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Edgtheow's Tale

The following is a deleted sequence, originally included very early in Chapter 1. It was intended to give Edgtheow a back-story that would both provide information for the later events concerning Weohstan, as well as some emotional attachment for the reader to a character very soon to disappear, a feat which proved difficult enough with Hondscio, but near impossible in the short space allowed to Edgtheow before his Fate came on him! In addition, it served to introduce the Swedes far earlier than they are in the final version. The sequence was ultimately removed to avoid confusion and clutter, as well as pick up the pacing in those pivotal opening stages of the first chapter. It is presented here in its unedited first draft status, as it came straight from the pen.

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A son of Wolfric, heir of Wægmund of the Wendels he had been, born the eldest of his clan and destined to become its Chieftain in his time. From their earth and woodwork fort at Vendel far abroad he roamed and many battles fought beside his lord. Freely they plundered, taking as they would from those less strong than they, for Northern law made slaves of any man unfortunate enough to lose a battle and live on, and all that he once owned was claimed as spoils of war and seized by he who was the victor: his pigs, his plows, his wife, all taken from him in a stroke, leaving just the charred and smoking wreckage of his life behind.

Many pigs had Edgtheow claimed, and many wives had taken in his day.

Such were Edgtheow’s early years, as swiftly he had grown into a war-famed warrior approaching manhood, and the time when he would take a mate and build a homestead of his own upon the rich lands he had won by his sword-hand. Rich rewards, indeed, had he been given by his lord and father, Wolfric, Chieftain of the clan. Gold and lands enough he had already at the age of fifteen that any unwed maiden he might choose would certainly be given gladly with her father’s blessing, and a handsome bonding-fee to boot.

Only he awaited on his mother’s choice.

For his own part, he was more than satisfied with any number of the many wenches he had coupled with already: Signy, Hogrid’s daughter, who had fattened up as well as any wild boar before a feast; or Olga, the blacksmith’s only offspring, thin and wispy though she was (but lusty and full of fire like her father); or even Gerta, Gottard’s ugly runt, so short and stout, but sweet as summer honey like her mother Hediwig, who cared as much for Edgtheow as she had her only son (who died in battle with the Finns when he was only ten). But none of these were fit for Wolfric’s son, according to his mother Wilhelmina. And with each passing battle her sights grew ever greater and her goal more lofty for her eldest child, until such time as she was thinking he should wed no lower than the daughter of a King.

As for Weohstan, her younger son, she cared not where he spread his seed, for he was ever less than Edgtheow in her eyes, a thin and fleeting shadow ever nipping at his heels. Where Edgtheow led, Weohstan was sure to follow, never one to lead himself, but always right behind his older brother; ever at the ready with a sturdy weapon, yet never at the forefront of a fray. To many, as to Wilhelmina, this seemed a mark of weakness, and she was glad that Edgtheow was the elder son, for he would make a mighty Chieftain in his time.

Yet where would leaders be without their war-band at their back? Edgtheow was well aware, as Weohstan was too, that either man was less without the other at his side, and Edgtheow was always sure to share the spoils of war among his loyal followers when victory was theirs, as it more than often was. But still the fame and glory came to Edgtheow, and Weohstan was left behind when Wolfric gave rewards and handed out his share of gold and lands.

Little by little, Weohstan began to draw away and grow resentful, letting Edgtheow fight his battles on his own, until at last he found another path to tread that he could call his own. Weohstan would wed into another clan and go to dwell among the Swedes far to the north and east, as far from Wilhelmina as he could flee. And little sorrow did she feel at his departure.

But little did she think what Fate might lay in wait for Weohstan, or for the offspring that he bore, and how it would affect the future of their race.

So it was that Edgtheow the Red achieved great deeds and came into his manhood certain of his Fate, leading raiding parties of his own along the Baltic coast and looking to the day when he would be the Chieftain of his clan. Many women he had had, and gold he gave them from his growing hoard to grace their silk-soft shoulders and adorn their golden locks. None could stand before his crimson blade, nor stay his hand in battle when the fiery rage came to his ruddy face. All the Middle-World was green and new, and gold lay on the path before his feet.

 

Until the day when he returned from raiding in the South to find his own home only so much ash and charcoal on the black and blood-soaked land that once had been his father’s realm. No trace was left then of the path he’d trod so purposefully, no means to reach his once-sure goal, for there amidst the rubble of his father’s hall the blackened bones that once had been the people he would rule lay scattered all about the ash-black throne. And on that throne sat Wolfric’s crown upon a black and gaping skull, an ashen spear thrust through his jutting ribs.

And so Edgtheow had done just as his younger brother had before and turned his back upon his own homeland, forsaking Fate, and seeking out instead another life among another clan far from that place, for it seemed to him that there was no one left among his kin to rule. The men lay dead about his feet, the women gone, made lawful slaves by they who came to rape and slay while he was gone. All about him stood the burned-out shells and smoking huts that once had housed the only friends and folk that he had ever known, and naught was left of them but ghosts and bones.

Indeed, his own adventure had not gone as planned that day, and only he among the six young warriors who crept into the village further south at Valsgärde found his way back home again. A sable raven dogged his steps all day, “an omen of impending doom,” the oarsman muttered as they sailed their skiff along the intervening waterway that filled the shallow valley leading down from Vendel to the open grassland region north of Upsala, the site of Freyr’s hall, where every Winter captive slaves were sacrificed in payment for the withheld sun. Edgtheow himself had made an offering last Mid-Winter when darkness held the land in sway so long it seemed the sun would not return again. In Valsgärde he had taken slaves and driven them half-naked through the ice and snow to Upsala where Freyr waited on his feast.

He alone had done this deed, and brought the sun again to Middle-Earth.

Now with Winter past he thought to gain more slaves to work his fertile fields, and Valsgärde came once more into his mind. There among the sties and sheds were born the thralls whose duty was to turn the soil and tend the crops, and it was only left for thanes and jarls such as he to give them work to do to. Little did it matter where they toiled or who it was that owned the land they worked, for they were naught but cattle and could not own land themselves. And like the livestock and the women, they belonged to whoever held the victor’s sword.

The Uplands at that time were peopled as with falling rain, which comes together in each isolated bog and hollow to form an independent pool, and by each pool and stream a people grew. Each of these clove to themselves and dwelt alone, adhering to the rule of none but he who was the master of the house or hall. Some comprised a quite diverse and complex blend of distantly related tribes that had banded together about some great and mighty warrior whose rule was law, while most were little more than family clans that honored and obeyed the eldest man among them. All were indebted to the land they lived upon, and only the relative proportion of their swords to spades made the blood of any one more noble than another.

But many spades may dig the grave of one who wields a sword. And they whose days are filled with turning earth know well the way of filling graves.

Edgtheow and his band of boatmen came upon the peaceful farm as Summer thunder from the mountains, full of raging noise and raining silver showers down upon them from above. A dozen serfs they quickly cast in chains, and passed away as swiftly as the storm, returning to the shore where lay their little ship.

But there they found the boat all beat upon and bored with holes so that it quickly sunk beneath them as they rowed away, leaving them at the mercy of the mob of angry thralls that swarmed the shore. One by one they were drowned or dragged to land and treated much as was their ship, all bruised about the ribs till they could navigate no further; while their captive friends were given aid and liberation from their bonds and plight: the slaves made free, the freemen bound in chains to take their place.

Yet Edgtheow fled his persecutors by a strength of arm and skill at swimming none among the others had possessed, and swam the greater length of the journey home, some many miles, a feat for which he would most surely have attained great fame, save that it came upon the heels of such a grave and ignominious defeat and in the course of fleeing for his very life – and that there was none left to tell his story to when he returned.

And so, indeed, although his life was spared, it was not the life he once had known, for he returned to find his home a smoking heap of ash and dust: a home no more, but black and barren as the endless night, a silver sable raven shadow that followed as he fled.

Thus it was that Edgtheow left his former life behind, traveling onward north and west, then south again, across a broad expanse of rugged wilderness and many lakes, until at last he made his way into a land of men with red hair like his own who knew him not, nor of his tainted fame. And there he became a vassal of the Geat King Hrethel who dwelt there on those windswept coastal lands, not knowing all the while his mother yet lived on.

But to his former home he now would go no more.

 

Wilhelmina fled the blond-haired raiders when they came out of the North, and hid amid the dark surrounding woodlands with as many of the younger ones as she could find, hoping for her elder son’s return. Long she waited there, not knowing if the enemy were near at hand, until at last she saw her son for one last time.

Between the clinging vines that draped the hanging boughs she glimpsed him of a sudden with his head hung low, clutching in his trembling fingers his father’s bent and broken crown. But it was just then as she spied him from the shelter of the darkened forest and about to cry out that a hand clamped down upon her mouth and she was jerked about to face a death-pale face with blood-red eyes and snow-white main. Thus it was that Wilhelmina was taken by surprise and bound in chains, together with the others there, to be made captive slaves of the very men that burnt their homes and slew their sons before their eyes.

And as she lashed out from the savage clutches of the grinning man that gripped his bulky arms about her waist and dragged her backwards by the hair, she glanced askance and saw her son, unheeding of her sudden violent cries, had turned and walked away.

So it is that noble blood sometimes will seek again it humble roots. As a drudge his mother lived, a chain-bound slave held captive in the very lands that once had been her own, and after many years of bitter toil she died, not far off from the place she last had seen her eldest son, and with her final breath she cursed him on his father’s grave.

Yet never did she know it was her younger son who led the Swedes to them in vengeance of her slight.

 

So Edgtheow lived on, and found a new home to replace the one that he had lost, a clan of mighty men with blood-red hair just like his own, and strength enough to stay their greatest foe. There he forged with fierce determination a place among their clan, where he could once again achieve the battle-fame that he had lost, and with his crimson sword forget the battle he had never fought.

Never again would he be gone when enemies came to his door.

No more would he wait until they came to burn his home.

Instead, he took the war to them, and made them pay in blood for every man that waited for him now in Valhalla. Thrice as many men he sent to join them there before his thirst was slaked, and by that time few men would dare to cross him with a look or word, lest they might undertake that journey to the After-World.

Long since Edgtheow had paid in blood the man-price of his father’s death so long ago, though still he felt the guilt of it within his weary bones. Never had he known who it had been that laid his town to waste, for he had never set his foot within that land again.

But one day they had come to him.

 

In the year 493 the Geats were greeted with a new-found enemy: a blond-haired, blue-eyed race that came upon them from the East. And they were led by one whose eyes were red as flesh-drawn blood, with snow-white hair and ashen skin, the young son of the Swedish King. Ongentheow was his name, the son of Oní of the Swedes, and hard they fought and long, until the daylight waned and blood of both men stained the ground.

But on that field of battle was another warrior whose face was known to Edgtheow, and nearly their reunion cost Edgtheow his life, for there he met again his brother Weohstan, and in that moment stayed his sword and lost two fingers from his hand.

Then the battle rage came on him, and the tide of war was turned. The crimson blade flashed out and deep it drank of Swedish blood, until the King of Swedes lay dead, his own sword only inches from King Hrethel’s neck when Edgtheow had run him through. The enemy had fled, their newly-made King Ongentheow shouting out that they would one day come again to seek their vengeance for his father’s death.

But Weohstan said nothing as he once more fled the shadow of his elder brother’s victory.

 

Thus it was that Edgtheow was dubbed the Crimson Warrior of the North.

 

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