The Tenth Lost Tale: Edmund the Aetheling

In the tenth and final Lost Tale, young prince Edmund suspects a plot against his father’s life. He turns to his siblings, Aydith and Aethelstan, for help, but King Ethelred heeds none of them. Will they ever find someone they can trust?

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/15574

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Dear Reader,

Today I release the tenth and last Lost Tale of Mercia, “Edmund the Aetheling.” Right where this short story ends, the novel will begin.

It has been a pleasure writing the Lost Tales and sharing them with you. On the Tuesday two weeks from now, October 5th, the full novel, Eadric the Grasper, releases on Amazon.

Sincerely,

Jayden Woods

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… it was told the king, that [the Danes] would beshrew him of his life, and afterwards all his council, and then have his kingdom without any resistance.”

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry for Year 1002

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LUNDENBURG

1002 A.D.

Edmund put his hand over his mouth to trap his own breath, but his lungs continued heaving like a blacksmith’s bellows. His gloved fingers clutched the sword at his belt, a heavy thing that normally seemed presumptuous for a boy thirteen years of age, but now seemed the only thing capable of saving his life. Its primary flaw was that pulling it from its sheath would cause noise—noise he could not afford to make.

The boots around the corner shuffled against the stone, steel trinkets clinked, a cloak whooshed … and then all sounds faded as the source retreated.

A groan of dismay ripped from Edmund’s throat as he removed his hand from his lips. He clutched his chest as if his heart might escape. He could not believe what he had just overheard. It would take him a long while to make sense of it—time he was not sure he had.

He stumbled as he made his way back into the palace, his feet like blocks of wood on his legs. He went over the words in his memory over and over again, trying to unroll the plot they contained. But the more he unraveled the strings, the more easily they seemed to tangle in his mind.

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The Ninth Lost Tale: Runa the Wife

Runa expects to live her entire life isolated in the woods until she meets Thorkell the Tall. She tries to conform to society through a traditional marriage, but at a very high cost to them both.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/15350

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JOM

1001-1006 A.D.

She awoke in his heavy arms, and at first she panicked. The memories of the night before came back to her in shattered pieces. He chased her through the woods. She jumped on him from a tree and they fell in a breathless tangle. The underbrush scraped her back. His wiry beard tickled her stomach. They laughed, they groaned … they grew silent.

Now his breath roared and faded behind her, up and down the back of her neck, steady as an ocean current. She looked down at his large hands, still clasped around her stomach. He was the most magnificent man she had ever met. Thorkell the Tall … they did not call him so without reason. Her small fingers traced the thick, golden hair of his arms. He had returned to Jom with the rest of his army, victorious over Olaf Tryggvason. He had proved himself a mightier Jomsviking than his own brother, Jarl Sigvaldi, chief of Jomsborg. He could have had any woman he wanted, willing or otherwise. But she had not even given him a chance to choose. She wanted him for herself, so she lured him into the woods and she took him. Now what?

Now she was done with him.

She took hold of his hand and slid it like sand from her body. He sighed and shifted, but otherwise showed no signs of waking. The rumble of his breath almost made her want to fall back against him and drift into his dreams, but she resisted. She slipped gracefully from his relaxed grip and into the free air. She draped her dress over her skin, a light gray garment that looked blue in vivid sunshine and left very few lines of her body to the imagination. She left her hair loose and ruffled, a swirling and tangled mass of pale yellow strands, as wild and free as her own spirit. Then she tip-toed away.

Only once did she glance back at Thorkell, his partially-clothed body draped across the forest bed. His skin looked coarse where the shadows fell upon it, but seemed to gleam as smoothly as gold in the sunshine. The muscles of his torso were a sight to behold, bulging and tightening with the slightest motion, yet softening into a gentle ripple of his strength when he relaxed. She had observed this phenomenon many times the night before.

Leaving him now would be an unfortunate loss. But that loss was little compared to her freedom.

With a sad smile, she turned and hurried away. (more…)

The Eighth Lost Tale: Canute the Viking

As a teenager, Canute struggles to find his place among differing religions. An unexpected relationship with another Jomsviking, forbidden by the Christians, may force him to choose a god.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/15097

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AUTHOR’S NOTE

Though Canute the Great is a real figure of history, and a fascinating one at that, one can only speculate as to his true personality. This story is an important piece of my “fictional” Canute character. My goal is to never contradict what events definitely occurred, but this short story is pure fiction speculation–even moreso than my usual. That said, it arose naturally from my reading of his life story. I expect (and hope) for it to be rather controversial!

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JOMSBORG

1012 A.D.

Canute’s palms sweated as he stood across from his sparring partner. This was the most formidable opponent, he suspected, that he had ever faced next to Thorkell the Tall himself.

They were of a similar age and height, fifteen or sixteen years old, tall and wiry, though Tosti was a bit broader in the shoulders and hips. His most incredible feature, Canute deduced, was his incredible agility. Every part of his body—all except his fierce silver eyes and unwavering smirk— seemed to be constantly moving at every moment. His feet strolled across the wet earth without leaving an indention in their wake. His fingers fidgeted playfully along the handle of his wooden sword. He tilted his head, back and forth, back and forth, as if to watch Canute from every possible angle. The muscles of his bare torso undulated in the diffused sunshine like rippling water. And all the while, his long blond braids flowed along his chest and back, like snakes writhing about his shoulders.

Canute’s own fighting posture was the exact opposite. He stood very, very still, his boots sinking into the mud, one hand clenching his poised sword until splinters bit into his skin. Nothing moved along his pale chest but for glittering trails of sweat. His blue eyes focused on Tosti through narrowed lids, blinking only when his hair lashed against them, which made him regret cutting it too short to pull back. But beyond this fleeting thought all his concentration centered on Tosti. He tried not to think about the group of young Jomsvikings watching them. He tried not to think about the humiliation he would face should he lose this skirmish.

With very little warning at all, Tosti struck with his wooden sword. Canute lifted his own to block, sinking his weight deeper into his legs. He absorbed the blow and tried to redirect its momentum back on Tosti. The wooden rods creaked as they clashed, and splinters flew as Canute twisted, hoping to offset Tosti’s grip. Tosti reacted quickly, shifting his stance completely. He made another lunge with his weapon, and this one swiped Canute across the side. He winced as the wood scraped his skin, struggling not to move.

“Get him, Tosti!” shouted one of the onlookers, and a resounding cheer echoed him.

Canute gritted his teeth, trying to ignore this insult. How dare they? Though only fifteen years old, he was a leader to these men in almost every conceivable way. His father was Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark and Norway. His grandfather was the great Harald Bluetooth, founder of the Christian church of Roskilde. His ancestor was Gorm the Old, the first king of Denmark. His foster-father was Thorkell the Tall, the greatest and mightiest Jomsviking next to his own brother, Jarl Sigvald. Canute’s own brother, Harald, ruled as regent of Denmark while their father harried the coasts of Engla-lond with Thorkell.

But now was not the time to wonder how these young men dared cheer against him. He would have to ponder that later.

Tosti continued to dash about the field, hopping from one spot to the next as if he would win by dizzying his opponent. Canute just glared, eyes flicking along with Tosti’s movements, and waited for him to make a real advance. He took slow and steady breaths, intent on gathering his energy while Tosti wasted his.

A bird flew through the sky, slicing the glaring sunshine into pieces. Birds were often a sign from the gods.

Canute looked up.

While Canute was distracted, Tosti struck again—this time on Canute’s shoulder. Canute cried out, more from rage than from pain, for the blow was not very hard. Tosti drew back just as Canute tried to swipe back at him. This left him in a vulnerable position.

Tosti smacked Canute’s rump with the flat of his wooden sword, as if with a paddle, then hopped quickly away.

Canute was so shocked by the humiliation of the blow that he stood petrified for a moment, red flushing his torso and face as if he’d been sunburned in a matter of seconds. Tosti had just … spanked him! He could have done it for no other reason than to make fun of Canute. To win the spar, one of them had to knock the other over. So Tosti had nothing to gain from such a ridiculous move.

Meanwhile, the small crowd exploded with laughter and jeers.

“Oh, look at the great Sweynsson now!”

“Where’s Thorkell the Tall when you need him, Canute?”

Seeing through a haze of red, Canute looked dizzily at the faces around him. Is that what they really believed? Did they truly think that without his great fathers and guardians, he was a nobody?

A shout of rage ripped out of his throat, so strong it silenced most of the laughter. Canute didn’t notice, for at last he was advancing on his opponent. He lifted his sword high, pulling his feet from the mud at last to run towards Tosti. The look on his face must have been frightening enough, for Tosti froze with terror. At the last moment, he lifted his sword to block Canute’s onslaught, but his stance was not ample; Canute’s sword knocked Tosti’s aside, then it smacked him hard across the side of the head.

Tosti’s eyes rolled and he crumpled to the earth, his energy cut off like a waterfall dammed from above.

Everyone around Canute grew quiet. Soon he heard nothing but his own heart thumping in his chest, increasing in tempo. He had not meant to hit Tosti quite so hard. Why didn’t he get up?

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The Seventh Lost Tale: Hildred the Maid

In the year 1005 A.D., a terrible famine strikes Engla-lond. When a poor young woman named Hildred is desperate enough to break the law for her survival, a rising thegn named Eadric takes her fate in his hands.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/14780

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This year was the great famine in England so severe that no man ere remembered such.”

–Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry For Year 1005 A.D.

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Shrewsbury, Mercia

1005 A.D.

 

On her way to church that morning, anger poisoned Hildred’s devotion. She knew that she was supposed to worship God with a pure and loving heart, but she also doubted that God would notice one way or another. After all, He clearly didn’t see—nor care—what was happening to her body, nor the bodies of her entire family, most of whom were dead.

The majority of the people trudging on the same dirt path to the church suffered more than she. Their skin lay flat on their bones and their raggedy clothes flapped loose on their joints. This was the worst famine any of them had seen in their lifetimes. Hildred fared better than them only because so many of her own family members had died in the last few years, leaving fewer mouths to feed.

Her eyes stung at the thought, but her physical discomfort overcame the torments of her mind. Her belly ached and her muscles trembled. For weeks she had lived on little more than nuts and water. What money she and her father had, they used to buy milk for the baby. A year ago, Hildred’s mother died giving birth to him. Somehow, little Coenred had survived, and lived still. He was growing sick, and he slept much more than a baby should sleep, and every instance he squirmed and cried came as a relief.

When she awoke this morning, she did so with the determination to save her baby brother no matter what. Perhaps that was why she dressed herself nicely today. She donned a soft linen dress that once belonged to her mother. She untangled her long brown hair with a pick and splashed her face with stream-water. She was not even sure why. It was a desperate clutch for pride and hope, she thought. When she knelt and prayed to God, perhaps He would notice her at last. Perhaps He would pay attention. And then He would show her mercy.

She heard a disturbance behind her and turned to see two horses galloping up the road. As they neared the pedestrians, the riders gave half-hearted tugs on their horses’ reins, but gave no indication that they would slow down to an agreeable pace. The townsfolk murmured and pushed one another as they tried to get out of the way.

The horses had little choice but to skid to a walk or trample some human beings, so they cast clouds of bitter dust into the air and snorted with dismay. Standing defiantly in place, Hildred glared back at the two riders shuffling closer. One of them was older and more rugged than the other, his wolfish hair and beard shaded gray, his large hand on the hilt of his sword as he yelled, “Make way for Thegn Eadric!”

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The Sixth Lost Tale: Hastings the Hearth Companion

A royal hearth companion named Hastings fights on the front lines of battle for duty and the Golden Cross, but he entertains unrealistic notions of how his mistress, Aetheling Aydith, might reward him.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/14419

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A.D. 1004. This year came Sweyne with his fleet to Norwich, plundering and burning the whole town.”

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry for Year 1004

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Norwich

1004 A.D.

Hastings and his horse raced through a hundred miles of wetlands and heath to find their destination obscured in a haze of smoke.

Overnight, the Vikings had reduced Norwich—the seat of the East Anglian government and one of Engla-lond’s greatest cities—to ash and rubble. Families stood next to the remainders of their homes, watching as the unquenchable flames consumed the last beams. People burned their fingers digging through embers for scraps and precious belongings. The injured sat in the ash-ridden streets, moaning helplessly as their wounds festered. Hastings was not sure whether the water gathering in his eyes was a result of his own sympathy or the burning smoke that the breeze threw against him.

Even the high reeve’s hall, on a small hill in the middle of the city, had not escaped the Viking attack. The east wall had been severely damaged, so that the whole building seemed to be leaning, ready to collapse. Hastings wondered if he had arrived too late. Perhaps the witan had already met, or it would never meet, for the wise men would not even have a safe place in which to gather and discuss their future. It was difficult to imagine a future at all when faced with such immediate devastation.

But then a breeze blew, as if from the ocean, fresh, salty, and clarifying. Clouds of smoke rolled away, and rays of sunshine illuminated a small gathering of men near the high reeve’s hall, meeting and conversing despite their miserable circumstances: the wise men. Hastings heaved a deep breath, dragging himself and his horse towards them.

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The Fifth Lost Tale: Alfgifu the Orphan

In the wildest Lost Tale yet, we jump to the year 1014. Alfgifu of Northampton joins forces with Canute, the new and young king of the Vikings. Alfgifu believes that her father was murdered in cold blood by Ealdorman Eadric Streona. How far will she go to obtain her revenge?

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/14067

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Then came King Ethelred home, in Lent, to his own people; and he was gladly received by them all. Meanwhile, after the death of Sweyne, sat Knute with his army in Gainsborough until Easter …”

–The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry for Year 1014

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Spring, 1014 A.D.

Gainsborough

Alfgifu of Northampton did not want to admit that she was nervous, but when she saw the Viking encampment looming ahead, her fear burned in her stomach until she could not ignore it. She forced herself to think the same thought over, and over, and over again: Canute lost his father, too. Canute lost his father, too.

This single thought struggled to stay afloat as the approaching camp drowned her with physical sensations. The lines of brightly painted shields along the burg walls seared her eyes. Meat-scented smoke burned her nostrils. The clashing of playful weapons rang in her ears. These sensations pulled her too deeply into a reality that made her doubt the strength of her purpose.

But Canute lost his father, too.

A growl rumbled from her throat, and her thin legs clutched tightly around her horse, making it lunge forward. When she thought about it too much, she wondered if this single fact had truly been reason enough to travel almost one hundred miles and introduce herself to the new King of the Vikings. She had so many hopes for what to accomplish here, but as far as true justifications went—or reasons to believe she might actually succeed—they all boiled down to a mere gut instinct, and the one thought that seemed to accompany it.

Yes, Canute had just lost his father. She had lost her father many years ago, and it had changed her life irrevocably. This would bind her to Canute, she thought, and form a permanent connection. She would be able to help him in a moment of weakness; she would be able to understand what he was going through better than most. She would be able to gain his trust.

And once she gained his trust, she would be able to turn him against Eadric Streona.

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The Fourth Lost Tale: Athelward the Historian

Lord Athelward, an ealdorman who also wants to write history, finds his peace of mind disturbed when a strange woman named Golde and her young son Eadric show up on his doorstep with a ridiculous proposal.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/13668

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There, are, indeed, some notices of antiquity, written in the vernacular tongue after the manner of a chronicle, and arranged according to the years of our Lord. By means of these alone, the times succeeding [Bede] have been rescued from oblivion : for of [Athelward], a noble and illustrious man, who attempted to arrange these chronicles in Latin, and whose intention I could applaud if his language did not disgust me, it is better to be silent.”

–William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, Preface

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Hampshire, Wessex

993 A.D.

The intruder entered quietly, but Athelward recognized the footsteps of his dearest servant right away. The servant knew better than to interrupt the ealdorman in the middle of his work, so this must be an emergency. But if this was an emergency, why didn’t the servant say something? Silent or not, his presence wreaked irreparable damage. Athelward could not focus on his writing when someone loomed close enough to see over his shoulder, nor when such trivial questions plagued his mind as why the servant entered in the first place. Already, he felt himself slipping from his own stream of thought: a stream consisting of the dazzling rapids of history swirling in harmony with the sophisticated currents of the Latin language.

Athelward’s quill quivered with his growing frustration, then at last fell aside. It was too late now; his focus had been dashed upon the rocks and left to dry. Through gritted teeth, he said, “What is it?”

“There is a woman here to see you, my lord. She seeks your aid.” The Celtic servant, Drustan, seemed entirely undaunted by his master’s mood. Very little phased Drustan, who had a smug and rather reckless demeanor for a servant. Despite this, he almost always seemed to know Athelward’s mind, even without being told what to do, so Athelward kept him.

This, however, was not such a fitting example. Athelward could not believe he had been interrupted for something so trivial, and without more of an explanation. Because he was ealdorman of Wessex, thousands of people desired his aid every day. The fortune of a single woman, when compared to the importance of completing the great literary work Athelward now devoted himself to, was so trivial as to be completely insignificant.

Athelward closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The candles around him fluttered as he exhaled, casting undulating waves of warmth on his face. He did not want to waste his time with a useless conversation right now, especially with a servant he would probably expel from his service on the morrow. Better to simply ignore Drustan’s presence and get back to work. After a few moments, he felt as if he succeeded. He felt the stream of Latin words flowing back into his mind, the stream which flowed to his heart, then through his blood to his fingertips. He brought his quill back to the parchment.

“My lord? Her name is Golde. She says she knows you. She has a child with her, a little boy, and they look very traumatized.”

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The Third Lost Tale: Aydith the Aetheling

Aydith's story is that of a young aetheling who, despite her royal blood, can get no one to listen to her willful opinions. With the encouragement of a kind hearth companion named Hastings, perhaps she will find another way to help her ill-fated country.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go herehttp://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/13352

This year there was great commotion in England in consequence of an invasion by the Danes, who spread terror and devastation wheresoever they went, plundering and burning and desolating the country with such rapidity, that they advanced in one march as far as the town of Alton …”

–Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry for Year 1001 A.D.

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LUNDENBURG

1001 A.D.

Aydith’s heart seemed to throb in her throat, so completely did her rage and sorrow fill her. Breathing became difficult as she waited for her father to exit the hall, but she stood firm, swallowing down what fear she could. She watched as the various nobles and clergymen exited the room first, their faces cheerful, though she did not see anything to be cheerful about. Some of the faces comforted her, such as Bishop Alphege’s, who wore his usual expression of stoic calm. Others infuriated her, such as the smirk of the man named Lord Alfric, who had betrayed her father once before but now strolled about the palace as if he still ruled Mercia as ealdorman.

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The Second Lost Tale: Ethelred the King

This chilling short story illustrates the scandalous circumstances surrounding King Ethelred's rise to power at the age of eleven, and reveals why the entire reign of so-called "Ethelred the Unready" seems to have been cursed.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/12999

It is said that Dunstan, at [Ethelred’s] coronation, foretold what a wretched time it would be. As long as Dunstan lived, things were a little better; but when he was gone, all the badness and weakness of Ethelred’s character came out. He was perhaps the only thoroughly bad King among all the Kings of the English of the West-Saxon line; he seems to have been weak, cowardly, cruel, and bad altogether. He was always doing things at wrong times and leaving undone what he should have done, so that he is called Ethelred the Unready, that is the man without rede or counsel.”

–Freeman, Edward. Old English History for Children pg. 190

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Corfe-Gate, Dorset

978 A.D.

Ethelred watched longingly as his half-brother strode with his men to the exit of the stronghold. They looked so handsome, regal, and powerful. Their spurs chimed over the cobbles as they walked, their soft tunics rippled in the breeze, and their cheeks glowed with the pleasure of fellowship. King Edward, walking in the middle, was in fact the smallest of the men, and yet he was the center of their attention and devotion. The sixteen-year-old king had grown to fit his beautifully embroidered boots, and the crown seemed to glitter more brightly on his auburn-haired head than it ever had on their father’s.

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The First Lost Tale: Golde the Mother

The First Lost Tale, “Golde the Mother,” is about the mother of Eadric Streona. It sheds light on Eadric’s strange childhood, and raises the question of who fathered the boy who would become notorious as one of the most treacherous men in England.

Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce

To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/12602

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And this year the king and all his witan decreed that all the ships which were worth anything should be gathered together at London, in order that they might try if they could anywhere betrap the army from without. But Aelfric the ealdorman, one of those in whom the king had most confidence, directed the army to be warned; and in the night, as they should on the morrow have joined battle, the selfsame Aelfric fled from the forces; and then the army escaped.”

–The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry for Year 992

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WORCESTERSHIRE

993 A.D.


Even the lazy pigs stirred to life when Alfric and his men came riding over the hills. The hogs rolled and squealed, bobbing up and down on stubby legs as they ran around in mass confusion. The dog barked, lifting wiry haunches from the dirt to point his muzzle and boom his howl of alert. The horizon undulated as the ealdormen’s cavalry sliced black silhouettes against the iron gray clouds. Chills raked down Golde’s skin as she watched, though the breeze brushing her pale hair blew with the warmth of spring.

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