckier or a better shot that his dead or wounded comrades because two arrows hit Uthric’s right leg. One went through his thigh and the other hit his kneecap and he fell over unable to move without sever pain. The man fired two more arrows but they stuck in Uthric’s shield which he had hid behind. It was likely if Uthric had been alone the man would have killed him but he ran off when Wulfhere and Dunstan came to Uthric’s aid. They helped Uthric up and helped him to walk. It was clear that the return journey would be slow because Uthric was unable to walk without support. Wulfhere examined the bodies of the men they had killed and finding one was still alive interrogated him. The man refused to answer questions other than calling them child murderers and woman killers. He said he would prefer to be killed quickly rather than burnt alive as the Sais usually did. Wulfhere said that this was exactly the stereotypical binary views that perpetuate misunderstanding. Sadly, Wulfhere’s British was good, but not good enough to translate exactly what he meant and the man looked confused. Uthric said that what Wulfhere had said was that the idea that the Saxons were all bad and the British all good was false and that it was not helpful in finding solutions. Wulfhere’s patience was growing thin and he gave the wounded man a quick death. They returned slowly to Taddenlæge without further incident but when they examined Uthric’s leg they knew that he would be unable to walk on it for some weeks. They sat in their bur and made plans. Uthric said that Wulfhere and Dunstan should leave and tell Cerdic what was happening and leave him here until he recovered. The other two disagreed and said that at present they should stick together. Dunstan asked what exactly could they tell Cerdic. They were still not sure what was happening or why there was conflict between the British and Saxons. They decided that they needed a lot of ale and all drank too much before they went to sleep.
  11. Embassy to Kernow Wulfhere knew Glawmaed was in trouble. Although the harvest had been gathered it had been destroyed in the war and many of the livestock had been killed. He had been put in charge of Glawmaed until Cerdic made a decision about who should be Thane. It was therefore Wulfhere's responsibility to find enough food for the villagers and the extra warriors, who were now guarding the village. The destruction in Glawmaed, Caedering and Caelctun meant that usually self-sufficient villages that had produced surplus for trade had nothing to spare. Wulfhere sent messages to Stuf at Portus Caester and he obliged by sending five oxcarts of supplies north. Wulfhere was concerned that Coelfrith might still want to cause trouble for Caedering. Osberht's defection had set up a chain of events in which Coelfrith had lost considerable standing and honour. He had been humiliated by Aelle and Wulfhere wondered if he would react by targeting Caedering. Wulfhere decided that he was probably over-interpreting things and he hoped there would be peace for some years. Uthric asked Modrig the names of the Huscarls that had left Garm to die. He memorised them for the future as he thought they might seek revenge. He also asked about Beorthric and Wilfrith and if Modrig had any knowledge of them. He was disappointed to learn Modrig had no knowledge of either man. Dunstan, Wulfhere and Lucnot began to rebuild the houses. Dunstan spent his spare time training his brother Egfryd. He was still concerned that Hildegard was giving Egfryd too many honey-cakes. The situation with their mother had not got any better but equally it had not got worse. Dunstan was more critical of her than either Wulfhere or Uthric. He felt she was not honouring their father’s memory. He remarked that it was time she remembered that she was a grandmother and had responsibilities rather than her continual sulking just because he intended to kill her husband. Ealdorman Cerdic knew that his Yule celebrations would be critical for the coming year. This was the fifth year of Aelle's reign as Bretwalda and Cerdic had it in mind that he would be challenging Aelle for the title soon. The battles at Caelctun, Caedering, Glawmaed and Llys had changed the political landscape. Coelfrith's loss of Caedering and Caelctun had side-lined him as a force in the west and Cerdic was keen to take the land west of the Moen and north to the Tamyse for himself. It was rumoured that Coelfrith had been struck down by the plague and they hoped to hear news of his death soon. Cerdic's men had been to Friesland, Jutland and Saxony spreading news that there was more than enough land in Briton for any warriors who were strong enough to take it. He hoped that he would see the fruits of his message in spring when the weather allowed the boats to sail again. He was concerned about Octa. King Octa was the exiled king of Ceint and he was the one remaining son of Hengist. Octa was also a bad-tempered drunkard and his men were outlaws, murderers and traitors who he recruited in the hope of regaining his throne in Ceint. Cerdic knew that although he had an alliance with Octa that he would soon need to deal with him. Octa was in perpetual war with Aelle and his bloodthirsty warriors spent their time raiding Ceint or in piracy of Ceintish ships. Octa was also rumoured to have made an alliance with the Dumnonians. Cerdic knew that this would need to change but he was content to leave it for the moment. Octa kept Aelle occupied and stopped him expanding his realm along the Tamyse valley and into Mierce. The Leæces in Halig's isle had read the runes and told Cerdic he would be a king soon. Cerdic sat and watched his Thanes, Huscarls and Carls celebrate Yule at his Hall in Portus Caester. He sat at the top benches with his son, Cynic, nephew Stuf and a Thane, Frodda who had come from Froddington. The Yule feast was going well when suddenly it was interrupted by Stuf and Cynic who began attacking a man with their swords. Dunstan remarked that he must have stolen someone's Yule sausage and had really upset them. It turned out that the man had used a bucket of water to extinguish the Yule log. This was considered a very bad omen and try as he might to pass it off, Cerdic was worried. Rumours circulated that the man was one of Octa's Carls. Some even said he was Aelle's man. Cerdic called for the best Yule Ale to be served and a skald told the story of Cerdic's victories and the taking of Portus Caester. But the mood in the Hall was dampened and, on the benches, men wondered what bad luck was coming. On the third night of the Feast, the Brothers were invited to tell the tale of the Battles in the North. Dunstan spoke well and held the attention of the audience while he told of the treachery of Garm and his ignominious death. He spoke of the humbling of Coelfrith at Aelle's Moot and the battle at Caedering and how even the women and children of Caedering fooled the Britons by pretending to be warriors. Cerdic gave Dunstan, Uthric and Wulfhere arm rings and new clothes. Men said that it was well with the Hrothgarsons and their reputation was growing and they were going to be like their father. Cerdic asked the Brothers to come and see him privately. He praised their exploits and enquired if they could speak British as well as he had been told. He acknowledged this was a useful skill which would make them ideal for a delicate task. He told them of his plans to invade Dumnonia and capture land as far as the Itchen. He knew this would be a momentous task for the Dumnonians were fierce warriors and moreover they often fought from horseback. Cerdic thought that causing a distraction might help his cause and wanted to see if he could gain some allies for his cause. He told of a strong Kingdom beyond Dumnonia called Kernow, ruled by a king called Mark. He wanted to see if it was possible to forge an alliance with this Mark and get him to attack Dumnonia when Cerdic did. The Dumnonians would either have to split their army or leave one of the enemy armies to rampage through their lands. He wanted the Brothers to go on a diplomatic mission that would require both tact and delicacy. Mark was known to be a drunken king who preferred to spend his time playing with his many woman. But the warriors of Kernow were fierce and Mark may be tempted to take land and wealth from his rival, the Dumnonian King. It was well known that he hated this man, The Bear, but for what reason Cerdic had not been able to discover. Wulfhere thought that this task was not beyond their skills but he was concerned if they had to walk through Dumnonia that they would likely attract some attention and that attention would not always be friendly. Cerdic agreed that walking to Kernow was possibly not the best idea so he had engaged one of his trusted Frisian traders to take them there in a boat. Uthric said that he would be willing to go just for the experience of being in a boat although he had heard it could be dangerous. Dunstan said that he had become used to travelling and sometimes he found it hard not to be on the road. Cerdic was pleased with their response and said that the boat would be ready to leave a moon after Hretha's feast. He had been told that the storms were less by then and that it could even be a pleasant voyage. They were to take ten Carls with them in case of trouble and he also had gifts for Mark that might help sway the argument. He said that it was likely Mark would want silver and perhaps land that but he thought it well worth the effort if he gained an advantage in the coming war. After Yule the Brothers took their leave of Cerdic and promised to return a moon after the Feast of Cakes. They spent the intervening time arranging the defence of Glawmaed with Lucnot and Taethle. They also discussed the crops needed for the following year and what animals they should concentrate on breeding. Uthric and Wulfhere said goodbye to Meire and Bronwyn. Both women told them they were pregnant and hoped they would return for the birth. Wulfhere said they expected to be home long before harvest. Hildegard told both woman that from her own experience, her sons' timekeeping was not their strong point. Cerdic reminded them that they might be provoked while in Kernow and they were to do nothing to endanger a potential alliance. They went aboard the trading ship that was to take them to Caer Dore. Cerdic had also installed two young woman from minor noble families who thought that being Concubines to a rich king would improve their prospects. Cwen and Daira were both blonde and beautiful but understandably nervous now that they were about to leave their familiar surroundings for the unknown. The Ships Master was Durwin, an experienced sailor who looked at his human cargo of the Brothers and the ten Carls with some amusement. He was heard telling his sailors to lay bets who would be seasick first. A sailor called Wyre won 5 silver for predicting Dunstan would be the first to spend time leaning over the gunwale. It took five days to get to Caer Dore. None of the passengers were able to enjoy the passage and they were too ill to watch the coast of Dumnonia or the majestic cliffs of Kernow that protected the bleak Moors where the men of Kernow mined and smelted tin. The port of Caer Dore was a filthy, smelly village. The people were small and squat and seemed impoverished. They stood back and stared at the tall Carls with their bright cloaks and sharp spears. Durwin spoke with the Harbour master and agreed the price for the berth. He asked Wulfhere how many days he should pay for but Wulfhere had no answer. He was unsure of the task that lay ahead and could only advise that it might be several days. He agreed that two warriors should stay with the ship to help the sailors protect it. Durwin was concerned that there was no treaty about shipping between Cerdic and Kernow and he was keen to protect his ship and income. Wulfhere promised that he would send a message as soon as he could about the state of negotiations and possible time to return home. Caer Dore lies inland from its port. The track was muddy and full of ruts. After half a mornings March they approached King Mark's royal seat. Caer Dore is a vast sprawl of haphazard buildings, on the outskirts most of the buildings are shacks with narrow muddy paths leading to a central hill on which stood a large hall. The concentration of dwellings, byres, barns and corrals increased as they approached the centre. The people they passed were sullen and Uthric frequently heard the word 'Sais', the British word for Saxons. It was hard to estimate how many people lived in this town. Dunstan thought it might be more than a 1000 but probably less than 2000. It was certainly the biggest place they had ever seen but it seemed that every other person was a beggar, holding their hands out to the strangers. Most of the people looked poor and more ragged than their own lands. There were some warriors who watched them with open hostility. The Brothers were shown into Mark’s Hall. The Hall stank of discarded food and vomit. It looked as if the remnants of a feast had not been cleared away and hungover warriors snored on the benches set against the walls. Mark's steward Bannon greeted them and asked them if their journey had been good. Wulfhere responded politely and wondered if they might meet with King Mark. Bannon said unfortunately King Mark was indisposed after last night’s carousing, but he would have a feast to welcome the Sais to Kernow. Bannon offered the travellers food and watered ale. Dunstan found the pastry dumplings filled with meat and vegetables not very appetizing and wondered if Bannon could provide something different and perhaps some stronger alcohol. Bannon ignored Dunstan's request and advised them that there would be a feast tonight and Dunstan could have all manner of interesting foods but perhaps he suggested they needed to retire before then to rest after their arduous journey. Bannon showed them to a hut which would be their living quarters while in Kernow. He apologised that it had not been cleaned and there had been no fresh straw for the bedding nor any fresh reeds for the floor. He assigned them a serving woman who he said would see to their needs. Wulfhere thought he had never met a more surly woman in his life. She made his mother’s recent bad tempers seem like joyous song. She seemed to interpret every reasonable request as a personal insult. Daira and Cwen looked scared about what they had seen so far. It did not fill them with confidence that their lives would be improved. They asked Wulfhere to send them back to the ship. Wulfhere acknowledged that so far, their expectations had not been met but he was sure that after they were introduced to King Mark their opinions would change and they would see things differently. They should see their situation as the start of a new life and they would have many opportunities for advancement. It was a good speech but everyone's spirits were so low that it convinced no-one that things could improve. The woman went off to try to bathe and prepare themselves. They could be heard crying in the back of the room. The Brothers and the eight Carls discussed their situation. They agreed they were in a hostile town and there was danger everywhere. Wulfhere reminded them of Cerdic's instructions. They must do nothing to provoke their hosts and ruin the chance of an alliance. Wulfhere told the Carls that it would be best that they did not come to the feast. He did not think that any of the Brothers would be directly provoked but he worried that the Carls might not have the same level of hospitality. He reminded the Brothers that they should not drink more than was necessary and they should keep their wits about them. Uthric said that he was of the opinion that the only way to endure this country would be to pass out from drink and wake up again on the boat home. Dunstan agreed in principle with Uthric but said that it might be too long a time to remain drunk. They were introduced to various local dignitaries at the feast. Tristan, the King’s son, was civil and courteous but was very clear at declaring his support for Dumnonia and against the Sais. He said his father might have other ideas but he and his men would not fight against their friends, The Dumnonians. Mark's champion was Aud, a huge tattooed man. He had blue swirls over most of his body and wore warrior rings on each finger and in his beard which clinked when he moved. He did not speak much but drank huge quantities of ale. Wella was Mark's Leæch. He was an old man whose thinning white hair had been shaved at the front in the manner of the British. He performed a brief ceremony where he killed a hare and sprinkled the blood over the gathered warriors. Wulfhere touched his Thunor's hammer in the hope that whatever spell Wella had cast would be averted. They were introduced to Diarmuid, an lrish King. He was known as Bloody Shield but none of the Brothers wanted to hear why. Two other chieftains were present at the top bench called Rhan and Dubv. Both spent the night cramming food and drink into their mouths while sharing unsavoury jokes with Diarmuid. Wulfhere noticed that despite seeming to match Rhan and Dubv, Diarmuid actually drank very little. There was no sign of Mark. His throne remained empty while the feast went on. Dunstan was disappointed that the main food was more of the inedible pastries or dumplings. He eventually settled on some vegetable and pork broth. Diarmuid, the Irish King spoke with Wulfhere. Only he and Tristan were not drinking heavily. Dunstan asked him where Ireland was and Diarmuid told him that it was two days march directly north. Diarmuid was an interesting man but they felt that it would be difficult to trust him. Eventually Mark arrived. He was supported by several guards as he appeared unsteady on his feet. He was fat and bloated and covered like Aud in swirling blue tattoos over his face and arms. As he came closer they could smell that he had already been drinking. Wulfhere stood as was customary and getting Uthric to translate, introduced himself as an embassy from Cerdic. Mark waved a hand in acknowledgement as he almost fell off his throne. He mumbled something to Bannon who asked Wulfhere if he had any gifts for King Mark. Wulfhere thanked the king for his hospitality and said that indeed Cerdic had sent him two gifts which he had hoped would please him. He sent Dunstan to bring Cwen and Daira to the hall. They had spent the afternoon getting ready and when they arrived the warriors went silent as the two women made their way to the front of the hall. On their arrival Mark sat up and for the first time since coming to the Hall, looked interested. He again spoke to Bannon. Bannon in turn signalled for the two spearmen on either side of Mark to move forward. They ripped the Women’s dresses off and turned them around for Mark to see. Each woman screamed and shouted but the guards threatened to hit them and they quietened. Uthric had to stop Dunstan from objecting to the treatment of the women. Mark clapped his hands and through Bannon he thanked them for his presents which he said he would enjoy. Uthric noticed that Tristan averted his eyes and made a sign, touching his forehead and breast. Uthric assumed it was a sign against evil peculiar to Kernow The court skald, Yspaddon sang a triumphant song which Uthric translated for Wulfhere and Dunstan. Dunstan was still angry after witnessing the humiliation of Daira and Cwen. Fortunately, most people were too drunk to notice except for King Diarmuid who made some jokes at Dunstan's expense. After Yspaddon had finished a prisoner was brought in. Uthric was told by Rhan that he was a Chieftain who had rebelled against Mark and had been captured after his spearman had been slaughtered. The man was naked and his body was covered in bruises and wounds. Aud, the Kings Champion, drew his sword and began slowly cutting the Chieftain. Mark became very animated and leaned forward in his chair while his champion showed his skill with the sword by cutting the man but each cut was designed not to kill him but to cause pain. The Brothers were hardened warriors but this sickened them all. Prince Tristan stayed for the man's death but left soon afterwards. Wulfhere, through Uthric, attempted to engage King Mark but the King was barely coherent. Bannon said that this Feast was a celebration of their arrival and not the time to discuss policy. They should drink, eat and enjoy themselves. He said that Mark would talk to him tomorrow and he should show patience as befitted an emissary. Queen Iseult was brought into the Hall. There was silence as she approached the Kings dais. Dunstan, in particular, thought he had never seen such a beautiful woman. She was dark haired and fragile looking but equally had an inner strength and grace that he found it hard to look away. Diarmuid advised Dunstan to close his mouth and think of other things. Mark was an extremely jealous man and did not like other men looking at his Queen despite treating her badly and publicly humiliating her. As if to prove his point, Mark began shouting at her and attempted to get up. He grabbed a spear from his Guard and threw it at her. Fortunately, he was so incapacitated from drink that she easily avoided the throw. Diarmuid explained that Iseult’s beauty came from the Danu, an Irish goddess that was reputed to be her ancestor. Dunstan thought a two-day march north to Ireland might be worthwhile if Ireland had other women who looked like this. The Queen poured each of the guests some wine and gave a greeting and compliment to all. She then left. A short time later the king collapsed and was carried out by servants. The Brothers agreed that it was time to leave the feast now that the king had retired. They had become increasingly uneasy about being in such a strange place. It had begun to rain when they had left the feast and the paths back to their lodging were muddy and slippery. They also discovered that the roof of their house leaked and there was a large pool of water in the middle of the floor. Wulfhere thought that it would be an even more uncomfortable night as it was going to be difficult to find somewhere dry to sleep. They discussed their situation. All were appalled by the nights events and were beginning to wonder what they could achieve in Kernow. Wulfhere said that they needed to be careful and constantly on their guard. Mark was the kind of King that once offended, stays offended, even if he doesn't remember why. The next morning after a very uncomfortable night they made their way to Mark's Hall. Warriors were still asleep where they had collapsed. Prince Tristan was at the High Table on the dais and he waved for them to join him. He asked them if they had slept well and when Dunstan said that they had spent a rather uncomfortable night with a leaking roof and there was now a lake in the middle of the floor and in the fire pit that he had been able to wash in. Tristan said he was embarrassed by the poor hospitality and called Bannon to get new accommodation immediately. Bannon said that he would see to it right away. Tristan ordered food, the Brothers opted for a course ground porridge rather than meat dumplings, judging that losing a tooth to a piece of unseen stone from the grinding mill was a better risk than the pastries. Wulfhere enquired if they could meet King Mark today. He said that he was keen to return to Portus Caester because Cerdic would want to know King Mark's views as soon as possible. Tristan apologised and said he suspected his father might not be available until that night as he often slept all day after a feast. Wulfhere said he was disappointed but could wait until tonight if the king was indisposed. Tristan offered to take them hunting. Rhan, Dhuv and Diarmuid were all going Boar hunting and he said he would be delighted if they would accompany them. The Brothers reluctantly agreed. They saw Cwen and Daira in the hall and managed to talk to them. Both women were distressed and asked the Brothers to take them home with them. Wulfhere said that this was unlikely to happen. While it was not how they had hoped things would turn out, unfortunately they were part of a treaty settlement and that could not be undone without causing offence to Mark. Both women reminded him that they had come of their own choice and now chose to return. Wulfhere was conflicted but without Marks agreement he said he could do nothing. The Beaters sounded a horn to signify that prey had been found and that it was heading their way. Uthric had reminded them of the risks they were taking going boar hunting and that it might suit Tristan if they all died. He was very much against any alliance with the Saxon lords and this might be a simple and convenient way of solving his problem. Uthric said that in his opinion it would be a good solution for it was known that people died all the time in boar hunts. Tristan said that the honour of killing the boar would go to the person who saw it first. They agreed that this person would have first strike and the others would only join in if there was a risk to his life or the boar became too stubborn about dying. Diarmuid laughed and said that in his experience boars never wanted to give up their lives and indeed quite often managed to kill or severely injure the hunter even after they had taken enough hurt to have killed a normal beast. He for one was relishing the prospect of a life and death struggle with the boar and he hoped he would be first to see it. Besides he said to Wulfhere, he was sick of meat in pastry and would look forward to roast boar tonight. They made their way through dense undergrowth and listening intently they could hear the boars breathing. Dunstan spotted it first as it lay in a tangle of briars. It was an immense beast and had scars on its back from other fights with hunters. Wulfhere when he heard about the scars thought it did not bode well and observed that this boar probably had some tricks it used to escape from being speared. He urged that Dunstan to be careful. Dunstan moved forward while the others readied their spears. He poked his own spear into the undergrowth hoping to irritate the boar into a charge as he did not like the idea of trying to cut this way through the dense vegetation while guarding himself against the boar's attack. He heard a grunt and just had time to brace the spear as the boar charged head down. Dunstan's spear hit the boars' shoulder but it seemed to ignore the wound. The speed and mass of the creature was immense and it smashed into Dunstan's shield splitting it in two and colliding with his abdomen. Dunstan thought he might have some severe bruising if he managed to survive the next few heartbeats. His spear was still stuck in the boar’s shoulder and he tried to work the spear point deeper into its flesh and hit something vital. Under the boar’s weight, the spear snapped and Dunstan fell with the boar on top of him. The boar lowered its head to disembowel him but fortunately Dunstan managed to pull up his legs and force the boar’s tasks away from his chest and stomach. The tusks raked his leg leaving an impressive scar that he would carry until his death day. Dunstan was in real danger and Uthric, Wulfhere, Tristan and Diarmuid all plunged their spears into the boar, trying to push it off Dunstan. Dunstan tried to reach for his seax but it was pinned under him with the weight of the boar on top. The boar again tried to use his tusks to disembowel Dunstan but fortunately he got his legs in the way again and the boar raked his other leg. Dunstan punched the boar. The damage from his friends eventually told and the boar expired and in doing so released a stream of urine over Dunstan. Uthric, Wulfhere, Tristan and Diarmuid pushed the dead boar off of Dunstan. He looked a mess. Both legs suffered deep cuts and it was impossible to tell if the blood was his or the boars. Uthric closed and bound the wounds and Dunstan gingerly tested his legs. He was able to walk but was in pain. Tristan apologised for putting his life in danger. Diarmuid said that this story would keep Feasts amused for many days. Dunstan said that in his opinion that was easily the fiercest opponent he had ever fought. He had thought that Wulfhere would have to tell his mother he had met his death in Kernow. The beaters gralloched the boar and took the carcass back for that night’s feast. Tristan said that his step-mother was good at healing and she would attend to Dunstan when they got back. Diarmuid asked Tristan how many step-mothers he has had. Tristan laughed and said that he believed that Iseult was his sixth or seventh. Diarmuid grinned and said he had always found that King Mark tended to be careless and kept losing his wives. Tristan looked sad and Wulfhere wondered what Mark did to all these women. Dunstan was unsure that he wanted any attention from Iseult given Mark's temperament and evident jealousy but Tristan insisted and the Queen herself was keen to help. Dunstan found her to be gentle and skilled at healing. Iseult was about his age and Mark was over 50 years. It was clear from their conversation that Iseult was unhappy in her marriage. She told Dunstan she was from Ireland a land that was over the western sea. Dunstan was a bit confused. Diarmuid had told him that Ireland was two days march north but it was also over the western sea according to Iseult. He thought that it must be a big place. Iseult hinted that she would like to get away from Mark who she described as worse than a murderous pig with habits that would disgust the Demons of Hell. Dunstan was unsure what the Demons of Hell were but concluded that they were not people you would ask to a feast. He felt sorry for the Queen but he said that his loyalty to Cerdic and their mission took precedence to Iseult's sorrows and troubles. While the Queen talked to Dunstan and closed and bound his wounds, Uthric and Wulfhere talked to the Warlords, Dubv and Rhan. Uthric thought that both were suggesting that they would never get an answer from Mark. They suggested in low voices that another king might have a better answer to their inquiries. They said that if Cerdic would lend them 100 spearmen they might be able to be of help with Cerdic's plans. Wulfhere tried to change the subject, recognising that the two Warlords were proposing treason. He did not know what Cerdic's opinion of this would be and certainly did not want to be accused of helping to overthrow King Mark. He thought it best to give ambiguous answers and play for time. He was thankful that Tristan returned to the Hall and both Rhan and Dubv changed the talk to hunting stories. When they returned to their accommodation the Brothers shared their concerns. Dunstan advised that they needed to search their boat thoroughly before they left. He fully expected that they might have some unexpected passengers. It appeared to be that every woman in any way closely connected to Mark was very keen to escape hm and at present they were the surest way to leave the country. He had no wish to have to fight their way to the boat and fight a sea battle all the way to Portus Caester. He said that if they were not on a diplomatic mission he would have no problem rescuing all these women but he felt his allegiance to Cerdic outweighed other things. Uthric and Wulfhere discussed the treason that was hinted at by Dubv and Rhan. They noted that this country was riven by factions and Wulfhere thought it was a surprise it functioned at all. He was even more surprised that no-one had put a knife in Mark's black heart. Uthric supposed that the only reason it had not happened was because no-one could agree on who would replace Mark. If Mark was killed, Tristan would be obligated to revenge his father and that would be a hard task for potential rebels to overcome. Both Uthric and Wulfhere thought Tristan would make a fine king but it would not help Cerdic's plans. It was clear Tristan's sympathies lay with Dumnonia and he would never attack them. They agreed that their embassy was doomed and they should see Mark as soon as they could and take his answer to Cerdic. Cerdic would want their opinion of Mark and Kernow and they were clear that they had had enough of this country from its interminable meat pastries to its drunken mad and deadly King. Tristan sent a new set of clothes to Dunstan as his own set had been ruined in the fight with the boar. They attended the Feast hoping to be able to talk to Mark and leave in the morning. Similar to the previous night, Mark did not appear when the feast started. Dunstan had been looking forward to the roasted boar, but the cook had managed to overcook it and it was tough. At least, that is what Dunstan told herself when it stuck in his throat. Wulfhere said that this was a common reaction after a battle when a warrior recalls all the sword and axe strokes that nearly took his life. In the same way Dunstan was remembering his almost fatal duel with the boar and not only was he finding the memory tough but even the eating of it was tough. Mark eventually arrived and Wulfhere announced his intention of leaving the next day. Mark ignored him and said there was plenty of time to discuss matters of state. Tonight, he thought they would be better enjoying themselves. Mark was keen for his entertainment to begin. Two prisoners were brought in and both made to fight to the death. Mark was enthralled by the fight and clapped when one of the prisoners disembowelled the other. He laughed as the disembowelled man tried to pick up his guts and put them back inside before collapsing and being dispatched by Aud. The victor knelt before Mark's High seat expecting a reward but Aud came up behind him and decapitated him with a single sword stroke. The assembled warriors cheered. Mark laughed so much that he had a coughing fit in which it looked like he would expire. Wulfhere was hopeful that this might be the end of the King, but Marks coughing calmed down and he called for more drink. Iseult bought him a jug of ale. Mark was still coughing and just as Iseult poured, Mark moved his drinking horn and the ale went over his tunic. ln a rage he hit her with the back of his hand. Diarmuid restrained Dunstan and told him he should calm down if he did not want to end up as one of Mark’s entertainments at the next feast. The warriors in the Hall were a hard-bitten, lawless crew but they were silent after Mark had hit Iseult. Mark clearly sensed the mood of the Hall and attempted to change the atmosphere by ordering Cwen and Daira to dance. Diarmuid told Dunstan that Mark was a drunken bully but he needed to be aware that he was still a powerful drunkard who took petty joy at inconveniencing those who crossed him. It was usual, he continued, that those who came to Marks attention did not usually live long enough to have a second opportunity to cross him. Diarmuid said that Dunstan should also note the mood of the warriors when Mark hit Iseult. He was of the opinion that they were all in love with Iseult and one day Mark would go too far and then he would pay the price for his crimes. Dunstan would do well to focus on the future justice. Despite her swelling and bruised face, Iseult continued to serve the guests ale as was the duty of the Queen. As she filled Dunstan's drinking horn she whispered to him that he needed to take her away with him. Diarmuid stood on Dunstan's foot and he only nodded and smiled in response. The nights horrors had not finished yet. After they had danced, Cwen and Daira were called over to Marks High seat to serve him. Daira became incensed by some remark made by Mark and she slapped him, turned and walked away. Mark his face purple with anger grabbed the spear from one of his guardsmen and threw it at the retreating woman. She never saw it coming and the heavy spear took her life. The mood in the Hall changed immediately. Mark attempted to enliven the situation by getting Yspaddon to play the Marching long of Beli Mawr, one of the warriors’ favourites but it failed miserably. Mark left complaining that his warriors had gone soft. The Feast broke up with Prince Tristan again trying to apologise for his father's outrageous behaviour. Rhan whispered to Uthric that if Cerdic would support him there could be a reasonable king on the throne of Kernow who would be grateful for Saxon help. The Brothers ignored all discussions and bade goodnight to Tristan and Queen Iseult. They were stunned by events and wished to be as far away as possible from Kernow and in particular its mad King, Mark. The horror of what they had seen was possibly why they did not see the man hidden in the shadows who stabbed Dunstan in the leg and attempted to kill Uthric. They only had their seaxs with them, weapons being forbidden in the Hall but made short work of the assassin. Wulfhere's anger was such that he killed him outright. He regretted later that he did not take him alive but at the time he thought the man had killed his brother. Dunstan was still alive but badly hurt with another impressive scar to add to the growing number on his legs. He complained that it was perhaps he was too tall and assailants could not reach other parts of his body. He wondered if he had been smaller then it might have been that his scars would be more evenly spread over his body. Wulfhere and Uthric carried Dunstan back to the house and bound his new wounds. It was clear he would be unable to walk unaided for a number of weeks. To make matters worse it began to rain again and despite Bannon's promise the roof still leaked. In the morning they went to Marks Hall. Tristan was there as usual, giving the daily orders to the servants and hearing complaints from the people who petitioned Mark. He waved to the Brothers as they entered and continued to discuss a case of some stolen sheep. When he finished the judgement, he excused himself and came over to the Brothers as he had noted their scowling countenances. Wulfhere told him that someone had tried to kill them last night and he demanded to see Mark. Tristan apologised profusely and asked what he could do for recompense. He said that he was not happy that honoured guests had been attacked and nearly killed. Wulfhere said that the only thing that Tristan could do was to get his father out of bed so they could talk and then they could leave Kernow. Mark did not come to the Hall until after midday leaving the Brothers to fret if they would see him at all. Wulfhere complained to Mark about the assailant but Mark just laughed. He said that if they imagined he had tried to kill them they were wrong. They would already be dead if he wanted them killed and their bodies fed to the swine. Mark said that if Cerdic had been bothered to ask about them he would have told him the ship had left safe and sound and must have been attacked by pirates or foundered in a storm. Mark informed them it was not his fault if they flaunted their wealth and that was bound to attract thieves and robbers. Unfortunately, he continued there are still too many of those in the world. Wulfhere knew this was an argument that he would not win and he acknowledged Mark's twisted logic on the matter. Wulfhere then formerly asked Mark what it would take for an alliance with Kernow and ensure both armies attacked Dumnonia at the same time. Mark scratched at a louse in his beard and said that Dumnonia had a powerful army and he would not be keen to stick his finger in the beehive. He thought he might just continue raiding and stealing cows which would likely provoke a response. Wulfhere held firm.He said that Cerdic was most specific in his instructions and he wanted an invasion, not a raid. Dumnonia had to feel threatened from both sides and thus have to split their army. Mark said that if Cerdic sent 100 spearmen then the only further prize he wanted would be Isca. Wulfhere asked what or where or who Isca was. Mark told him it was a Roman City on the border with Kernow. Wulfhere had never heard of the tribe called Romans but he assumed they were client-kings of the Dumnonian King. Wulfhere said that he would convey the request to Cerdic and Mark would no doubt hear Cerdic's answer soon. He thanked Mark for his hospitality and bade him farewell. Dunstan said that Mark might want to fix the roof of the guest hall before someone else stays there. They were all happy to leave the Hall and went back to their lodgings. On the way back they met Queen Iseult. Uthric was aware of Dunstan's pity for her and he warned him against doing something gallant but stupid. He reminded her that she was Mark's Queen and he would not forgive this if they were to take her away. Dunstan bowed to the Queen and told her that they were leaving on the ebb tide before the evening meal. She shook her head sadly and said that she had been glad to meet him. She turned away and went back to the main Hall. When they arrived at their lodgings they found that the Carls had packed up their belongings. They also found Cwen who pleaded with them to take her back too. Wulfhere told her that Mark obviously couldn't look after gifts and in his opinion did not deserve to keep them. He did not go so far as to openly advertise that they had taken Cwen but disguised her as a Carl for the travel to the Port. They made their way back to the boat and were relieved to be leaving Kernow. Wulfhere said that he never wanted to return to this place again and if this was what British kingdoms were like then it should be no problem to conquer them. He reckoned that he could take Kernow with 100 spears. Dunstan watched the docks until they faded into the distance. He had hoped against hope but she did not come. The journey back was not as bad as the outward journey. They were only sick one of the days. It felt good to be back in the familiar sights of Portus Caester. Wulfhere reported back to Cerdic. His opinion was that Cerdic would be wasting time, effort, silver and spearmen on Kernow. Mark, he said was a drunken sot, without honour, without valour and of no use to anyone let alone his people. The Country seemed to be riven with factions and each would destroy the other. Wulfhere said that he was amazed that Mark remained king but he had seen many strange things in his life and Marks continued reign was one of the strangest. The only competent person in Kernow was the Edling, Prince Tristan. However, he unequivocally supported Dumnonia and would not support Cerdic's plan. Cerdic accepted their judgement and considered the matter closed for now. Cerdic asked why they had brought Cwen back. Wulfhere said that Mark had been careless with his gifts, he mislaid one and killed the other. He felt that he did not deserve them. Cerdic said that since her family were dead, Cwen would be his responsibility. He thanked the Brothers for their work and he released them to go back home
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