Today’s vignette is about Eadric Streona and Godwin Porthund from Eadric the Grasper, in no particular time and place.
Eadric listened reluctantly to the sound of Godwin pissing against a nearby tree. The squat, burly henchman seemed to believe that the faster he expelled his liquor, the sooner he could drink more. But Eadric had no desire to contemplate Godwin’s inner reasoning; he merely wanted to keep riding until he escaped this God-forsaken forest. Bugs of all sorts accosted him wherever he turned, a rash had developed on his arm for no apparent reason, and the air beneath the trees was so humid he had sweated almost entirely through his tunic.
He could not remember the last time he had felt so sticky, filth-ridden, and uncomfortable unless he reached back into his early memories of being a swineherd. And if all that wasn’t torturous enough, he had to tarry while listening to the wet splash of Godwin urinating.
“Jesus in heaven,” he cried out at last. “Get back on your horse, Godwin.”
Godwin chuckled as he walked back to the main path, his boots crashing carelessly through the underbrush. “What’s wrong, my lord? I thought you wanted to take the forest route.”
“If you had been paying attention,” hissed Eadric through gritted teeth, “you would have heard me explain that I chose this route of great necessity!”
Godwin searched his saddlebags for a fresh pouch of ale. “Because it’s faster.”
“That’s right. It is more direct.” Even so, Eadric sank a little lower in his saddle. “At least I thought it would be.”
“Well don’t let the woods bother you, my lord. If you’re afraid a demon will leap out of the bushes, I say let it come. It has been too long since my sword tasted blood.”
Eadric pulled back his yellow curls and tied them behind his neck, eager to feel a breeze on his sweat-sodden throat. But the wind didn’t seem to stir this deep in the forest. “Who needs demons, when the world is already full of men like yourself?”
Godwin scratched his beard, loosing dirt from the thick hairs. “Was that an insult?”
“Never mind, Godwin. I just want to get home and take a good long bath.” Eadric lashed Freolic’s reins and nudged the large steed ahead.
Godwin was still settling onto his saddle with a loud creak of leather. “A bath?” Godwin snorted. “You talk too much to those Danes.” Then he followed his lord onward.
Soon enough, the monotonous rhythm of plodding hooves, snapping twigs, and screeching birds erased the echoes of Godwin’s pissing from Eadric’s ears. But he did not feel relieved. He would not feel good again until he was back in his own stronghold with fresh food at his fingertips, a gleeman to serenade him, and a lovely wife to lead him to bed. He would not arrive in Tamworth for days yet, but he envisioned his return in such vivid detail that he could almost see such pleasantries on the other side of the trees blocking his path.
In truth, he only stared at shifting branches and tangled foliage, which scattered the sunlight into thousands of shapes. In such light, one could easily see anything. One could also grow confused as to which direction the light originated.
On and on they plodded, until the sun sank below the canopy and shadows flooded the ground with black. The woods seemed to thicken around Eadric and Godwin, enveloping them in twigs and branches.
“I don’t understand,” said Eadric. “We should have passed through by now.” He stared at his hearth companion, as if for help. But Godwin only snorted in response.
“If we had stayed on the main road,” said the executioner, “then at least we might have found a place to stay for the night. Anyway, we should look for a safe place to sleep.”
The thought of a roof over his head and soft blankets under his back made Eadric ache with yearning. But he dispelled such thoughts with a brisk shake of his head. “Just a little further and we’ll come out the other side, I’m sure of it.”
“How are you so sure?”
“Because I studied a map before we left, you fool!” He lashed his horse and pressed on, despite a thorny bush that snagged his clothes and sliced his skin.
So they kept riding, but by the time the daylight had dissolved into a dim red haze, they remained in the thick of the woods.
“Look there,” said Godwin, and pointed to a churned spot of soil. “We’ve gone in a circle.”
“What? That’s impossible.” Eadric dismounted and hurried over to see for himself. Godwin also dismounted, for it was once again time to relieve himself.
Eadric studied the ground and found horse tracks matching their very own steeds. He tried to further survey the area in the failing light and realized that he had not only ridden in a circle, but a very large circle; they had passed through this spot in the morning. Altogether, this entire day of miserable riding had led to almost no progress whatsoever. And as he reached this dismal conclusion, the sound of Godwin pissing serenaded the forest.