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A Saxon's Tale (standard:adventure, 3499 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Aug 08 2007Views/Reads: 2242/1276Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
It was more than sixty days since Eadwynne had wept as we left, begging us not to go. But as I kissed her, and our daughter, Leofwynne, I promised her we would return.
 



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naked bodies beside the bridge that I had built over the stream; we 
knew each of them well, especially the midwife, Silfled, and her second 
husband, Alfere, my cousin.  He had lost an arm fighting the Danes five 
years before, yet by the look of his wounds and the bloody ground, he 
had put up a good fight.  Downstream I could see the remains of a 
butchered cow and two sheep; all three had had hind or fore quarters 
hacked off and carried away. 

I slipped my grandfather's sword into my belt and took the axe back from
Edglaf, and then we hurried on, we had no time for the dead; we thought 
only of those we hoped would still be alive.  Our dwelling was on 
slightly higher ground and we were both panting like dogs as we reached 
it.  At one end thatch was still burning, as was the oak beam above the 
entrance.  Ignoring the heat, I staggered inside but immediately turned 
back.  Just a few blackened timbers remained standing, the rest had 
fallen in and still smouldered and glowed with each breath of wind.  No 
one could have survived such an inferno. 

'Father!'  Edglaf was running towards the tall trees, his sheathed sword
flapping against his leg as he ran.  I stood for a moment and then, as 
I saw what he had seen, I raced after him. 

It was my mother, Elgiue.  She lay beside the nearest tree with her head
in a pool of blood.  Edglaf had stopped a few paces short of her but I 
dropped my axe and ran past him.  'Mother!' 

I knelt and cradled her head in my lap.  There was so much blood, she
was surly dead, yet her eyes flickered and then opened.  'Godwin?'  As 
she whispered my name, blood trickled from the corner of her mouth. 

'Mother,' I gasped, 'where are Eadwynne and Leofwynne?' 

She looked up into my eyes and said just one word, ‘Danes,' and then the
life went out of her, and she was gone. 

'Mother!'  In my grief I began to rock back and forth, still cradling
her head.  Edglaf knelt beside us with tears in his eyes. 

'Men come.' 

At the sound of another voice, Edglaf was on his feet and drawing his
sword, but he slipped it back into its sheath as he recognised Maccus, 
the halfwit.  I was a tall man, as was my son, but Maccus was at least 
a head taller than us and broad in the shoulder too.   He had lived 
with Silfled, the midwife, for all of his nineteen years and called her 
Mother, though he was not truly her son.  She had taken him in when his 
real mother had died giving birth to him and his father had rejected 
him because of his disfigured face. 

'Wait!'  At the sight of Edglaf's sword Maccus had started to back away.
 I laid my mother's head gently back down on the bloodstained earth and 
then stepped in front of Edglaf, showing Maccus my empty hands.  'We 
are your friends, Maccus.  You have nothing to fear.' 

'Men come.'  Maccus repeated what he had said before. 

'How many?' I asked.  'How many men?' 

Maccus looked uncertain and I thought perhaps the question was too
difficult for him, but then he held up both of his hands, spreading the 
fingers of his left hand and studying those on his right until he 
settled on just three. 

'Eight?' I said. 

Maccus grinned and repeated the word, 'Eight, eight men come.  I climb
tree and watch.  Then come down.'  His face changed, showing grief, as 
he looked towards my dead mother.  'All dead.' 

'What about my sister, Leofwynne?' my son asked patiently.  'And my
mother, Eadwynne?'  In the past Edglaf had spent time with Maccus, 
playing games, fishing in the stream and helping with the harvest, so 
he knew better than I how to speak to him.  'Are they hiding, Maccus?' 

'I hide when men come,' Maccus replied, pointing towards the eastern
woods.  'Mother always say hide in woods if bad men come.'  He looked 
uncertain again but answered Edglaf's question.  'Not all dead.  Some 
go with men:  Eadwynne and Leofwynne... and Alfere and Wiglem.' 

I breathed a sigh of relief; my wife and five year old daughter were
still alive.  The other two, Alfere and Wiglem, were both young boys, 
sons of Beornwynne, one of the women who lay dead beside the stream. 
Her husband, Offa, had been fatally wounded towards the end of the 
battle with the Danes. 

Edglaf continued to question Maccus until it was clear that the eight
raiders had arrived at dusk the day before, just as Maccus was 
returning home with some firewood.  He was uncertain about what had 
happened during the hours of darkness, but he had heard screams and 
said that the men had left at first light with their captives, after 
torching the thatch of every dwelling. 

'Which way did they go?' Edglaf asked. 

Without hesitation Maccus pointed towards the tall trees and then raised
his hand indicating that the men and their captives must have climbed 
the hill to the north.  Edglaf and I exchanged troubled looks.  We knew 
that three or four day's journey to the north there was a tidal river, 
and had heard that Danish ships had been seen there in the past.  It 
was said that some came to trade, but others, often called Vikings, 
came to steal and to burn, and worse. 

I prayed to God that my family had been taken to sell as slaves, and
that we could somehow reach them in time.  We had some silver that we 
had taken from the three Danes that we had killed, though it was 
probably not enough to buy more that one person's freedom.  I 
considered sending Edglaf to the main settlement to fetch help, but 
decided we could not afford the delay.  God forgive me, but I was 
angry, so very angry, and I wanted to hunt down every last Dane and 
kill them all. 

*** 

I also wanted to bury my mother, but there was no time.  We replenished
our water from the stream and cut strips of meat from the butchered cow 
and looked quickly about for more food.  It seemed there was none until 
Maccus emerged from one of the burned out buildings with some bread 
that had somehow escaped the flames.  He also found a sack to put the 
food in and then insisted on coming with us.  He was a child in a man's 
body but I was glad to have him along; with his height and disfigured 
face, he looked fierce enough, especially after I gave him my 
grandfather's sword. 

Edglaf led the way, his keen young eyes picking out signs of those we
followed, but the sun had had begun to set by the time we neared the 
top of the northern hill.  There was little cover here so we crawled on 
our bellies until we could see down into the next valley.  It was 
heavily wooded and if there was anyone down there, we could not see 
them.  We hurried on, unsure if we were taking the right path until, in 
a wide clearing, we found some well-trampled grass where the raiders 
must have stopped to rest or eat.  I estimated that we were only a 
half-day behind them. 

Maccus asked if he should collect firewood and light a fire.  I wanted
to continue on, but in the growing darkness we could easily have lost 
our way, so I agreed to the lighting of a small fire close to the base 
of a fallen tree where it would be screened by its trunk and circular 
mass of roots.  Maccus was proving to be quite resourceful; using a 
flint he carried, he had a fire lit in no time and rigged a spit on 
which to cook some of the strips of meat we had brought with us.  We 
ate, and drank a little of the water, and soon fell into an exhausted 
sleep. 

When dreams of my mother rising from a lake of blood woke me it was no
longer dark, and I though that it was dawn and that too much time had 
been lost.  But then I saw that an almost full moon had risen into a 
clear sky, and so I woke Edglaf and Maccus and we continued on, as best 
we could, through the shadowy forest. 

*** 

When dawn came, the signs were much clearer and before midday we came to
a deserted and ruined settlement where clearly the raiders had spent 
the night.  I had walked this far once before and at the time wondered 
who had lived there and why they had left.  Perhaps they too had been 
slaughtered by marauding Danes. 

It was here that we found the body of a Saxon man.  His throat had been
cut and his clothes ripped open as his assailants relived him of 
anything of value.  I recognised him as Sibirht, a man I had never 
liked or trusted.  He was from the north-east and had lived in our 
community for a time, until he was expelled for stealing.  We should 
have killed him, for now it was clear how the raiders had found their 
way to our small community; they had been led there.  At least Sibirht 
had got his just deserts from the Danes who must have decided that they 
had no further use of his services. 

We kept going.  There was another hill to climb, but that would help us
to gain time I thought, as a party that included a woman and three 
children would not travel as quickly.  I was right: for late in the 
afternoon, as we crested another low hill, we at last caught site of 
those we followed.  I could not distinguish which of them was Eadwynne, 
but there were at least two small children amongst them. 

‘Men,' said Maccus.  ‘Bad men.' 

I exchanged a worried glance with Edglaf; we were both thinking the same
thing: we could easily catch up with them now but what then?  We were 
three against seven. 

On the hillside we would have been at risk of being seen, so we
backtracked a little and made our way down a shallow ravine until we 
were able to rejoin the route the raiders had taken.  The trees here 
stood tall and close together, but there was a definite track and, 
where the ground was soft, we could easily make out footprints, 
including those of children.  We moved quickly, making best use of the 
last rays of sunlight that penetrated the canopy.  I let Maccus take 
the lead while I, having abandoned the idea of buying back the 
captives, walked beside Edglaf and discussed tactics.  We knew that the 
Danes would probably stop as soon as darkness fell, and bed down for 
the night, and that that would be our best chance of surprising them.  
The birdsong was loud in this stretch of woodland, and a magpie 
chattered a warning that perhaps we should have heeded because, to our 
dismay, we had walked straight into a trap. 

Six men had stepped out from behind the trees and surrounded us, each
holding a drawn sword or a war axe, and I could tell by their clothing, 
that they were Danes. 

‘Saxon, why do you follow us?' one of them asked as he came closer.  He
was a big man, with a strong Danish accent, but he spoke our language 
well.  He and two others blocked the pathway ahead while the other 
three crowded behind us, blocking our retreat. 

‘What is your name?' I asked him, trying not to show the fear that I
felt, and desperately trying to think of a way out. 

‘What is yours?'  The Dane seemed a little confused.  He had addressed
his first question to Maccus, mistaking him for our leader, and he had 
to peer around him to see may face. 

But taking his eyes off Maccus was the last mistake he ever made on this
earth, because it was then that Maccus drew my grandfather's sword from 
his belt and, shouting his mother's name, he swung it from left to 
right with such force that it scythed into the Danes neck, taking his 
head off in a shower of bright red blood; and as a war axe slipped from 
his right hand, the Dane's headless body crumpled and fell. 

To our credit, and perhaps as a result of our recent experiences in
battle, both Edglaf and I reacted instantly.  I turned and, striding 
closer to the nearest Dane, I smashed the handle of my axe into his 
face and then dropped it onto his sword arm, while Edglaf drew his 
Danish sword and ran at the two men behind him.  Clearly they were more 
accustomed to taking the lives of women and old men because the 
youngest turned and ran while the other was too slow in parrying 
Edglaf's sword as it slashed into his face. 

I knocked my Dane senseless with another blow to his jaw and then turned
to help Maccus who was trying to keep the remaining two Danes at bay 
with huge swings of my grandfather's sword, all the time shouting his 
mother's name as though it was a war cry. 

But one of the Danes was an accomplished swordsman and was thrusting at
Maccus, drawing blood, and forcing him backwards until he fell over the 
body of his headless victim.  In a rage, I swung my axe at the 
swordsman, deliberately letting it slip through my fingers; which was 
something he hadn't expected because the head of the axe hit him hard 
in the face, and in the time it had taken him to recover I had snatched 
up the dropped war axe and swung it at his raised sword arm, cutting 
off his hand and leaving him screaming as I moved past him to take on 
the last of them. 

It was now war axe against war axe, and as our blades clashed together I
saw that my adversary had only one eye.  He fought well, and might have 
beaten me, but I was so enraged that I seemed to have the strength of 
two men and needed no help from Edglaf or Maccus as I hacked the man to 
pieces. 

'We have to go!' Edglaf said. 'There's at least one more ahead.'  Not
wanting to be outdone by Maccus, he had finished off the other three 
Danes by hacking off their heads with his sword, and he was covered in 
their blood. 

But he was right; there was no more time to loose.  I stopped my
butcher's work and, weapons in hand, we hurried on in the growing 
darkness.  We wanted to call out the names of our loved ones but 
thought it better to remain silent, rather than give a warning to 
whoever was guarding them.  It was the right decision because, in the 
darkness, the one remaining Dane mistook us for his shipmates and by 
the time he had realised his mistake, Edglaf and Maccus were chasing 
after him, and his dying screams echoed through the forest as I found 
Eadwynne and the three children safe and relatively unscathed. 

*** 

It took us almost three days to return to our valley and the gruesome
task of burying the dead.  We carried home the few goods of value 
stolen from our small community as well as most of the Danish weapons.  
We never found the young Dane that had run away from us, and don't know 
if he made his way back to his ship or not.   Eadwynne and I exchanged 
stories and she wept as she told of the slaughter of our friends and 
neighbours, but if she was raped by the Danes, she chose not to speak 
of it, and I chose not to ask. 

We have two daughters now: Leofwynne and little Silfled.  And we have
four sons: Edglaf, of course, though he has left us to join Lord 
Athelred's men at arms; and Alfere and Wiglem, our two adopted sons who 
seem to be getting over the deaths of their mother and father.  And 
then there is Maccus:  I will never call him halfwit again.  It is to 
my shame that more than twenty years ago I abandoned him, but I was 
young then and blamed him for the death of his mother, my first wife.  
Perhaps in time God will forgive me. 


   


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