First Strike Against the Wusfrealings



The big chestnut horse snorted a greeting Bada approached, running his hand along the arched neck of the stallion. Murmuring to it, he began to brush the steed, the repetitive motion both relaxing and gave him time to think. He had been a guest of Fealca for two days, returning the generous hospitality by insisting on pitching in with the chores. It also helped him get the lay of the homestead and the lands around it, what men could be summoned in haste. There was long miles between farms and the goats required lands to graze, hills mostly and that would provide cover for Eoforwine and Garsig as they did his Aunt Gerta's bidding.

 

Bada paused and reached back, tying his long golden hair back and he rolled up the sleeves of his tunic before finishing the grooming. He mucked out the stall, mindful of watching eyes as he piled the hay back up in the corner, beneath it where his spare weapons and tinder kit and torch were kept. Once he was finished, he left with an affectionate pat to the horse and began to whistle a merry tune as he rolled the wheelbarrow of filth towards the manure pile.

 

He spotted Heardred in the yard with the boy, milking the nanny goats. Bada grinned, his handsome face lighting up at the sight of the young warrior. Pausing to dump the horse shit into the manure pile, he called out in a pleasant voice, “Teaching the boy to be a milkmaid? We should be showing him how to spar!”

 

Heardred laughed, glancing over his shoulder and catching sight of Bada. “They are of equal importance,” he replied amiably.

 

“Of course,” Bada said, leaning on the rake, “As is cleaning out a stable. Or sowing seed in the ground.”

 

He strolled towards them, his movements as graceful as a cat and he tousled the boy’s hair before looking down at where Heardred sat on the milking stool. Bada watched him for a moment as he milked and then a wry grin touched his lips under the short golden beard. “You have a fine touch, firm but not ungentle. I am sure the goat is grateful. As am I that your family has been so gracious..”

 

His eyes once again flickered from the other man’s hand movements to his face and then he looked up towards the house, “Fyrwind is doing better, I am sure it was only a stone bruise.”

 

Heardred smirked slightly, not offering any comment on his touch, and instead looking up at the boy. “You finish up here, Cynefrith.” The child nodded, and took his place at the stool as Heardred rose, smoothing his tunic. “I’m glad it was nothing serious,” he said sincerely.

 

“As am I, he’s been with me for many a long ride,” Bada agreed, “And I still have miles to go. When do you ride out again, Heardred?”

 

“I am expected to report for patrol in five days, to relieve the current riders,” he replied, running a hand through his dark blonde hair absent mindedly. “I don’t expect much trouble, but nonetheless…” He glanced over at Bada. “Where shall you go?”

 

“I will head back to Snowbourne,” he said, “I have a cousin there that has offered me work, I only wished to see Alburg and the Beacon, as I have only heard of them in my childhood. Growing up on the Wold, we do not see many of the great places of heroes.”

 

Bada flashed a quick grin and looked out towards the hills, “I almost envy you. I suppose a domestic life will suit me well enough. We all have to do it one day.”

 

“You are too good a fighter for domesticity,” Heardred comments offhandedly. “From what I’ve seen.”

 

“Perhaps, I am certainly not going to enjoy the drudgery or being presented with a string of homely farmer’s daughters to take to wife,” Bada raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “But my days riding have come to an end, sadly. Maybe I will become a town guard.”

 

“Why is that, If you don’t mind me asking?”

 

Bada bit his lip slightly and furrowed his brow, “I had a disagreement with my Maesterwigend...he was a hard man, violent tempered and he found me not to be like minded. We came to blows and since I was a spearwigend, I was punished.”

 

Glancing at him, he continued, “I was not removed from his company however. He became unbearable and I spent more time in chains and the stock then I did in the saddle.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Heardred said, looking at the other man for a moment. “I’m sure you deserved better.”

 

“Some might not agree,” Bada said quietly, looking down at his calloused hands. “I did not indulge in the same things as the other men, I had very few that I would call friends. How can you trust the ones...”

 

He trailed off and then shook his head, his smile returning as the sun would peek out from the clouds. “You do well, I hope.”

 

Heardred nodded. “I’ve found that commanders are more likely to think well of you when they’re your cousin, but that’s just me.” He laughed a bit. “I can’t say I can picture Tunbeorht putting me in stocks anytime soon.”

 

Bada grinned, a faint dimple appearing in the left cheek and his blue eyes twinkled. “Tunbeorht, he is the new commander I have heard speak of. They said he is quite young for the position but has skill and promise.”

 

Heardred shook his head slightly. “The more they talk, the bigger his ego gets. But, at thirty Tunna is five years my senior, so I can’t call him young.”

 

“It is only talk that I’ve heard, I’ve never met the man,” Bada said, glancing toward the stable. “Was there anything else that needed to be done? Or would you care to spar, warm you up for your patrol.”

“How are you with a bow?” Heardred asked. “We could stand to hunt something for tonight. With so many guests my mother is at a loss.”

 

Bada perked up and smiled, “I am not too bad, I used to do some scouting. And I hunted as a boy, with my father. I’d enjoy that. Get away from the smell of goats.”

 

He winked and added, “Granted if you have a spare bow, we are about the same height it should suit me.”

 

Heardred nodded. “Of course,” he replied. “There should be a spare inside. I’ll look for it.”

 

*******************************************************************************

 

The faint moonlight filtered through the stand of trees on the far edge of the Fealca homestead. Garsig and Eoforwine waited in the shadows until a soft rustle and a whispered word announced Bada’s arrival.  The man was dressed in a tunic and trousers but over his shoulder he carried his armor that he had hidden away.

 

Garsig eyed the younger man and asked quietly, “How does it look? I’d rather get this over with tonight.”

 

Bada licked his lips slightly, glancing back over his shoulder but he could only just make out the house in the darkness. He hesitated, thinking about the situation between him and Heardred. The hunting trip revealed what he had rather hoped for than suspected and it was harder than he thought to think of butchering the young warrior.

 

“What is it?” Garsig asked, his voice rumbling like a distant growl of thunder.

 

“It’s nothing,” Bada replied, flicking his blue eyes to meet his commander’s gaze. “They are all abed. It is Fealca and his wife and sister, his son  and the boy. We must do it tonight for Heardred will ride out to meet his eored in a few days time.”

 

“I’ll deal with Fealca, you handle Heardred,” Garsig said. “Eoforwine, you cover us. Bring the horses once you see the flames.”

 

“And the woman and boy?” Bada asked.

 

Garsig paused, Gerta had asked him to spare the woman but leaving a witness was not something he wished to do. “The boy dies with his father and the woman...I’ll deal with her.”

 

Eoforwine snickered, “Save some for me.”

 

The big dark haired warrior shot him a glare, his pale eyes gleaming in the dark. “Not this time.”

 

Garsig flexed his left arm, feeling the raw soreness of the healing burns and he picked up his hand axe with his other hand. He left his long axe in his saddle, fighting inside would not allow for him to swing it freely. They gathered the oil soaked torches and moved off silently, approaching the homestead.  

 

 

Heardred awoke to the smell of smoke. It filled the air of the house, with it’s locked shutters and roaring fireplace. His first waking thought was that the rug by the hearth had caught on fire again, but when he rose to see, he was met with flames in the doorway. He called out for his father--no response--and attempted to make his way through the door unscathed. His clothing shielded his skin long enough to catch on fire itself, and he cried out, quickly snuffing the flames and entering the main room, only to find himself blinded by the searing heat of the fire.

 

“Father?” Heardred called out. “Cynefrith?” Without thinking of escape, he tore through the rest of the home in search of his family. At first there was no response, and he persisted in his search with no sign of his aunt or his mother. “Fealca?” He called out, louder this time. Heardred crossed the room and forced open the door of his father’s bed-closet. The metal ring of the doorknob seared the flesh of his hand, but he ignored it as he ignored the flames blistering his unshod feet. The sight that awaited him was as red as the flames licking the eaves, and he backed away, narrowly missing a falling beam. “Cynefrith!” He called out, desperately. After what felt like a lifetime of searching, he heard a plaintive sob above the incessant roar of the flames.

 

The boy was hidden in the kitchen, under a table, where the floor was solid stone instead of wooden boards. Heardred pulled him out, anxious to try the back door. No matter how he forced the latch, the door wouldn’t budge. He thrust his shoulder against it until it too was consumed by the flames, and hastily carried the child to the only other exit. Blocked. Muttering a prayer that sounded more like an oath, Heardred knelt beside the young boy, and pulled him close.

 

“Cynefrith,” he began, calmly, despite the simmering heat and crashing rubble. His eyes stung from the smoke assailing them. “Do you know of Wyrd?” The small boy sobbed, clinging to his neck as he spoke. “Fate guides our lives, Cynefrith,” he continued, his low voice turning raspy as he inhaled the dense smoke, and pushed the two of them lower to the ground. He held on tighter to his cousin. “We all have a path, cousin. Some are long, and others--” his voice broke off into a pained grunt as something hard and burning came down on his shoulder. “--short.” He coughed, and pulled his tunic up to cover his nose and mouth. “But they are set in stone. We must embrace their ends as we embrace their beginnings. With honor, and pride.” He blocked another falling beam from hitting the boy, and his voice cracked, “Only then shall we feast in the halls of our--” At long last, the roof caved in on them. Smoke stifled his breath, and choked off his voice. It granted him the mercy of a silent death.

 

 

Garsig watched from the stable as the orange flames lick the roof and gripped the struggling woman, his hand still clamped over her mouth.Wenyld tried to scream again and Garsig squeezed her jaw painfully.

 

“Shut up and watch,” he whispered in her ear, “And you might live.”

 

The blood of her husband Fealca was smeared on his tunic from where it had shot out of the artery the seax had sliced when the man was still in bed. Bada stood to the side, the slumped form of Engeled on the ground at his feet. She had fought him, leaving bloody scratches on his face until Garsig had ordered him to bind and gag her. The woman was sobbing but blessedly silent behind the strip of tunic stuffed in her mouth.

 

When the roof collapsed, Garsig signaled Eoforwine who approached with the horses. As he bound Wenyld  the woman now stared in horror at the sight. Before he stuffed a rag into her mouth she asked, “Why?”

 

Garsig tied the gag in place and looked her in the eyes, “Blood.”