Wednesday, 21 December 2016

"To Britain's Shores" - Chapter 16 - The Boar Hunt

"What myth are we chasing this time?" We're jogging through the woods towards the bank of a fairly generous stream. "Some golden horse? Some saint's dried up private parts?"

Aelfric laughs, claps me on the shoulder. "Good honest boar."

I snort. "Not sure there's anything honest about something with tusks and a bad temper."

The Young Wolf chuckles. Evidently he's in a good mood today. "At least you know it's going to be mad at you."

We pause a few hundred paces before the bank, near the edge of the wood, and Aelfric turns to Ecgwine. "Take your men and the archers. See what you can flush out. But stay this side of the water."

Ecgwine brisiles a little at the restriction, but nods. Lavinia and her handful of archers are already roving ahead, moving from bush to bush towards the water's edge. He and his men follow, surprisingly quietly. Aelfric nods approvingly. "You and Theobald did a good job with him, Godric."

"Aye." I catch sight of a head of raven hair before it and its female owner disappear amid the scrub. "Not sure I can take all the credit, mind."

He nods. "Aye. Still a mystery, that one. Beornwulf knows something, but he won't tell..."

"You could make him."

A shake of his head. "It'll out in its own time. Or when it becomes a problem."

"I hope you're..." 

I'm interrupted by a yell from one of Beornwulf's men, ranging ahead and to our left, "The British!"

I sigh, unsheathe my sword. "I knew this was too good to be true."

Damn right it is.

He told them to stay this side of the water. But no. Lavinia and her little band flush the boar, and Ecgwene's men, with much whooping and yelling, chase after it, and, rather than facing up to them it turns and splashes its way across the stream, and the idiots follow it. I don't know if they don't see the British, or figure they will be too late to arrive, but by the time the archers are back this side of the river, Ecgwine has brought down the boar with a spear thrust, and their little man is almost on them with a considerably greater number of their warriors.

Nothing I can do. Aelfric has led us leftwards, skirting another clump of trees, to head off their Praefect and his hearth guard, while Beornwulf follows after Ecgwine with another two bands of our warriors. 

"Odin's balls," Aelfric growls, "Why doesn't he just leave the damn carcass...?"

Ecgwine's band, boar hauled between two of them, struggle across the stream, one or two slipping on wet rocks, with the Britons right behind. For a moment I think they'll made it far enough that the little man won't risk it for fear of Beornwulf's warriors approaching along the near bank, but no: with a great battle cry they ford the stream...

In the grand scheme of things? Not the little man's wisest course. Sure, he and his men rush on Ecgwine's, and I, like Lavinia's group of young bowmen, can only watch as they fall. But Beornwulf waves his great axe above his head, twin to the one his father Wulfhere carries still in Petvaria, and roars aloud like the bear he's named after... "DEATH! Death to the Britons!" They charge into the enemy flank, swords and spears reddening with British blood, and swiftly break them.

But the damage is done.

I watch her, not saying a word, as she kneels by his body, touches a hand to his cheek, then to the great rent in his mail where a spear took him. She wipes a hand across her face in a gesture she thinks I don't see, then, carefully, she unfastens the symbol of the Christ-God that she gave him from round his neck, fastens it with bloodied fingers round her own, and stands.

I open my mouth to say something comforting, but she forestalls it with a look from those dark eyes. His blood on her fingers has left a mark where she rubbed her face, a mark that shows a track of moisture through it. The eyes, though, glitter with something more than tears. For a moment, I think she's going to just go, but then she turns, a swirl of night-dark hair across her shoulders. Her voice is quiet, brittle. "Warriors don't weep." All she says, turning, shoulders set, without another look back, and walking away.

She's not there when we build his pyre. Not there to speak words for the God he at least honoured for her sake. Out of respect to her, and to him, and to the Christ-God, we let one of the locals offer a prayer in Latin, before Beornwulf, Aelfric and I set torches to the stacked wood, and step back.

She's not there when we sit around, late into the night, raising horns and mugs of ale and mead to the stories and memory of a brat-turned-man who would have, one day, made a fine Cyning. And husband. And she's wrong. Warriors do, when we lose one of our own. And that, Ecgwine had become. 

She's not there in the morning. Neither is one of our few horses.

Aelfric's voice at my shoulder, as I'm considering the empty stall, makes me start. "Lavinia's gone?"

I just nod. 

"Surprised?" 

It's an odd question, one that breaks me out of my thoughts. I frown. "Yes. No. I'm not sure."

He nods, shrugs a touch, cloak wrapped around him against the oncoming winter. "Me neither." A pause, then, quietly. "We need to send word to Ecgfrith."

I nod, glumly. "He's not going to take that well." The Cyning's only son is dead. And he'll likely blame us, whom he trusted with the care and training of his son.

Aelfric nods. "No, he's not." He sighs, long and thoughtful. "I could send you."

I knew this was coming. "You need me here. And besides..." There are folks at Ecgfrith's hall across the sea with whom I have... how to say this...? 'history', and Aelfric knows it. But it would give the old King someone to rail at.

To my surprise, he acquiesces. "You're probably right." He exhales, thoughtfully. "I'll send Beornwulf." 

Editor's note: sorry, no photos, although Andy has some. My iPhone was away at the iPhone menders not being mended.

"Saxon Noble One"? Not a good job title in my army. 

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the yuletide story. I've just begun a new campaign in North Rheged. I'm still looking forward to the new scenarios becoming available.

    all the best for Christmas

    Stephen

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  2. A powerful short story. Here's to more Dux B in the New year.

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  3. I believe a copy of Dux B is hiding under the Xmas tree -- and it's mostly because of this magnificent series of blog posts. Well done, sir, and here's to more Dux B in 2017!

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  4. A good strong story, and it has me thinking I need to pull out my Dux B stuff for a game.

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