I’d like to apologize to Sir. Winston Churchill as I lifted the title of this story from the opening chapter of his multi-volume work on English history.
Now, before you begin to read I have a few admonitions. First, don’t look for any graphic sex. This is not ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Second there are references to God, Christ in particular. Don’t get in an uproar about it. Third, it is rooted in history, but don’t get mad if I said something wrong or left something out. Last, I might be an American, but I’m crazy for England too.
Well it’s time to start. I hope you like it. More important I hope you think about the central theme.
And so let’s begin:
The riders galloped in just before dawn; there were two of them. The first man to greet them was old Edwy, the master of our Lord’s horse. I could faintly hear him from my place near the forge. My name is Aelfwine. I’m one of our lord’s housemen; that includes me and my two brothers Wulfram and Oswald. We’re part of a group of seven who serve the great lord of these parts. We live in eastern Wessex. Our lord, the good thane Aidan is of genuine Saxon blood. His is an old family; one of the families who participated in the great invasion some five hundred years ago.
As for me and my brothers we’ve got some Saxon blood, but we’re mostly old English; that is Gaelic, and, thanks to our good grandfather, we’ve a touch of Norse. Our grandfather came to this wonderful green land back in the time of Canute the Great. They say those were the days; a time when men were men and the girls, well the girls they were all ripe for the plucking.
I was up early as was my custom. Though I was a houseman, a warrior by profession, I was also a skilled artisan. Yes I worked the forge with an old man, an old man named Donnell. Donnell they say is pure Gael. He looks it too, hair a bright red, and with freckles that cover every inch of his still solid torso. I hear he’s more than seventy years old.
As for me, why I’m a big fellow; I stand near a head taller than most of the men in the village. Only my older brother, that’s Wulfram, looks down upon me. I’ve got good sandy, near blond hair, and that’s without the lime they say the Gael once used back in olden times. My wife says I have soft hazel eyes. My wife Godyfa says the reason she fell in love with me was because of my eyes.
God, or Gods is it, they know I love my wife. I love my wife near as much as I love my two babes. I love my wife almost as much as I prize my honor; of course everyone knows a man’s honor is the true measure of his worth. Trust me; I’m well esteemed among the people in the land. People know not to scoff or defame me or my family. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a base person; a man treats me with respect, regardless of his station, and I treat him the same. If it’s the meanest thrall, the ugliest hag; they may sit with me when I rest. I’ll share my water with any man or woman as long as he or she shows a decent respect and does his or her fair share of the work. We men of the house have a standard to keep; we represent our lord wherever we go.
About my wife; there’s a woman! She denies it, but she’s a true Gael, yes a Britain from the old times. She’s a tiny thing; she only comes to my nipples, a scant scamp she is. But she’s a beauty. Men come from all around just get a glimpse of her fine red hair and her sultry forest green eyes. Her skin is white like the marble the old Romans used to build their baths. Yes we know of the Romans; by the bones of the Saints we know the Romans, it’s their roads we use!
My wife’s hair is a fiery red; when it’s not braided or kept up it reaches well below her wasp-like waist. And curly, is it curly; it takes her hours of diligent work to get it straight enough to braid. I’ll say, though she’s a precious little thing she eats more than a horse fully grown. Sometimes she just amazes me where she puts it! It amazes me more that she agreed to let me take her as wife.
I don’t dare comment on her eating or any of her other habits for her temper is as fiery as her luscious hair. The man fool enough to cross my wife is a fool indeed; she’s a real vixen that one. God how I love her, but she’s a hard one to please. She married down when she agreed to take the sacraments with me. Her father was a great warrior; a houseman of true renown.
My wife; she’s filled with a vivacity and lust for life that I’m sure will defy the reaper when her day comes. Did I say lust? Lust we’re told is a terrible sin, one of the mortal sins. Well my wife is a lusty girl, and I say she lusts for me! We’ve made three babies; two are still alive. The way my wife chases my sword one would think we’d have had twenty already. We might some day; we’re still young.
Enough about my wife; it’s enough to know she puts a fire in my heart. She stirs my loins like no other! Did I say I loved her?
Though the messengers have gone inside, I say inside my lord’s great house, I can still hear old Edwy grumble. He’s a grumbler; he’ll bemoan that any horse that’s well-lathered is a horse that’s been abused. Today his complaints about the horses are only part of his angst; they’re also partly his way of releasing the tension we all feel.
I fear these riders have come with the news that at least one of the two enemies of our magnificent king may have landed. Did I say fear? I don’t mean fear in the sense that I fear any enemy; I fear the disruption their intrusion might cause my king and our people. Even more, I fear the loss of honor.
The old king, a man I was bound to respect and obey, died not long ago. His name was Edward. Edward was a religious man, a pious man; over pious some said. Edward was a Saxon, but due to the political climate he’d lived a good part of his life across the water among the Normans.
Now these Normans are an avaricious gang of cutthroats and thieves. They’re descended from Norse invaders who landed and settled among the Franks in years back, but with this new lord of theirs, this bastard they call William, they’ve become more overreaching than ever.
Well our old king Edward; they called him Edward the Confessor now that should betray his degree of piety. Our Edward is said to have bequeathed our kingdom, our grand land, to this son of a Norman whore. So what! Our wise Saxon council, the Witan, didn’t like it. Who would want to be ruled by a bastard? Our Witan met at one of our sacred places. Yes, they convened and there they elected Godwin’s son; Harold the son of Godwin was chosen by common lot, by a fair vote, to be the new Lord of our England.
Oh yes, Harold Godwinson, the ‘Golden Warrior’ is our true king. It’s his banner, the banner of the fighting man that flies over our lush fields and verdant forests. No foreign murderer shall ever flaunt his tawdry bastard’s claim over our realm.
My lord, the good and noble Aidan is a subject of Harold, and I’m a subject of Aidan. My blood may be mixed, but my heart, my sword and my axe are Saxon through and through. If the bastard comes, why let him. We’ll show him what a Saxon’s power is.
The Normans are horsemen. I’ve seen them. They cover their bodies and their horse’s bodies with steel. I’m not afraid of them. I killed one once. Yes, the scatterbrain was in London. He was all a braggart about this and that. He said any Norman knight was the equal to two housecarls. Those foreigners refer to we housemen as housecarls. Well so much the worse for them. This knight was a braggart. I called him on it. We stepped outside, and I sent him to our sweet Jesus. I used my sword and split him right in two! His blood was splattered all over everything!
So the knight’s lord got angry; he demanded payment. My lord Aidan, when he heard the cause of the disturbance demanded payment in kind. Aidan rightly claimed the Norman knight was a fool to make a claim he couldn’t sustain. When last I heard the two sides were still haggling. It’ll take a monk, or an old Breton, to sort that one out.
It could be the riders brought news of a Norman landing. If they did, then we’ll be called out. Harold has vowed not to let his realm be ravaged by any invader. If the Normans have come we’ll gather quickly, march out, and serve them up. On the other hand the riders might have brought news of another sort.
To the north, across the Poison Sea I’ve been told there’s another claimant to our land. There’s the old warrior of Norway, a killer by the name of Harold Hardrada. Hardrada, though he’s a legitimate king, his claim to our throne is no less perilous than the Bastard’s. Hardrada’s emblem is a flag with a black raven. I’m not sure if it’s the flag or the raven; but all throughout the lands to the east he’s referred to as the ‘land waster’.
Well I say too; let the ‘land waster’ come. If he comes we’ll show him he’s not fighting a pack of pagan Teutons or Slavs. We’ll meet him wherever he chooses; we’ll send him to his heathen afterworld. Yes, I’ve heard the old people say the people of Hordaland and Scodaland, and even the Danes still worship the old stone gods. If they do, and if they come to our shores, we’ll give them a taste of well-forged and well-honed Christian steel. Yes mark me; our loving Jesus and his Saints will give us the power to drown the heathen in a sea of their own blood.
Oh I see my lord has come out through his main portal. He’s waving at me. I best move ahead. It looks as though the time has come.
So here I sit with my brothers and the other men of the house. Lord Aidan is about to address us.
Aidan is an older man; he’s seen war as none other. He stepped up, “Well brave men word has come. The Norse have come a viking, and King Harold has summoned us north. We’re to set out tomorrow at daybreak. We’ll meet our king’s main army north of London, and from there we’ll march on Northhumbria.”
One of our younger warriors lifted his hand. Aidan recognized him, “Yes.”
“You said march on. Didn’t you mean march to?”
“No I said it well. It seems our king’s brother, the deceitful Tostig has sided with Hardrada. I know it’s an evil omen, but Tostig has always been an ill sort.”
My younger brother Oswald broke protocol, “Then we’ll have to take Tostig down and press his head down on a stake.”
Oswald is the youngest among us. He’s still a little foolhardy. Everyone ignored his outburst. I glanced over and saw him blanch. I leaned in his direction and whispered, “Don’t be too down. We were all young once.”
He looked at me like I was mad. Oswald is just four years younger than me. His wife, a tall lean woman has already given him more sons than my Godyfa. I smiled; then he smiled too. After all, we were brothers.
The trek north was rapid. The road was good and straight. The weather, though blustery from time to time, was dry and clear. We got to Northhumbria not long after the Norsemen had landed. However, to everyone’s dismay they’d already sacked several of the towns. They’d even pillaged York!
By forced march we caught the Norse just as they were about to reach their ships. Our scouts had been right; their army was huge, larger than ours. More than five hundred ships were anchored off the coast.
Our Harold was infuriated. The Vikings were laden with British booty. Though I was not near, I still was able to hear him shout, “When we’re through they’ll not need more than ten ships to carry the remnant of their army home.
We were lucky. The Norsemen were so heavy laden with pillage many had set aside their weapons and armor. Oh they carried their equipage, but they just weren’t prepared. We caught them at the river.
Hardrada saw, though he outnumbered us near two to one, he was in a perilous position. He followed the custom.
It is the custom in modern warfare such as this that the leaders should meet and parley. If some agreement can be reached battle might be avoided. My lord Aidan was selected to attend the negotiations. Being his greatest man I accompanied him. I was fortunate; I got to hear the debate.
Most of what I heard I didn’t understand. I know our Harold was furious at the wanton destruction, the senseless rapine, and the sacrilegious destruction of churches and monasteries. To most of this Hardrada only laughed, but when debate over battle took the fore Hardrada tried to demur.
The upshot was Hardrada didn’t want to fight; he offered to share England. He offered our Harold the southern half, if, in exchange, he, Hardrada, was given the north. As if it were just yesterday I can still hear our Harold now, I’ll try to remember his exact words. I recall he looked at the Norseman and exclaimed, “You offer me half of what is already mine? Here’s my counter offer. I’ll give you ten feet, ten feet of good English earth. That’s just enough to bury you in!”
I watched as Hardrada blanched. From that there could be no turning back.
With that negotiation was over. Harold, my lord and the others all stepped back. Harold signaled his trumpeter and the battle commenced. It was a hard fought one too, but the Norsemen, already weary from trying to carry off so much loot were no match for us.
For a short space the battle was indeed still in doubt. The key to the battle was a narrow bridge. If we could cross the bridge we could bring our full force to bear. As it was a great giant, a true berserker, stood in our path. He wielded a great two handed axe. Several of our bravest men were hacked to pieces trying to get at him. I watched; the Norseman delighted in chopping his defeated opponents into tiny little parts. All manner of arms, heads, fingers, and feet littered the bridge. Then at the crucial moment one of our Harold’s own brothers, the courageous Leofwine, stepped forward, and with a swift blow of his fine steel sword he lopped off one of the giant’s arms. Still, though one armed, the giant held out for a few more moments. But our beloved Leofwine was more than the man’s match. With another hard strike he drove his sword deep into the Norseman’s shoulder. Leofwine’s last strike was a thrust deep into the man’s chest; where once a formidable warrior stood, a heap of lifeless bloody pulp joined all rest of the scattered flesh that strewed the bridge. As I stared at it I briefly thought there was a kind of majesty, a strange sort of beauty to what I’d just seen happen.
With the bridge secured we surged across it and into that mass of Vikings. I’ll give the Norsemen their due; they fought like wild men, but our strength, our determination, and the righteousness of our cause was more than a match. We drove them, we drove them hard.
My sword drank it’s fill that day. I brought more than six men down. I would have escaped with glory and honor and without a wound, but in a moment’s pause I looked to my right and saw my young brother Oswald on his knees. A Norseman had struck him a glancing blow across the head and his helm and flown off. It was then I saw a sight that nearly broke my heart. My brother, stunned from the strike, looked up just in time to see the Norseman’s axe cleave his head in two. Eyes, and blood, and brains splashed in all directions.
I lost my mind. I grabbed my sword and charged the Norse marauder. He saw me and prepared himself to receive my charge. I threw my shield aside and charged straight ahead. My brother’s death had to be appeased so that his soul would share paradise with the Jesus. My honor, and my brother’s soul, demanded the Norseman’s death. Sword held high I brought it down on the Norseman. He was too slow. My good metal instrument drove deep into his shoulder. I felt his bones crunch and break away as my steel ripped his flesh apart. I delighted in the sight and sound of his body as it fell to pieces at my hand.
The Viking knew he was a dead man, but he still had enough to swing his axe one more time. His axe caught me a glancing blow across my hip and upper thigh. I felt my blood, warm, wet and sticky, as it flowed out and across my chainmail armor.
One of my boys reached me. These were young men who hoped one day to aspire to houseman. In peacetime they worked as servants; during war, like now, they were companions in arms. The servant’s name was Owen. He got to me and pulled me aside. Soon thereafter, to my chagrin, I passed out and missed the rest of the battle.
When I awakened the battle was long over. Owen was at my side. I asked, “What happened. How did it go?”
Owen replied, “It went well my lord. It was just as King Harold said. There were scarce enough Norseman to man ten ships. They set off late last night.”
I looked around. Our army had vanished as well. I asked, “What, where is our power?”
Owen was checking my leg, he responded, “An ill wind as it were. Just as we were collecting our trophies another rider reached us. The bastard landed just yesterday. Our king has set out south to meet him.”
I was nonplussed, “But our force. We’ve been so diminished?”
“Yes lord, but Harold has sent messages south. He’s called out the fyrd. He’s sent a herald to the King of Mercia. You know the ever tardy one. King Harold is confident that with the fyrd and a timely appearance by Mercia we’ll be more than enough for the Normans.
I thought about that. The fyrd is the force of the common folk. All across the land our kingdom is divided into small shires, little communes. Each shire has a shireeve. In times of crisis it is the duty of the shireeve to call out the farm people, the artisans, and any of the other the able bodied who can wield a sword, an axe, or a spear. In normal times, against a normal foe, the fyrd is a match for anyone. I wondered how they’d fair against the Norman horse, many of whom were I’ve heard little more than paid mercenaries, heartless mean spirited types who fight for pay and the booty they can steal. Then again; what were we?
I looked at Owen, “Our army; has it been gone long? If it hasn’t been too long, and they haven’t traveled too far we might catch them.”
Owen shook his head, “They’ve been gone for the better part of the day. Besides Lord Aidan looked you over. He declared you physically unfit for travel.”
I looked down at my leg. My armor had been pulled off, and my outer wool and inner linen undergarments had been cut away. The wound looked serious, but in my heart I knew it was a superficial thing. I was convinced, if I tried, and with Owen’s help, I could catch the army and be in for the kill. I disliked the Norsemen, but I especially despised the Normans. It would be my greatest pleasure to separate a few of their horses from their heads so I could split open a few Norman chests.
I looked about. Maybe not? The sky was clear. The weather was warm, and there were more than a few pretty maids between here and Wessex. I was a houseman, a warrior; most young women were over eager to spread their legs for a man like me. I know I’d spawned more than a few young boys and girls throughout my King’s realm already.
Godyfa knew this, but she also knew it was my right. Her lot, on pain of death and eternal damnation was to be ever faithful, mine to be fruitful and multiply. Lord Aidan and I had traveled much of the land over the last three years. We’d shared our fruit with many a girl. This was God’s will; the man possessed the conceptus, the woman was the vessel.
Owen looked at me expectantly. I grinned, “We’d probably be too late for the battle anyway. Why not share our seed with the girls of the north and the midlands?”
Owen grinned, “As you say my lord.”
I grinned back and shrugged, “Well if we can’t join the battle we might inspire new Saxon fruit on our journey south.
Owen smiled again. He had high hopes.
As Owen and I trekked back south my wound healed nicely. I knew by the end of the second day we could have made the march and reached King Harold in time. We had other, more pleasant plans. Twice we found villages where the people were glad of our victory over the Norsemen. There were young girls aplenty. I delighted in the thrill of a new maiden every few hours. Their warm young nubile bodies were a delight to me, and I could tell Owen enjoyed them too.
On the third day I sensed a shift in the mood of the common folk. I asked about it. The common folk knew very little. What we heard was typical of Harold. His army passed through quickly. His force took only what food they absolutely required, but still there seemed something was amiss.
On the morning of the fourth day we got the news. The Normans had landed. They’d marched inland burning and ravaging everything in their path. The bastard knew Harold wouldn’t allow it.
Midday of our fifth day back a traveler told us the awful news. The bastard had been intercepted near the town of Hastings. On a hill, he said the name was Senlac, Harold, his remaining housemen and thanes plus the fyrd stood and waited. He said the battle lasted a full day. Our tale teller said twice through a ruse the Normans lured the men of the fyrd away from their secure position atop the hill. Twice the Norman horse cut them to pieces.
Our tale teller was in tears as he described what he’d heard. It was with sadness the way he described how all King Harold’s brothers perished. The outcome looked bleak; with the fyrd gone the Normans alternated arrows with horse attacks. The men on the hilltop became fewer and fewer. They pressed ever more tightly under the banner of our king.
Still our messenger told us victory was near at hand. Mercia was only a few hours away. If Harold and his beleaguered band could hold out till sundown they’d carry the day the next morning. It was then some vengeful old god intervened.
It was as though it had been the twilight of the old gods, all that was good, all that was orderly, all that was Saxon was swept away. Just as the sun was about to set the tale teller told us our grand king looked up. In my mind’s eye I could see his noble visage as he perused the last dying embers of the day. At that instant an errant arrow pieced him in the eye. Harold, King of all of England, my Harold the grandest lord of all Saxony, was killed just as the sun was set.
With Harold and all his brothers dead the rest lost heart. They broke and fled. The Norman horse rode them down and butchered them, butchered them all, killed every one. As I heard the story I wept. How could this be? My world, my whole world had been undone by a single arrow!
Owen looked at me, “What do we do now lord?”
I wiped my eyes, “First we go home. From here on we’ve got to be careful. We can’t be caught on the open road.”
I saw Owen’s distress. I tried to cheer him, “See here Owen. There’s another. There’s the young atheling, the next heir. He’s up and about somewhere. There’s Mercia, There’s Strathclyde. Essex still has able men. Who knows; there’s Cornwall, Wales. Even Northhumbria can still muster a few.”
Owen looked terribly downcast. I tried to give him cheer, “Come now Owen. All the Saxon realm didn’t just disappear. We’ll re-gather. By Christ we know who we are. We’re not like those old Romans or the long gone Celtic tribes. We’re Saxon. We’re a great nation. We’re here to stay. I tell you we’re destined to one day rule all the known world! You watch! We’re not done, not done yet, not by a long shot.” Again I thought of the arrow, the damned arrow. There had to be a lesson there. Someday, some way, I was sure we’d learn from this.
I don’t think he believed me. I wasn’t sure if I believed it either. I only knew we had to get home. I had a wife, children, “Come on Owen. We’ve a lot to do.”
And so the two of us, Owen and me, perhaps we were the last of a once great army; we started south again only now we were no longer soldiers in a victorious army. In truth, I wasn’t sure just what we were.
Our next few days were somber, somber indeed. The further south we traveled the more evidence we found that the Normans were truly amongst us; everywhere we went, everywhere we looked we found the proof of Norman depravity. Rape and murder seemed commonplace. We found little cottages, poor farmers mostly, where no one was left alive. We found the remains of once prosperous home-sites; home-sites with storage and barns all now reduced to charred ruins.
At every site the first thing that accosted us was the smell, the smell of rotted or burned flesh, human flesh. We found no animals, no chickens, no livestock, all had been taken. We found the occasional dog, usually dead. It had probably tried to defend its master.
It was apparent wherever the Normans found a man; he was killed, or I should say butchered. The women, when they were found still alive, told the same story. The Normans rode in at dawn, sometimes dusk, they’d immediately hunt down and kill any able bodied man, sometimes, so we were told, if the man offered any resistance he was beaten to the ground, tied, and then savagely tortured. The methods of torture were so dastardly I dare not mention them. Needless to say our new masters were ingenious in the ways they went about ending innocent lives.
I’d been told stories of myriad ways the Moors brutalized Christians and Jews in far off lands. At the time I thought the tales were fantasies designed to keep us faithful to the man who died for us. By the look of the things I saw now I thought the stories about the Moors seemed almost innocuous. The bodies of the men we found were treated with the savagery only a heathen could devise, but it was our women; the women who suffered the most. At least once a man’s suffering was done his soul went on, but the women were often left alive; alive with their frail womanly bodies carved into ribbons, their fleshy feminine parts torn apart by insidious devices invented just to cause pain.
Owen asked me, “Aelfwine what exactly is a breast ripper?”
I gazed at one particularly sickening sight and answered, “Don’t ask. I’ve heard of them, but until now I never knew they ever existed. Let’s pray we get home before ... I couldn’t go on.”
Wherever we went it seemed the single hamlets, the smaller villages suffered the most. Larger sites and the small towns that we found at crossroads and such suffered less, some not at all. In one larger village we found out another bitter truth.
A few miles from our home village we chanced upon a cluster of homes where few men had been killed, and though most of the women had been sorely abused, none had been murdered. We were quietly pulled aside by an older man; the man by the look of him was of true Saxon blood.
The Old Saxon explained, “We had a priest in our village. He must have had prior contact with the Normans. Maybe through our last king Edward, who knows? Maybe through some other man of this or that pious order,” he spat out the word pious as though it were the venom of some rare serpent, “I tell you houseman these priests conspire with the invader. Our local priest had our friar strangled; then he, the priest, rode off with the Normans. I heard from another man who’d escaped from a more distant village, not yours I think, the priest for his church had done the same.”
I scratched my neck, “So you think the priestly community, being more politically astute, has aligned themselves with the invader at the cost of the people?”
He went on, “I say more. The priests and their fine churches have been untouched. I add their churches haven’t been ransacked, but the friaries, not all but it seems most, have been looted.”
I considered the Old Saxon’s words. It was true there’d always been a low level, but keen, rivalry between the wealthier priests and the less affluent friars. I thought I knew why too; the friars, most of them anyway, were closer to the common folk; the priests were more attuned to Rome. Of course, Saxons like me had no interest in Rome.
I gave the Old Saxon a rueful grin, “Thank you old man. I’ll pay your words some heed when I get home.”
The Old Saxon, ashen and grim faced, responded, “God speed, though I wonder now sometimes maybe the God of choice may not be this Jesus. I know from the old people, those who preceded me, King Alfred was a Christian man, and we should follow the example he set, but our ancestors ... our ancestors had Gods the Jesus God couldn’t stop.”
I chased back my immediate doubts, “Old Saxon I’ve pondered these things myself from time to time. I admit these last days have given me pause, but there’s a man in my shire. I think he might have the answers I need. First though I must see to my family.”
The Old Saxon placed a fixed smile on his lips and waved us good bye.
As we got closer to our village the sights and smells seemed more intermittent. In some places clusters of two or three houses were completely wiped out; in others things seemed untouched. My thought on this was our village was further south; perhaps the Normans hadn’t felt quite as keenly on the booty so close on after the Hastings fight. Mayhap they’d been somewhat less sure?
Nigh on the village I pulled Owen aside. We were well off the road, but I was still worried, “See here Owen. You’re a younger man, a stripling still by the look of you. The weather’s cooler so keeping your sleeves well down won’t cause suspicion. You go on ahead. Slip quietly in the village. Visit the forge first, then the stables. Be discreet. Go unnoticed. Quietly confer with Donnell the forge master and then old Edwy at the stables. Find out all you can. I’ll be at Edgar’s; you know the place in the forest.”
Owen sighed, “I’ll do as you say. I’ll slip in the town, but must I go to Edgar’s? He’s a mean one. He’s always frightened me.”
“Owen,” I admonished, “You’re a warrior; you proved yourself in battle just days ago. You can triumph over all your fears. Edgar is a mighty soldier. Though he broke a leg in a fight and preferred a life of isolation he’s always been a good man, a man of honor. He’ll not harm you or me.”
Owen nodded, “Very well. I’ll do as you say.”
So Owen took to the road and started off for our town while I took deeper into the forest to find Edgar. Edgar had been our father’s friend, and in his day a mighty man. He’d had bad luck. While fighting a band of brigands he’d fallen down a stream bank and broke his leg at mid-thigh. He was fortunate to have lived. Our thane, good Aidan, had offered him a place in the village. Aidan I was told wanted him nearby to help train the younger boys, but Edgar chose the forest. His wife, a good woman, much younger then he went with him.
His wife, a girl named Meghan, had her own story. First Meghan was at one time a true beauty, but she’d been allotted to marry a much older man. Meghan’s father had aspirations, and the older man was a trader of some considerable wealth. Meghan defied her father. The local priest, a man called Seaton, presumably because he once lived near the sea, ordered that she obey her father. She refused, so while her father held her the priest took a length of chain and beat her. Their intent was to persuade her to obey her father and marry the man of his choice.
Meghan was vehement. No amount of whipping could turn her head. Eventually they realized she wouldn’t be persuaded and they gave up. Regrettably the chain links had crossed her face a few times spoiling her good looks. After that few men showed any interest. Edgar, noble man that he was, took pity on her and offered to be her husband. Since Edgar at the time was a great man, and I’m told much sought after by the women his choice was a surprise to many. I knew him well, and though older when I first met him it was easy to see his countenance looked well in a woman’s eyes. Still, many wondered why he’d choose a girl of such ill-temper, not to mention a girl who’d been so sorely damaged. He must have known something. They married, and from the first day she was like a kitten to him, but people had to be wary, she could fly off at even the slightest disparage toward her man.
Together they’d lived a quiet life. His wife had built him a blind at a place well-traveled by wild game, and from there he hunted while his woman foraged for berries and made jewelry for the girls in the town. It was a hard life, and though they had no children who lived they seemed happy.
I had to be careful as I passed through the woods. The old oak forest near Edgar’s place was said to be filled with fairies and other sorts of spirit people.
I reached Edgar’s, or what was left of it, near sundown. The Normans had been there. I found his mutilated body near the cottage. His poor young wife was nowhere about. I grabbed an old hoe and shovel and paced off about a hundred till I was near some brush. I looked about; this was as good a place as any. I spent the rest of the waning afternoon sun digging his grave. I went back, found a sheet of old cloth, and piled as many parts as I could find on it. I pulled the heavy cloth to the hole, rolled him in, filled it back with dirt, and covered the spot with brush. I made no marker, but left a rock so, if sometime in the future I came back I’d know where to place a cross or something on it.
I said a brief prayer. It was nonsense mostly, but I thought Edgar was worth at least a few words.
I sat down and thought about the fairies. My wife and I had three babes; two were alive when I left. The third, well she’d died just a few days after we got her. Godyfa and I did what most people do. We wrapped our infant girl in a soft blanket, carried her deep in the forest where I dug out a deep hole. We placed her in it, cried a little, prayed over her, and back filled the hole with earth. We’d named her. I dare not mention what we called her; she might be nearby. We did this in the hope of someday seeing her again.
Godyfa hopes that she one day might get her back and raise her up properly. I think that’s why Jesus is a good God; he offers us this second chance. If it’s true, and I hope it is, Godyfa and I will be most grateful. We love children. It takes almost a year to make one, and I and my wife found it hard to just give the little one up after so much time. Our people lose a lot of children, but not so many as in olden times.
Edgar and Meghan had a small supply of food; mostly sacks of barley and a few well-ripened pieces of wild pig. I kept quiet, and ate and slept for two days. I considered if by the third day I hadn’t seen Owen I’d have to go to town myself. I was in luck. Owen showed up the night of my second day. I heard him scrabble his way through the brush and trees. I heard his loud whisper, “Aelfwine! Aelfwine are you there?”
I whispered back, “Over here.”
He crept over. I asked, “What news?”
The story he told wasn’t favorable, “You’re woman is alive. You’re two young ones are safely hidden in the forest with a few others. Your sister Osana and Edgar’s wife Meghan, you remember her, they watch over them along with the hag Odella. Things aren’t good Aelfwine.”
“Tell me what you can. Should I go in?”
“I think so,” but be warned, “Edwy is dead. The Normans came and started to inspect our master’s horses. Edwy argued. They chopped off his head. The townsfolk said it made an awful mess,” he grinned sheepishly, “but I think not so big a mess as we’ve seen,” then Owen returned to sobriety, “Lord Aidan died on Senlac’s hill,” he paused, “Oh and Aelfwine so did Wulfram your brother. And none of the fyrd that went out from our shire came back. There are almost no men in the village. Our priest, the pious one we mentioned when talking with the Old Saxon. What’s his name, Seaton; he sits at our lord’s table with his new Norman friends.”
I listened, but hadn’t heard what I really wanted, “Seaton,” I muttered, “I never liked him. I was there when Meghan’s father and Father Seaton gave her that thrashing. I thought he used too heavy a chain. There were lighter devices. He might have used a rope.”
I cocked my head, “So what of my wife?”
Owen took a deep breath, “Would that you hadn’t asked.”
I feared the worst.
Own turned slightly. He looked away, “She sits at the great table too.”
“What? I don’t?”
“Aelfwine don’t. Don’t ask.”
“Tell me Owen. She’s my wife.”
Owen fidgeted then spilled the kettle, “Aelfwine she’s the new lord’s whore. She sits with him, eats with him, and at night...”
I clapped my hands to my mouth, “Oh no!”
“It’s true lord. I saw her myself. She sits at his side. He gropes her in front of the people. He opens her bodice and fondles her...”
I was stunned, “This can’t be true.”
“It is my lord. She violates her sacred oath. She commits adultery every night. She’s truly a fallen woman.”
Though my stomach cried out; torn in knots it was, I still couldn’t exactly believe what I’d heard. Not my wife, my good Godyfa a wanton, a base harlot? I set those thoughts aside and pressed Owen for other things, “Tell me of this new lord. What’s his name?”
I saw Owen was glad to change, he started, “His name is Geoffrey, Geoffrey of Rouen. He’s one of William’s chief lieutenants. He’s been given all the lands in our shire plus two more. Right now he has four knights, plus another large group of men with him. I saw them. The knights; they also use your Godyfa. The lord Geoffrey hands her about. I saw it. It’s disgraceful.”
“Who are these others,” I asked.
They’re a mean lot Aelfwine. One is this Geoffrey’s Seneschal. His name is Richard. They laugh and call him ‘Richard the Bloody.”
I quietly interrupted, “Seneschal you say.” I’d heard the word before. The Seneschal was most commonly the lords second in command. His job was to perform the dirtiest deeds. While the lord sat back benignly, it was the seneschal who served up the atrocities.