Captives and feuds (Earleywood 2017)

An Englisc viewpoint

At Wareham peace was sworn by solemn oaths from the Danes upon their holy ring, and hostages were given to Alfred the king: but the heathen proved forsworn, and fled towards Exeter. So Alfred sent for the hostages to be brought to him for hanging – for what other use is there for a hostage if oaths are not kept?

It fell to the Cilternsaete to escort two captives to the king – a man called Thorhelm and a woman called Fritha. We were also joined by Eadwulf, a Northumbrian who, like us, had come south to seek safety.

It was not long into the journey that we saw that there were small groups of Vikings abroad, seeking to free the hostages. The man Thorhelm used his weasel tongue to befriend young Wulfgar, and promised him great reward for his freedom – a gold arm-ring. So the boy, unwise, let him free, and he fled.

The Danes sought to waylay us, but as they had split into small bands could not stand before us, and we forced a passage along the road. There were several such skirmishes, and although Fritha was lost – freed or slain, I cannot say – we gained other captives, who would decorate a gallows just as well.

Later, we pursued the Viking stragglers as they headed to Exeter, harrying them, but unable to prevent them form seizing the burh.

That evening, a truce was called and Thorhelm offered his ransom to Wulfgar – an arm-ring indeed, bit of brass, not gold. Yet further proof that the heathen cannot be trusted.

This Thorhelm also showed that whilst he might fool a young boy, his tongue could get him into trouble, and not out of it. Drunk, no doubt, he called Guthwald thegn a lowly peasant – which brought the promise of a blood-feud with the Cilternsaete. Thorhelm wriggled and writhed, but was caught like an eel in a fish-trap. At length, realising his folly, and helped by those of greater wisdom, he agreed to buy himself free of the feud by serving as a mercenary (but without pay) for the Cilterseate on two future campaigns, when called upon by Guthwald to do so.

Later, a man entered the hall, wet and unkempt from the sea. He gave his name as Herjolf, Halfdan’s man, and brought news that the Danish fleet had been wrecked. Surely, this was the wrath of God upon the heathen for breaking their oaths.

– Herewulf Thegn

A Dane’s viewpoint

The Englisc were much impressed with Thorhelm’s generosity to their man Wulfgar and during the banquet gave him a large, ornate yet strangely ugly dish made of silver that is spoken of as one of their most sacred treasures, the very Chalice of St Botolph. Unfortunately, greed overcame some of our folk and the dish was first stolen, then broken into parts and some of them hidden. Grimkell of the Westmen agreed that the dish should be brought together again but had great difficulty finding where he had hidden one of the pieces of silver in his drunken state. He claimed somebody else must have moved it .

Later in the evening, Halfdan’s man Herjolf arrived unexpectedly, worn from hard travel and bearing news that the fleet at Swanwich was wrecked. Bosi, Hersir of the Holmbyggjar, welcomed Herjolf and thanked him for bringing his news with all possible speed, dire though that news was. Bosi gave Herjolf drink and bade him rest at the back of the hall.

There was much debate about the meaning of these tidings, and it was felt that Njord must have turned his face against the warriors of the sea-steed. Some spoke of making a sacrifice to Njord to regain his favour, others of sacrificing to a more powerful god such as the Allfather or Thor, to overcome Njord and bring us better fortune. It was suggested that the large silver chalice would make an excellent sacrifice. The wise man Styrkar asked that bones be cast to test the truth of Herjolf’s tidings. Ingibjorg supplied knuckle bones and Fritha and Styrkar read their meaning, concluding that only half the fleet had been lost. This led to much debate as to whether Herjolf was mistaken or whether he had deliberately tried to cause panic. Indeed when we learned that he had disappeared from his resting place, it was felt he might have been a naughty god in disguise, seeking to cause mischief.

Somehow the Chalice ended up back with the Englisc, who clearly repented of their generosity, being mean-spirited people who do not understand true gift-giving. They refused to return it and took great offence at some trivial remark of Thorhelm’s, threatening him with death and blood-feud, and only relenting when under great duress he agreed to fight for them for two campaigns. Still, the Ostvikingae are known to be mercenaries, so perhaps their leader, my father’s son Hauk, will be able to turn this twist of fate to his advantage.

– Ingibjorg Ragnarsdottir

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