The White Dragon 

and the Coming of the Kings:

A Saga of Bernicia

By Geoffrey Storey
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To my Penny

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Acknowledgements

This book could not have been written without the help and support of my wife, Penelope.
With my thanks to my cousin Gary Storey and to his wife Diane of Melbourne for all their patience, advice, and very real help.

Anno Domini 2012.

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Printing History

The White Dragon and the Coming of the Kings: A Saga of Bernicia
This Pigtown Electronic Edition Copyright © 2015 by Geoff Storey
ISBN: 978-0-9863730-9-1

Library of Congress
Catalogue-in-Publication Data

The White Dragon and the Coming of the Kings: A Saga of Bernicia / Geoff Storey
1. Fiction – Historical 2. Fiction – War and Military

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This Pigtown Electronic Edition is based on the original trade paperback:

THE WHITE DRAGON AND THE COMING OF THE KINGS: A Saga of Bernicia
Copyright © 2012 Geoffrey Storey
First Published by
Bonacia Limited
ISBN UK: 9780957436435
ISBN USA: 9781586901233

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including manual re-input, photocopying, scanning, optical character recognition, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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About The White Dragon

A sweeping Saga of Sixth Century Britain during the period of early English settlement, ranging from Anglo Saxon Lincoln to the wilds of Bernicia and Rheged, encompassing the fall of perhaps the last Romano British state, and the coming of the English Kings.
This is the story of the early English settlers in the land of Britain after it was abandoned by Rome. Sea-Warriors become settlers in an inhospitable world, before the Coming of the Kings.
Those kings came from their European Homelands or were self-made rulers who began with a war-band and left kingdoms. These kingdoms would unite to form the England we know today. They would in time become Christian and literate. Early tribal law and traditions upheld by their sword-arms would develop into Early English governments based on sophisticated law-codes and efficient administrations long before the Norman Conquest.
The first English were pagan warriors whose names and deeds come down to us from their runes and oral folklore, or in the writings of their enemies. Individuals followed their own paths during the long process of conversion to universal Christianity and literacy.
They struggled with the elements, Nature, and the Romano British they were to conquer - whose cities and works they largely abandoned, believing them to be the work of Giants and Gods.
For the English their world was a forbidding place, wherein dwelt alongside Men spirits best not thought of. They were close to Nature and lived by its seasons, on its flora and fauna.
They made an almost complete break with the Romano British past. The English culture, society, and Common Law that we know today has grown out of theirs. The English language is spoken around the world.

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In Ancient legend the White Dragon or Serpent represented the English invader, the Red Dragon the Romano British. The Dragon Banner held by this warrior would come alive as he moved.

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Prologue

Gaius and his horse were concealed behind a curtain of foliage as he gazed across at the invaders working at the upper end of the narrow valley.
Two shallow streams ran down into the valley from the hillside, with a low outcrop dividing them. The peninsula thus formed jutted into the valley below. The streams joined at the base of this peninsula to form a river which ran down through open water meadows before entering the forest which filled the mouth of the widening vale. The river continued through the forest and re-emerged to cross the plain and flowed towards the sea in the distance. There on the sea-shore stood the main settlement from whence these men had come – not as foragers, but as men building the first inland settlement in these hills.
There were perhaps a score of men, mostly free churls, hard at work, spread out, their words reaching him faintly on the breeze, their guttural Englisc harsh to his ear, as expressive and coarsely descriptive as he remembered from the Sea People who had visited his father. Most were working on a fence on the jutting spur, the others clearing scrub and trees from beyond the water meadows below. The clearing was now quite large, and being prepared for the plough.
There was a small white banner on the knoll, flying from a tall gnarled oak tree. Beneath the oak, seemingly growing out of it, was the beginnings of a long wooden building.
Although all the foreigners appeared to be armed freemen, having both spear and shield to hand, he counted four heavily armed men who appeared to be Gesyths, Companions, gathered on the rock above the junction of the streams, not far from a dominant figure. Except for a few mail-clad Gesyths and armed freemen who were very much on their guard and alert to the woods surrounding them, they were all working easily together, churl and Companion alike. Like the churls the Companions wore the vicious seax knives on their belts which gave these Saxon invaders their name.
Near the four Companions on the higher ground, talking to a labourer was a tall flaxen-haired warrior with a bejewelled sword belt girdling his waist. His hair flowed onto his shoulders. There were pack-horses that Gaius could see, tethered on the knoll, with perhaps a dozen or more riding beasts visible on the peninsula. That was chance. It was rare to find good horseflesh in the Englisc settlements, even if they were more ponies than cavalry mounts.
Gaius turned his head to where his men sat their horses. He had with him on this expedition a troop of his father’s Horse, under their Decurion, Secundus, and his inseparable Optio, Publius. Their uniform equipment was ill-used through rough field conditions, but the red crosses with the red dragon imposed stood out as they unclipped their shield covers and readied for the action awaiting them.
Secundus was a rather flamboyantly dressed young man. Brave and intelligent, his men loved him and would follow him anywhere. Yet the troop’s bearing and discipline was, Gaius knew, largely the work of his optio, Publius, a grizzled dark-haired man, as short and stocky as his Roman forebears had been. These men had a reputation unrivalled in the army.
The troopers were men of the North, British warriors. They looked for the most part as tough as did Publius, small dark men of the forest, some with strong traces of those swarthy beak-nosed Italians of old, but also with a smattering of the tall and fair-haired men who, like Gaius and Secundus themselves, were descended from the chariot-borne aristocracy who had ruled in this land long before Rome.
The tension, especially among the younger men on their fidgeting mounts, was palpable. Many quietly prayed to their Saints, and to Christ. Most of the men were veterans, sitting their horses in grim silence, almost thoughtfully fingering their weapons. They were as keen and as deadly as their blades, sharp and death-dealing.
For now their Red Dragon Banner drooped from its lance, but soon it would bellow as they charged, opening its jaws to engulf these pagan Saxon strangers, invaders of their land. Satisfied after his fleeting glance at his men, Gaius turned his attention back to the enemy. He concentrated his gaze on the swordsman whom he was certain was his opposite number among the Saxons, the tall young man with the long Scandinavian blade at his side. Now that would be a prize worth the seizing!
He had sent a few men, under Publius, to scatter the men on the valley floor and to distract the enemy. The remainder of his troopers were positioned on either side of the densely wooded hillsides, hidden amongst the trees. His main attack would be from above and behind the Englisc, from the hills on both sides of the jutting headland. It would take time for Secundus to get into position, but when he did so he and Secundus would take the enemy in a classic pincer movement on the now largely cleared spur and the level hillside behind it. The Saxons had of course cleared the land to a long bowshot’s distance before beginning other works. There were no other obstacles before them. No ditch had as yet been dug across the neck of the peninsula to isolate it from the hillside, before the twin streams plunged down in white racing water-falls to the valley-floor below.
The cavalry were close. It would take minutes from the order to attack to reaching their enemies, long minutes in which the Saxons might just have time to prepare. He knew that his troop understood exactly what each man had to do. Classic cavalry tactics. His father would be proud of him.
This was a rare opportunity, unlooked for. His was a routine intelligence patrol, sent out as the last of the snows had retreated and just as the new Spring growth was bursting into life. His scouts had come across these few men, alone, isolated, on the fringes of the forested hills, in the early dawn light. A hasty discussion with Secundus and Publius. A stealthy approach, the splitting of his forces, and the scene would be set by noon. It was almost miraculous. He crossed himself, murmured a hasty Pater Noster. The crisp Northern air was keen, the light winds still chill. A good day to fight.
Today he would lead his men not on a brief skirmish, but in a charge that would teach these arrogant foreigners that if they ever ventured to leave the safety of their coastal walls and sand-salt fields they would die. War-booty and horses were an added bonus. Honour and Victory were here to fight for. For he was Gaius Valerius Marcius, son of Julius of the Valerii and Marcii, and he rode for Urien of Rheged, the mightiest War-Lord of the North!
It was noon. The time of waiting was at an end. Both Secundus and Publius would be in position. He turned to his men, arm up-raised. He dropped it.
“Charge!”
“For Urien, for Rheged, and for Christ!”

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Chapter One: The Dragon Hatched

The youth sat athwart his bench, legs spread against the quick motion of the sea. It was almost light, with misty tendrils of morning fog drifting past them.
He thought he could see the proud White Dragon’s head on the prow slipping in and out of the wispy cloud, bright where it caught the pale rays of early sunshine. That imperious symbol was his father’s own. It lived within his very being, his soul. It was his wyrd, his destiny. A statement out here on the boundless ocean of who he, his father, and his family were. He was Garwulf, son of Garrick, Woden born, Aethling of Lindsey.
He stood, straddling his lanky legs against the heaving of the ship, Wave-Cleaver. The white phosphorescent wake now sharply outlined the dipping oars. He had heard Father tell the steersman that they should make landfall in the cold light of morning, and already he could see the reddish tendrils of the false dawn in the east. He wanted to see his new land. The voices around him grew more expectant. Men looked towards their gear, the ever-present combs reached for whilst keeping the steady beat of the oar-stroke.
For they were land-seekers. Men who lived by their swords and their wits, men sworn to his father’s service, but an oath given could as haughtily be withdrawn. Warriors all, from the humblest free churl at the oar with his spear and shield piled amidships, to the most magnificently bejewelled Gesyths beside him at the oars.
These men were not tired after long rowing. They had left in the half-light before day-break from the tiny sandy cove in which they had spent the night. Father had wanted his ship, his warriors, and himself to make landfall as splendidly as possible. They had an hour or two yet to travel.
The Gesyths were proudly wearing their worldly wealth on their persons, bejewelled and intricately wrought gold and silver entwined their limbs and blazed from their harness. Their pride and vanity showed in their bearing, their carefully trimmed and combed beards and hair. They were men in their prime. Their kith and kin were far behind them in Lindsey, many days rowing away.
He heard the cadence of their voices at the oars, keeping time yet still communicating, good-humouredly, their words of the sea, and keeping out the great nothingness around them. Their speech was in the graphic, expressive, descriptive tongue they called Englisc, their roots and their language out of Angeln, across the waters, many a year or decade behind them.
Only the gull that soared above the clouds could see, perhaps, the shores of their well-remembered homelands, a poor flat land of swamps and encroaching sea, of bloodshed and rapine encroaching with the hordes from the Eastern Steppe. Their gaze had turned to the land Rome had abandoned. They had already voyaged far, these Angles, and so had their fathers, and often their grandfathers, to these islands of Britain far out in the Northern Seas.
Their fathers and grandfathers had settled the fertile Southlands, but land-hunger and fierce Romano British resistance drove these men to find yet new lands, far to the North, whence they could carve out their own bounds.
The youth’s father, Garrick, was an Aethling of Lindsey, a Prince, son of Garfield, son of Gar ‘The Spear’, descended from Offa, King of Angeln, Woden-born. Garrick was known to be blessed of the Gods, a man whom Good Fortune led, a Lucky Warrior. As an Aethling he was eligible for election to the throne, a man of power and repute. The choosing of all Englisc leaders was by their own leading men. Garwulf had learnt his lineage at the knee of both father and mother, and could name his forebears all the way back to Woden, reciting rhythmically, his tone rising and falling, reminiscent of the sea-warriors they had all been. And were.
Garrick was a younger son. He was a Lindsey man, from the rolling wooded Wolds overlooking the Fens. His grandfather had arrived by long-ship from Angeln across the North Sea. They were creating an Angel Lond here in Britain. Tall and broad-shouldered, straight as the spear-shaft for which he was named, with iron in his hair and beard. He was dressed as befitted a warrior of his years and deeds. His great helm with tumbling mail curtains protected his head, brow, cheeks, and neck, crowned by a dragon. His shoulder crests were of silver and gold inlaid with garnet, as were the arm-clasps below his elbows and the rings on his fingers. The work was filigree, intricate, the inset garnets and other precious stones cut as jewels, connected by slithering serpents and beasts. His gold sword-pommel too was inlaid with garnets. His gold belt-buckle and belt ending were jewels in their own right. Chain-mail draped his frame, glinting with more silver and gold, seemingly alive as he moved his sinewy limbs, shimmering mail which hung down to his lower limbs protected by braced metalwork greaves above his soft leather calf-length boots, From his shoulders hung a red cloak. His ornately decorated shield bound with bronze bearing the White Dragon on red was propped against his bench. He was Aethling, Prince and Sea-King, who had led his men oft into the ways of war. It was a time when men carried their wealth prominently in order to be seen by other men, to be admired and envied both, when the only protection for such wealth was the warrior’s own right arm.
The mist slowly cleared. The White Dragon’s Head stood proud, seeking the way North. The youth’s day had begun.

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The Men North of the Humber knew well the Men of Lindsey, their fellow Angles, and had sought settlers and reinforcements from amongst them. The invitation was sent on behalf of the Anglian Lord of Bamburgh and of Lindisfarne and addressed to the warrior seamen of Lindsey.
One winter’s night the invitation was given out by a persuasive and proud sea-rover named Oswald of Deira. It was addressed to the King of Lindsey. The King heard it in the presence of his assembled Aethlings, Ealdormen, and Gesyths, in a special gathering in the King’s Hall.
Lindsey’s chief place was Lincoln, named for the Roman colony of veterans it had once been. It was a shadow of its former self, with a very small population of merchants and craftsmen. The British of this place had accepted the new order in a couple of generations or so. The very existence of the first Englisc settlements had disrupted the existing economy, broken communications with north and south, and simply left the villas to rot and the roads to crumble. A form of civic life had persisted in Lincoln itself, but that was because its position suited the newcomers. The broad harbour below the walls, called in Englisc the Pool, was linked to the River Trent in the west by the Fossdyke, a monumental feat of Roman engineering, and from the Pool the River Witham also linked the inland city to the North Sea in the east. The inland sea-port, high on its cliff, seduced the invader, and the city itself soon absorbed them.
The King’s hall was high above the Pool. The Roman walls still stood, as did many stolid buildings, but gradually the streets below were losing their Roman grid-pattern, as sheds, animal-pens, workshops, and town- houses began to be put up wherever there was a gap or space within the walls.
The night was past Yule, the mid-winter fire-celebrations over. It was cold in the hall, for all the blaze in the hearth, and the realities of the new year had settled on the receptive assembly. After Blood Month that autumn they knew precisely how their wealth stood. In the fertile lands of Lindsey many men looked hopeful, sure of the immediate future, but others were landless younger sons, faced by a situation in which fathers could no longer sub-divide lands.
In Lindsey the King, understanding his people’s land-hunger, allowed free discussion of the message from Bernicia. Lindsey had the measure of Elmet, her major British foe to the west and north. A precarious frontier held. Only skirmishes and raids disrupted the frontier. Elsewhere Lindsey was confined by Englisc neighbours. Land was growing scarce.
Slowly a filtering took place, and those who had decided to go consulted their companions and looked for recruits from free churls and lord’s sons alike. Ships were uncovered, assessed, repaired, and crews took them tentatively to sea.
If land was a-begging up there North of the Wall, the British Riders of Bryneich could bring the Englisc as much glory as did the British Riders of Elmet, who were closer to home. For these men life had never been easy.
The capricious climate hit hard here also, and the British Principalities on their frontiers fought as stubbornly, and as skilfully, on Lindsey’s Western bounds as they did all along the porous border-line which Baden Battle had cut midway through the island from Dorset to the Humber. At Baden Hill the Romano British cavalry had fought the Englisc shield-wall, and the day had been theirs. After that shock to their seemingly unstoppable advance at the hands of the British, Engliscmen had even sailed over to Gaul in their land-need. The men of Lindsey, whatever their age, estate, or motives, had kept fully abreast of events abroad, brought by messenger, by traders and merchants, sea-farers, and travelling bards. The reality of life in Bernicia had reached them here in their stolid halls and green pastures.

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It was a wild time up there in Bernicia, The Time of the Warlords, both British and Englisc.Those Men of Lindsey who decided to emigrate were fully aware of the conditions. Some of the Bernician Englisc were descended from Benoc, who had been invited in to aid the King of Bryneich, much as were the Jutes Hengist and Horsa in Kent. Others were descendants of Roman Auxiliaries and allies, or Foederati, on the Wall. Their genealogies stretched back generations in Britain. More Engliscmen had led small war-bands to loot and harry, sometimes to seize a defensible stretch of beach or rock, and settle, supporting themselves not only from the salty tillage, but from the sea, as traders, fishermen, and as opportunistic pirates
Garrick had left his meagre lands to his brother Garbald after the invitation to sword-land and glory had been brought by the messenger to the King of Lindsey from Aethelric, son of Ida, who had led the most powerful war-band along the Bernician coast. Ida was dead, but before he died he had established his strength, and ensured the survival of his dynasty, and that of the Englisc, up here in the land of Bernicia, north of the River Humber, a land which men had begun to call, with Deira, Northumbria.
Immediately to the North of Lindsey, across the mighty Humber, was Deira, the Southern part of the land of Northumbria. The sparse settlements of Deira were centred on a fertile vale running down to the broad Humber. Its power-base was the old walled Roman city of Eburacum which the Englisc now called Eoforwic or York. The city had itself fallen to the Englisc only a few years previously. With its rulers dead or fled, the British Kingdom of Eburacum had disintegrated. Deira had secured her place in history, but the Deirans were only just clinging on in these wild northern lands. Their enemies were not only the British, but the land itself. Away from the central midlands the rocky hills rose stark, the forests dark and close, the winters biting deep, scything down young and old alike. Some of the land-hungry young men of Deira had penetrated north to Bernicia, especially along the coast, and joined those Englisc already there. Deira and Bernicia were interdependent from their early days. The war-bands of Bernicia were unruly and ambitious. A few years before they had even helped the Deirans take Eoforwic
The Mountain Land of Bernicia, further North, was filled with craggy cliffs, high rocky moors, and lofty fells. Its former British Lords called it Bryneich, the Land of Mountain Passes. The Angles or Englisc pronounced it as Bernicia. The Old Roman Wall ran up through Bernicia, from coast to coast, searching out the nests of the eagles. Up in Bernicia Nature was even harsher, and the British enemy stronger and proving a foe as bitter as the winter. Inland lay open stony moorland. Gushing streams rushed down through small ravines from the towering, cloud-topped fells.
In Bernicia the Englisc had first taken the strongholds of the British Lord when Ida seized Bamburgh and Lindisfarne. Gradually the Bernicians infiltrated inland, displacing many of the petty lords of Bryneich, yet the isolated Englisc toe-holds were still very precarious.
Many Englisc lords had taken strategic points along the coast, as had Ida, a descendant of Benoc. His warband took Bamburgh, then known as Dun Guardi by the British. Ida had woven them into some form or unity, The War-Lord among fierce warlords.
Now Ida was dead, it was once more a time of anarchy, when his many sons jockeyed for position, and their Englisc enemies yearned again for the freedom to take and hold what they could. Then they could establish their petty lordships, and when relatively settled, could send for their wives and families, from Lindsey, The Southlands, or from those homelands far across the Great Northern Seas.
The British hit back with the silent arrow, the swift dart of cavalry debouching from a defile, raiding their womenfolk as they worked in the fields. The Men of Bryneich fought relentlessly against the Bernicians, who had caused their statelet to crumble, as the Deirans had destroyed the British Kingdom further South, whether they had originally come as allies, foederati, or as invaders. After they took the Capital they had distributed the Kingdom. Not so in Bernicia. The Men of Bryneich still fought and survived.
There are always survivors. Some held out as petty lordlings in the interior, others fought back as best they could. Many of the young Englisc warriors in Bernicia were themselves sons of British women-folk, whose men had often died at the hands of the Englisc.
Some men had clung to life as slaves and worked the fields for the conquerors. “Wealhas.”, or Welsh, the very name they were known by, simply meant foreigners, and, later, slaves. Other Britons had chosen to come back and serve their new lords, and became themselves free warriors, bearing arms and serving their masters as free men tilling the soil. Isolated as the Englisc were in the North the service of such Britons was all the more readily accepted, and in the generations since the raiders had become settlers, tenuous as yet that status might be, these men and women had begun to be absorbed by the Sea-Folk, in both speech and customs.
Many more had fled inland, to their own people who had been scattered and despoiled by the invaders. There in the West still stood walled cities, regular British armies paid through taxes, and rich men still lived in villas, but all was now safeguarded not only by Roman law, but by naked steel. Organised resistance was hardening. As yet little more pressure was felt, but word was reaching these scattered Englisc lordlings of men of power in the West, men such as the Romano British Urien of Rheged, who were gathering their might against them. An Engliscman had not only to fear the sea, or the harsh land of Bernicia, in this the land of mountains. It was a time to call on reinforcements from the South.

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And now, in the white light of a Spring morn, Wave-Cleaver was nearing the Northumbrian shore. To their left was the grim rock of Bamburgh, and ahead the low-lying isle of Lindisfarne, once called Metcaut by the British, separated from the shore and the coast by a shallow wave-chopped channel between. Spear-points glittered from a ridge of rock just back from the island shore, showing that warriors were gazing southwards towards Wave-Cleaver.
The youngster on the empty bench in the stern raised his own oar as he felt his father’s hand clasp his shoulder. Men were wary. Now was the danger-time. They were expected, but no man could say when Wave-Cleaver would beach here on this wild Northern shore.
There were no palisades or towers here. Sea and rock served for both. A sandy beach, guarded by the ridge, formed a sea-haven. The White Dragon was lowered, and in the early dawn the long-ship glided silently towards the beach, oars raised, and the first warriors prepared to leap into the surf to guard, and to guide the oncoming prow onto the beach. Garrick raised his right hand in the sign that they came in peace, and his men’s hands were empty, but their weapons could as easily be snatched up.
The men gathering hastily on the beach to greet them were many and varied, physically and in their dress. At first war-bands formed and they gripped their keen-blades tightly, but soon the lookouts on the ridge assured them that here was only one ship, and they could see that for a war-galley it could carry not many more than a score and a half of warriors. Hands loosed their swords, and salt-coarse bearded faces began to voice enquiry and welcome. Even here, in this gathering place of travellers, news from outside was good.
A last hefty tug at the oars drove the ship up onto the sand, and Garrick’s men jumped into the surf to drag her higher. Eager helpers were amany. With the ship secure Garrick leapt ashore, turned, and Styr his helmsman helped the boy Garwulf. ashore, without really seeming to. The boy was growing into a youth and pretended not to notice the helping hand. Travelling with his young son was truly a sign of peace.
Garrick looked around for someone he could talk to. A grey-beard, in rich dress, stepped forward, and announced himself as reeve for Aethelric, who held Bamburgh on the Rock opposite. Garrick looked back, to the South, beyond a jutting sand-promontory, to the Rock Fortress that all men had heard of, the key to Bernicia. The British had long held the rock, but it had fallen to Ida in a swift dawn assault. Ida and his sons would not make the same mistake. Its fortifications could not be seen at this distance, but its reputation had reached Lindsey, and it’s walls and towers stood tall against the blue of the forenoon sky.
The travellers made fast their ship, and gathered their belongings. The islanders were a mixed lot. Humbler churls were among them, and these were chosen men, well dressed and equipped. A few were Gesyths, brazenly adorned by years of war and generous lords, each ring or bracelet a medal of honour, given in their Lords’ hall as part of the essential social bonding, or seized as war-loot amongst the raven’s fields.
Garrick’s iron-clad, business-like troop was a contrast. Despite their best efforts they were yet salt and travel-stained. After greeting the newcomers, searching for faces recognised, and the shouting of names in the kin-search, the inhabitants drifted away, sure that all the remaining news would be heard at the days-end, with ale and meat, in the reeve’s hall. The Reeve, Shotta, led them to a long building and, leaving a guard over Wave-Cleaver, they trooped in, depositing their helms and broad shields against the walls of the building, their spears with ashwood shafts grey at the tip were stacked together.
This early the hall was nearly empty, bar a few Welsh slaves, mostly harassed looking women. Shotta ordered them food and drink, politely asked Garrick his name and intentions. They were expected, and Garrick assured him that they were here as a response to the invitation of Aethelric himself, an invitation which would bring many men from the lands of Lindsey and Deira. His men bore names that were noble, names which when heard in the Great Hall of Bamburgh would be very well received. He led ten noble Gesyths, and a score of freeborn churls, and here, not least among them, stood his son, Garwulf.
“Spear-Wolf?” repeated Shotta. “An apt name for a land of the hunters and the hunted.” He slapped his knee gleefully at his own jest, and held out a beaker. The two men drank.
“Aethelric is away inland these past few days, securing his lands up to the hills.” said Shotta. He has taken his brothers and a strong war-band with him. But he’ll be back soon. I will send a messenger to Bamburgh, and The King will call upon you on his return. For now regard this my hall as yours. You and your leading Gesyths may sleep by the hearth, and I will rig shelters for the rest of your men.”
“I thank you, Shotta. But I and my men will sleep in shelters down by our ship, Wave-Cleaver. We will gladly partake of your hospitality each night here in your hall as we await news from Aethelric.”
It was agreed, and the men parted, each about their business. Shotta was a harassed man. For Lindisfarne was a thriving and busy community. The travellers returned to Wave-Cleaver, settled on her side above the tide-line. Garrick’s Gesyth Herewulf had been left in charge, and had delivered that charge. Chests, which doubled at sea as rowing benches, and the men’s other belongings had been arranged on the sand. Arms were piled, equipment protected from wind, water, and sand whilst the leather shelters were being erected, jutting out from the side of the ship.
Garrick spoke to Styr and the others, telling them of Shotta’s promises. Then, turning to his son, he asked “Shall we take a look at these men of Lindisfarne?”
“Oh yes, Father.” replied Garwulf.
It was a bewildering place, Lindisfarne, the ‘island of travellers from Lindsey’. Above all, Lindisfarne was very much a place of men on the move, searching for their own halls on the rocky coasts. Cliffs there might be along those shores, but beneath them lay sandy beaches in sheltered coves and bays.
There had once been an ancient temple here, but it was long gone. The place belonged completely to the moment. Scattered haphazard, buildings and huts gathered around rough halls, workshops jostled stock pens. Overall was a stench from cesspit and beast that the light coastal breeze could not dispel. And men. All manner of men, Sea-Kings, Gesyths, churls. There were, of course, Welsh slaves both male and female, their voices assaulting his ears as much as the earthy smells did his nostrils.
Lindisfarne was in many ways a clearing house, a base from which expeditions sallied, and leaders tried to attract followers, and warriors assessed potential leaders. The Lords were recruiting both Gesyths and freeborn churls. Each churl was free to go with whichever lord he chose, but it were better in these troubled seas to choose wisely, and soon. A churl could possess property, but again the holding of it was the rub.
It was also a market, with goods coming from their homelands, from Gaul, from Rome, and from as far away as the Golden City of Eastern Rome, Constantinople. The finest Samian ware contained wines, oils, olives, and even tuna-pate. Skins and pelts were loudly advertised, as were fine cloths. Countless goldsmiths, silversmiths, bronze-smiths, coppersmiths, and jewellers dealing in precious stones from the Baltic to the sands of North Africa. The finest finished weapons and jewellery would however not be here but were reserved for the court at Bamburgh.
Men of every hue jostled each other, dark Moors, ice-blondes from the North, swarthy Greeks and Italians, all speaking loudly in their own tongues, vying with homely Englisc, and the closely related Saxon and Jutish dialects of the Southern Englisc, talking with the accents of Franks and Frisians, Goths and other Northmen. These were harder on the boy’s ear. Sometimes he thought that he could understand the words they used, the sense, but then it was like dealing with shape-changers, the word twisted and he lost his grip upon them.
Life in the Reeve’s hall for the leading men felt different to Garwulf. There was a wariness in the Hall, of men uncertain of those around them, and of themselves, their futures. A transitory atmosphere, just as the rough halls of great men that stood surrounded by their supporters’ huts and shelters standing in clumps had a temporary air. Oh, Garwulf listened through cracks in the planking and climbed to the eaves, a harmless youth, and he heard the usual boasting of men in their cups, but it sounded hollow to him. Of course none of this was true of Garrick. He was a man certain of himself, of his followers, and seemed to have his future mapped out. Others were like him. These were the men to watch, thought Garwulf as he lowered himself from the rain-butt he had been perched upon. He caught a glimpse of a fleet figure behind him, reached for his seax, but immediately relaxed
Styr was there as soon as his feet touched the ground. He was a young man, for all his arms and hands were alight with honour-bracelets and rings, with the gold torque around his neck taken from a British lord of Elmet, and his sword-pommel of gold inset with garnets.
The young warrior had distinguished himself in the King of Lindsey’s war-band, but had chosen to follow the Aethling on this venture. Garrick was glad to have him. He was a natural seaman as well as a deadly warrior, and soon proved himself the best amongst experts. He was Garrick’s helmsman and high in his regard. Tonight it was the turn of other Gesyths to accompany Garrick in the hall.
He and Garwulf had found a ready affinity during the long months of preparation for this expedition. Styr and the boy had been drawn together from the very early days of their acquaintanceship. Garwulf liked and respected him. Another grown man who knew of him might have found Styr’s reputation off-putting. A youth could go where few men could tread. In truth there were not that many years between them.
For all his reputation, Styr was a very modest young man, tall and slender and with the heavily muscled torso and lean hips of a sea-man rower and a trained professional warrior. His receding hair-line made his fine boned face seem younger than his years, and accentuated his expressive good-looks. For all his wide shoulders he was quick and agile in his movements. As his name, ‘large and strong” implied, he was in every way a formidable man.
Many great warriors could be considered foolhardy or even reckless. Men had seen him thrown from his horse, face the boar on foot, and kill it. Once on the trail of a dangerous and wounded boar he would cross any torrent. He was known as merciless in achieving his ends.
There certainly lurked a silent danger beneath Styr’s withdrawn manner, and few men pressed him close. Perhaps it was something the boy found hard to understand. Men walked wide of Styr not only because of his repute as a devil-may-care warrior, dangerous and deadly, but because he was known as a Berserker.
A berserker was regarded as supernaturally possessed by the Gods. They fought in a battle-frenzy, heedless of hurt. Garwulf had never seen the killing-rage men whispered of, the berserk bouts Styr was said to be subject to in battle, and which were the reason men walked wide of him – that and his deadly skill with weapons or even with his bare hands. What the youngster innocently perceived in Styr was a withdrawn wisdom, and understanding of other men that itself made him stand out among his peers. This air of quiet understanding concealed a very private man. The boy knew that he had been thoroughly assessed on the very first day of their acquaintanceship. Garwulf would swear that Styr used any seemingly berserk behaviour, for effect and to intimidate.
Styr, was like most Gesyths, a romantic. He knew and lived the myths and legends of his people, and yet expressed his dreams and imagination differently. Not for him the loud boast, or the shout-song accompanying a poor bard in the mead-hall. Late in the evening, when all but the hardiest had found their way to sleep, he would sit near the hearth quietly strumming, murmuring the words and rhythms of those odes of Heroes from times long past quietly to himself and those fortunate enough to still to be able to hear him. That too formed part of the circle he had woven around himself. His very withdrawal in this age of killing-violence made men regard him rather as a venomous snake. Unpredictable. Until he had met Garwulf only women had been attracted to him, recognising in him many of the wiles they themselves used to survive.
In his turn Styr saw similar traits in Garwulf, having heard him ask the quick riddle of his friends, allude to the great deeds of warriors long dead, and chant his genealogy. Both were by nature solitary, and like called to like. There was understanding betwixt the two. Garwulf was a youth much as Styr had once been, a little wealthier and with less need to learn hard trades quickly in order to survive in a world of violence, where a man’s sword arm was the only way to enforce the few laws that there were. The younger lad was, like himself, withdrawn and thoughtful. He did ask questions, and considered the answers he was given. A man was named at birth in this world, but his name could change as he grew older, took on a steadier character. Garwulf had grown into his proud name, and Styr did not see him becoming known by any other. He was his father’s son, and Styr believed him born to destiny.
Garwulf was in fact far-better educated than most, eagerly inquiring of the outside world, always asking, encouraged by both his mother and father. He was an only son, and his father and maternal grandfather took a close interest in his upbringing. The world of Nature was close in all aspects of their lives. He learnt the medicinal uses of herbs and other plants, from tree-bark to salving and soothing leaves, as did all warriors. It was practical knowledge to learn the days and seasons, the movements of sun and moon, flora and fauna, of wolf and deer, all the ways of his environment. Of course a warrior left the more obscure theorising to the priests, like Hagni, a priest who had attached himself to his father.
In the past few months Styr had begun training the boy in weapons. He found Garwulf already a skilled fighter, willing and eager to learn. There came the day when, with an old sword borrowed from Garrick, he thrust through Styr’s guard. “You are learning.” my friend, grinned Styr. “Now we play harder!” and he lunged, making the boy recoil, and quickly hooked his leg out from under him. Garwulf looked up to see a smiling face above a sword-tip held at his throat. Such bred friendship.
So it was with good humour that Styr caught the boy up, and swung him around. There was by now little dignity to be lost between then “Ah.” exclaimed Styr, “I must remember not to do that again, You have put on weight this winter, and I swear that your seax was almost embedded in my Byrnie!”
“You are too sure of yourself.” retorted the boy. “I knew you, and I know that you knew that I knew, or you would have done me no such indignity!”
“So it is indignity now, my Aethling?” asked Styr, his eyes twinkling.
“Oh, you know what I mean, or you know what you think I mean.” responded the boy good-humouredly.
“By Thunor’s’ hammer, your words can sometimes twist like a serpent’s, My Aethling!”
Chuckling and arguing together as no other men had ever heard, these two made their way over to the ship-shelter. The ship was well drawn up, safe from the sea. Garwulf already knew the feel of a waterlogged leaky ship, left to the beetle. The crew were like horsemen, attending to the needs of their vessel before their own.
But now they were at ease, sprawled out, relaxed, with meat and ale brought by Welsh serving-women from the hall, most of whom had stayed. A youngster, whether Aethling or cow-herd, early learnt the ways of the world.
They jumped up and greeted the two warmly. There was already a strong bond among this crew. These men lived, rowed, sailed, ate, and did everything together. In such a life both Garwulf and Styr had long discovered that the only escape into privacy was into one’s own head. They were both still somewhat suspicious of the ties that had grown up between themselves. For both it seemed so unexpected, rare, in their lives. The bonhomie with which they were greeted now by the crew was warm and basic.
The crew knew each other’s tales and jokes, but still roared with laughter as the ale and mead was drunk, each man vying to outdo his neighbour. These men all had individual dreams and hopes, but in the here and now they were all men together, sharing a rare camaraderie, living a life their wives and sweet-hearts had never entered. They already knew something of each other, had quickly learnt which men were quick-tempered, which less so. Blood-letting was ever only a moment away with such warriors, because for all these men their pride and honour came first. Their oath was the most precious asset they had in their lives, and it was guaranteed by their reputation as individuals, hard earned, easily lost.
There were thirty good men in the crew Garrick had selected for this exploratory voyage, a score of them freeborn churls, and the ten best Gesyths that he had led during a life-time of war. These Companions of Hall and Battle, his immediate heathwearu, were adorned with jewelled rings and bracelets given by the hand of Garrick himself, or by lords who had valued their prowess before they had sworn their oath to the Aethling.
Garrick had led his own warband in Wave-Cleaver. Herewulf was his most senior Gesyth, a tough no-nonsense man, a good disciplinarian, but good natured withal. Sculf, the next in seniority, was similar in both looks and nature. They were good soldiers, farmers, stockmen, instinctive sea-men, and their wives had each pupped a hearty brood. The remaining Gesyths were also men of good repute, younger and life-loving.
. Two larger broad-beamed vessels lay on the long white strand of Lindsey, waiting for his word. With them Garrick’s wife, Elfgivu, the wives of the few married men in his band, another two score warriors, churls mainly, and all their bondsmen, goods, and chattels, breeding livestock including Garrick’s stallion and two brood mares, and good breeding hounds. With seed for the next harvest. They had been left under the command of a reliable Gesyth, his name Osred, of wise council, apt indeed. He had a second Gesyth, Hunlaf, with him. Garwulf was very glad to be free of him. Hunlaf far away was for Garwulf a good thing.
The Churls were farmers first and foremost, in search of new land upon which to build and to till, but on their voyage into the North they knew that it would be as warriors first that they would earn their Lords’ bread.
As Garwulf and Styr neared the circle of firelight near Wave-Cleaver the welcome of Gesyth and churl alike was effusive.
The churls, gathered nearer the far end of the shelter were more soberly dressed, but in no-way less forthright or loud in their good-hails. Both Garwulf and Styr felt at ease among these men. They trusted their lives to them, as they did their luck to the Gods.
After a while Garrick joined them. King Aethelric, though many as yet disputed that title, had returned to Bamburgh. In two days’ time, early in the morning, they were invited to his presence. There was a landing-beach to the north of the fortress, and they would sail with the tide. The men asked pertinent questions. Garrick told them bluntly that he would ask Aethelric if he might seek land along the coast.
“Will we be his sworn men, Aethling?” asked Herewulf.
“No. You are free men, sworn only to me. We ask him for no help, and expect none. If the land we find is adjudged within his bounds, then we will honour that, and give service for it, but as free men.”
The men stamped their booted feet at that statement, and asked no more. However at the news that every man of them would enter the King’s hall there was much banter “Even Edda?”
“Best at the back, a man either side of him!” a Gesyth shouted. Edda was a young churl, well-known for his quick sleight of hand. “Aethelric might not look to giving rings on this, our first meeting!” Indeed only a fool would gamble with Edda, but he was respected for his skill, with no man there doubting he would ever cheat. For to do in so tightly knit a band was indeed dangerous.
Every man looked to the morrow, to cleaning and burnishing his equipment and harness. The men known to be the best barbers and trimmers of beards would be sought after. But for now there was time. Garrick joined them in ale and challenged Edda to gamble on two churls wresting on the sand – and won. But the men were quieter now. They knew what was expected of them. The long day, the cool evening air, the drink, and the Welsh-women, soon led the men to their sleeping-hollows, huddled in their cloaks.
The next morning, while a churl was polishing his father’s war-gear, Garwulf sought him out. “Father, what sort of man is this Aethelric?” he asked. His father, sitting on a rock, looked at the young-old face of his son, assessingly. The youth was the height of many men, but was still lanky, with sinewy muscle beginning to replace the puppy-fat of childhood. His face was ruddy and full, the cheekbones high, the eyes blue and penetrating, the long hair curling on his neck flaxen. If the father had had a true mirror there on this isle he would have seen an echo of himself in the boy’s face, though no doubt Garwulf would be taller one day, and perhaps more muscular.
The Aethling thought a while before he spoke. “Ida was a great warrior, and leader of men. He had many sons, all mighty warriors, but not all wise, not all leaders of men. They jostled to fill Ida’s shoes. Glappa and Adda are dead now, and Aethelric stands clear of his remaining brothers. He is a hard man, but fair-dealing, I hear. He will be proud, and it is to that pride and to his wisdom that I must speak tomorrow.”
The youth thought, remembered his father’s words the night before, and asked “Has he more brothers?”
“Yes, Theodric, Frithwald and Hussa. All strong ambitious men. That is not a family in which to be seen as weak. And there are many others, without the family, who see themselves holding Bamburgh. They regarded Ida as merely a war-leader, chief among equals, never as a King. They see his sons as lesser men, supported only by their possession of The Rock and Fortress of Bamburgh. Yes, my son, this is not a yet a kingdom such as Kent or even Lindsey!”
One of his Gesyths called to Garrick, and he stood up, wiping off the sand, and said quietly “I thought long and hard before deciding to have you stand alongside me in that Great Hall, son. Remember that.”
Garwulf walked along the sand, and climbed the rocky ledge from which he could see Bamburgh clearly. He was still there, gazing out to sea and thinking, imagining, when Styr found him. “The Aethling has asked that you join him in the Reeve’s Hall tonight, Garwulf. I am to be your Companion.”
Garwulf had half-expected this summons. Tonight he would be his father’s son, an Aethling beside Aethling Garrick, and he knew that he must conduct himself as a Man among Men.
“I thank you.” he said, his voice becoming more formal as his thoughts raced.
As yet, as a boy, he had no man-servant. He had no war-gear to clean and needed no assistance to wash his face of a morning, brush his teeth, slip on shoes, hose and shirt, or buckle on his belt and seax. Suddenly uncertain, he turned to Styr.
“ Styr, I would be grateful if you would look over my dress and gear before we go.”
“My pleasure, My Lord.” said Styr.

l

That evening in the hall passed easily enough, despite Garwulf’s early nervousness. He entered at Garrick’s side, and was introduced to the Lords and Gesyths at the High Table. He was accepted, and whilst Garrick took his place amongst the leaders, he and Styr found themselves just above the salt. There were no churls eating in this assemblage, except for a few functionaries supervising the slaves, and the meat they put before him was good. As his father had advised, he drank little, spoke less, and soon Styr was by his side, bidding him see to his men at the ship. He rose, asking permission of his father and of the reeve to leave.
Outside he found sweat drying on his face in the cool breeze. “Phew. And we must go through all that rigmarole again tomorrow, but far worse?” he said to Styr.
“No, tomorrow will simply be an audience. After the Aethling presents you and his leading Gesyths, you will retire back to us, and stand among your own. The Aethling talks for us all tomorrow. He will repeat what is said, after, and we will hear.”
The morning saw blue skies, but a blustery breeze, and a few loiterers saw them set sail to Bamburgh, with the reeve and his Gesyths gathered to bid them well. The busy life of Lindisfarne continued even when an Aethling sailed.
It was here, captive on the beach, that Wave-Cleaver’s beauty overwhelmed the boy, her lines curved exquisitely, from her long keel lifting high, to proud stem, swooping up again to high stern-post. From gunwale to the lowest strake abutting the keel, she looked natural, living, straining at her reins, willing her crew to take her back to her natural element, the sea.
She was a long-ship, and looked to be a fine example of the shipwright’s art, clinker built with each strake overlapping the one beneath, capable at a pinch of carrying a further half score of fighting men.
Her name was apt. To those coming upon her unexpectedly at sea, or looming from the mist, her black pitch coating making her seem like a raven of death when under the rising and falling oar-blades.
This morning’s voyage was to be a short one and the men would row in all their finery. The raked mast was not raised in her midships position for this journey. These men were sea-men, not truly sailors. The sail was useful with the wind astern, but difficult to tack under, and rather unwieldy. Wave-Cleaver depended on the muscle and sinew of her men.
The ship met the surf, and glided through the frolicsome waves to rest, bucking like the war-horse she was. The crew loosed the ropes and waded out to her, their weapons held high. Once aboard, with each man going to his own station, but alongside hung the shields of the warriors, emblazoned with their arms and symbols, and the great White Dragon was raised at the prow.
Bamburgh, seen from a distance across the sea-channel as they closed the shore was an imposing rock with seemingly puny fortifications which grew greater with each sea-mile as they neared her, until it was almost all that Garwulf could think of and comprehend, The sea-girt Rock stood proud of a long white strand, fronted by banked sand-dunes, gulls wheeling over her towers and walls.
Having steered out to sea to avoid the headland and sand-banks afore tuning sharply in towards the shelving beach north of a postern gate, those mighty walls now towered above them. The wooden palisades were fast being replaced by hand-chiselled stone-work, seemingly growing out of the living rock, and finely shaped, allowing little hand or toe-hold. Soon plaster and a smooth lime coat would protect it further against assailants and the elements. The son’s of Ida were determined to hold this great fortress. Aethelric’s writ must run far afield to have attracted so many crafts-men, and his wealth great to pay them, thought Garwulf. These were freemen, skilled masons and builders, and even the slaves had to eat.
And so it was. Men said it was the mightiest hold of the Englisc along this coast. Garwulf has seen it from the sea, and seen it grow closer as they rowed towards the beach. It had loomed large in his imagination, but in truth the reality was far more impressive.
Spears and helms glinted on the battlements, helmet plumes tossed, and they took down the White Dragon before gliding in through the soft surf and up onto the beach. The lower postern opened, and armoured men debouched, shields and spears in hand. Garrick leapt down and introduced himself to the foremost Gesyth.
“Yes, my Lord Aethling, we have been expecting you. My name is Beardnoth. I bid you Good Day, and ask that you accompany me to my Lord Aethelric’s Hall.”
“I thank you for the honour you do me and my men.” replied Garrick. He saw his ship secured, and that Beardnoth himself posted guards upon her.
They were led through a dusty palisaded forecourt which led to a narrow cleft in the rock. Above them stood a stone gatehouse covering the entire forecourt. More soldiers saluted them and swung wide the gates. They climbed up to the buildings on the undulating plateau, protected by even higher walls around the Rock’s circuit. The buildings, mostly of timber or wattle and daub, closely thatched, ranged from outbuildings and pens to fine guest-halls. Beardnoth led them along a road to the highest point of the Rock, to an imposing hall that had to be Aethelric’s own.
All around was the bustle of a town within the fortress. Men of all stations, and none. It was a mixed population in Bernicia, and Garwulf recognised a Christian priest. It was odd to see here the last thing he had expected, a Churchman. His tonsure and dress seemed so different from the rare travelling Christian priests he had seen in Lindsey. His religion was to Garwulf some strange survival from the old days, although his maternal Grandfather might have Christian tendencies, descended as he was from Englisc foederati, or allies, of Rome. They had long been in this land.
All these impressions and thoughts crowded his mind for an instant as they neared the hall itself, the doors guarded by huge whale-bones, with monumental carvings of Gods and Beasts intertwined with serpents on the lintel and on the roof-arches.
Beardnoth said that, by the Aethling’s leave, he would announce them to the King.
So this was it, thought the boy. No waiting about, no boredom leading to frustration. He realised, perhaps for the first time, who his Father was, and his status among men. That was something he had largely taken in his stride, and accepted, when he was growing up.
Beardnoth led the way into the hall. Guards clashed spears, doors opened wide. They were not asked to disarm, but the Gesyths doffed their helmets and the churls their leather Phrygian hats. In this fine morning light the hall was spacious, the feast-benches pushed to the sides, and the way clear to the high-table beyond the hearth. Only tapestries hung on the walls, the warrior’s shields which hung there of an evening gone now, close with their bearers, upon their daily business. As they were announced a door opened at the far end of the hall, to one side of the high-table, and a man entered, backed by two other men. The foremost was Aethelric, the other two his brothers Theodric and Frithwald. ‘A mixed bag’ thought the boy, and caught himself from snorting in his embarrassment and nervousness.
And so they were. These surviving sons of Ida were war-lords, and held their position through strength, courage, ruthlessness, and no little brains. Aethelric stood out among his brethren, his presence dominating the hall.
Once Aethelric and his brothers had taken their places at the high-table the Aethling approached, bowing his head, and introducing his son, the warranty of peace and good-will. Aethelric acknowledged his guest in kind, naming his brothers, and the talking began. Much of it passed the youth by. He retreated to his comrades towards the back of the echoing hall. He was absorbing his surroundings, feeling the atmosphere. Up close there with Father he had for a moment sensed a kind of physical frailty about Aethelric, as if his time at the head of his war-band would be short. He thought his father felt it too. The negotiations drew to a close. Garrick had won Aethelric’s support, and sworn to be his man for land recognised as Aethelric’s. Perhaps the thought that this was a personal oath to another man, Aethelric himself, and not to the King of Bernicia, made him all the more ready to swear. Aethelric’s brothers had noted the wording, but said nothing. They were men looking for allies in the future, not likely to alienate such a powerful man as an Aethling of Lindsey.
They parted with words of good fellowship, but were not asked to feast with the King that night, and Beardnoth once more led them into the morning sunlight. “Of course the youngest brother Hussa was not here.” he told Garrick. “He is away clearing the hills of these pestilent Welsh. It is like swatting gnats. Their cavalry ride down and savage our frontiers, our churls never feeling secure in their homes.”
Garrick heard that the outlying farmsteads were forts in their own right. This surprised the man from Lindsey, where a man rarely enclosed village or hall. They safe-guarded their people by the sword.
“The shield-wall is impervious to cavalry in open battle.” agreed Beardnoth, “but it does not come to that. We inch forward, and stand to hold the ground we take, but our warriors are simply not as mobile as their riders. We hear that Urien of Rheged is mustering allies, and believe that one day he will face us on the raven’s-field”
Garwulf had heard tell of Urien. A man from the old mists of the past, who called himself by the ancient Roman title of Protector, and who strove to gather all the lesser men of the Celtic North.
A man lost in the past, perhaps, but also by the sound of it an efficient leader of soldiers. Because that is what the boy had learnt of Urien’s men, that besides the leaders, who were very similar to honourable Gesyths, the men were led by paid professional soldiers, who trained their men like automatons, and drove them into battle with whips.
“They call it discipline and training.” Styr had told him when they talked of such things. “They try to drive out all the individuality in a man, then call him a soldier. Men say that to change a man from a Roman or a Briton to a slave is not such a big step.”
Garrick asked if he could look from the wall at the country inland, and received both permission and a guide from the courteous Beardnoth. Below was rich farming land, with pasture in the distance and covering the lower and nearer hills. The sun was just past noon and in the far distance they could see serried ranks of great hills, fells, old forest on their steeper slopes, with secondary growth higher up.
“The Welsh used to farm the thinner soils up on the hill-tops.” said Beardnoth, “but our churls with their heavier ploughs prefer the loamy lowlands. We pasture our stock on the hills nowadays.”
“But deeper in those high hills many a Welshman must lurk, ready to slit a herdsman’s throat.” stated Garrick flatly. Beardnoth agreed with a jerk of his head.
They parted, to find Wave-Cleaver as they had left her, and set out on the return voyage to Lindisfarne.

l

There the men gathered. They had heard all that had been discussed, understood the delicate under-currents, and were loud in their praise for Garrick on their return. Garrick called a formal Moot, or meeting, and made his proposals.
“Men, I believe this a good gamble. We shall make this our base, and voyage out into the Northern Seas to find our new home. We take land beyond Aethelric’s writ. Many men have gone before us, and the coast is strongly held and not only by the Welsh. Men of our blood often still hold the lands the Romans granted their ancestors as Federates. We will not raise blood-feud or fight our brothers in this new land, if we can avoid it. We seek the territory of foreigners, of the Welsh, to make our own, to farm and build upon!”
Great acclamation met his words, and the men dispersed, Garrick to provision his vessel, his men to sharpen their blades and discuss their ideas of an ideal settlement
Herewulf’s job was to supply the ship’s needs, but he was supervising some minor re-caulking on Wave-Cleaver, and Garrick had felt the need for amusement, and took on the task of provisioning himself. Garrick was known not to be recruiting, content with his select Hearthwearu, and hoped that he would not be bothered with would-be recruits as he walked around the booths.
He had taken Garwulf and Styr with him. Whilst bickering with a merchant, out of the corner of his eye he saw on the pasture land beyond the settlement what seemed to be the beginnings of a brawl. Garwulf, bored with hucksters, moved across, the better to see what was happening, and Garrick good-humouredly followed his son.
A very young man, a churl by his dress, was surrounded by fully armed Gesyths, at least four of them, and all as youthful as their quarry. One of the Gesyths had taken the lead, and demanded that the son-of-a-whore return with them immediately. Unabashed and grinning, the churl, ruddy faced and stocky, replied in kind, remarking that at least he had known his own father, as all who knew him here could attest!
As Garwulf arrived, his father and Styr almost in tow, the first Gesyth drew a long blade, a pattern-welded sword of the finest craftsmanship, and thrust at the churl. Moving almost like an acrobat the churl moved in a blur, somehow circled the Gesyth, pulled his arm behind his back, and, drawing his seax, held it at the other man’s throat. Styr whistled, and Garwulf gasped. Neither had seen such a display before. Garrick looked on with a smile.
There was clearly an impasse. The Gesyths could not move as they valued their companion’s life. The churl remained on the defensive but still had a grin on his honest broad face, still held the seax at his tormentor’s throat. Suddenly Garrick stepped forward, and spoke. The Gesyths, recognising the Aethling, held their ground, but ceased their growls.
They also looked long and hard at Styr, thoughtfully fingering the hilt of his long sword, which, if anything, looked a finer blade than the one already drawn, and the chosen weapon of an experienced professional warrior. Styr’s arm-rings and torque told their own tale.
“What is the cause of this raucous behaviour? Why should Gesyths choose such unseemly prey?” he inquired. Two or three voices answered as one, but he chose his spokesman, an impetuous-looking youth.
“You, Sir!”
The Gesyth looked around at his companions, and they nodded. “This slave showed me disrespect, My Lord.” he spluttered, indignantly.
“I am a free men.” shouted the churl.
“I did not ask you, You will have your turn.” Garrick said curtly.
“How has he shown you disrespect, Sir, and if so why should a Gesyth like yourself need so many companions in order to teach him manners?”
“Do you see that fine blade he holds at my brother’s throat?” asked the Gesyth. “Well, I asked him how he came by it, intending to find the man he stole it off, and to return it.”
“And if this was a stolen seax, why the posse for a single churl?” asked Garrick.
“When I asked the whore-son about the knife, he refused and he abused me”, replied the Gesyth.”That is when my comrades came by.”
“They seem to have done more than stand-by.” said Garrick briskly. “If it takes so many of you to subdue a churl, then I take pity on your Lord. It looks to me as if most of you here simply regarded a free-man as fair game.”
His contemptuous tone took them aback, and two of the Gesyths began slipping away, into the ring of onlookers, leaving the spokesman and his captive comrade alone on the field.
Garrick turned to the churl and wryly asked if he would be so kind as to loose his captive, and tell him about the origins of the knife.
“Of course, My Lord.” said the churl, and releasing the shame-faced Gesyth he moved quickly over to Styr’s side. Safely out of sword’s-reach, Garwulf noted.
“The seax is mine, given by my mother to her son on our father’s death. He was not merely a churl, but a brave man in battle, and earned this weapon the hard way.”
Garrick made up his mind. “I will speak to the reeve and inquire as to any claimants to this blade. I will also tell him that if any other claimants cannot prove their claim on their bodies, man to man, then this churl shall go free with his knife. And.” he added, “this churl is now under my protection, and his accuser will have to realise that. No man of mine will face a sword-thrust by a man wearing a mail-byrnie whilst himself unprotected.”
A momentary silence ensued, then, with a snarl of disgust the two Gesyths turned away. Their amusement over, the onlookers too drifted away.
The young man found himself alone with Garrick, his son, and Styr. Both looked non-plussed. The churl was the first to speak.
“Why, My Lord?” he asked.
“Because I have never seen a move as quick and decisive as yours.” answered Garrick. “Because your father must have been a worthy man who taught you well. Because every man should have the same courage to stand by his name, and the parents who bore and raised him. I would be glad to have your oath.”
“My Lord, I have nothing but this heirloom, and I can make the moves I do because since my mother died I have earned my bread the hard way. I inherited no land, have no living kin, and have been a tumbler, a juggler, a horse-breaker, but never a thief. I can sing and play any stringed instrument I am brought. I am Edgar son of Edda, and I bring you nothing but my blade and my name.”
And there he knelt on the pasture-green, and all men saw him swear to be Garrick’s Man, and they heard Garrick swear in his turn, and slipped off an arm-clasp to give to his new recruit.
So it was that Edgar son of Edda joined the Hearthwearu of Garrick, Aethling of Lindsey, and on the morrow claimed an empty chest-bench at the oar-seats of Wave-Cleaver.

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For it was on the dawn of that day that they first set out, sailing along the northern coasts and seeking, searching. They rounded rocky headlands, delved into sandy coves, were carried out by wild currents, risked many a tide-race, their enemies more the gods, waves, the wind, and the tides than men. Always there was a reason not to stay. Either a place was indefensible, or the coast too treacherous, a water-supply lacking, perhaps the hinterland was barren and unattractive to farm, or well-armed men made clear their disapproval at their appearance. Twice they saw well-mounted British cavalry in the cliff-tops, pacing them. Sometimes they saw smoke rising from well-built stone watch-towers, heard the brazen call of an alert garrison, and sailed on. Occasionally they were able to guest themselves on weary folk of their own kind, but more usually their sleep was restless and broken. The good weather did not hold, and twice unseasonable gales drove them back to Lindisfarne, but although Wave- Cleaver was now salt-caked, her crew red-eyed, toughened by their explorations, they set off hopefully, expectantly, and with as good a will on their third voyage as they had on their first.
By now Edgar had somehow gravitated to Garwulf, the one on board Wave-Cleaver nearest his own age. Garwulf found his attentions flattering at first, then grew to accept them. Styr watched, amused. It was time the boy took a man-servant. Soon he would have need of the services of a good churl, one personally loyal, just as did most Gesyths, except for a man such as Styr. A warrior was taught to be self-reliant, but one of the standing of an Aethling’s son, an Aethling by blood himself, should have such a man by his side.
Garrick also watched. Solitary as his son had been, this voyage was bringing out his best qualities. He was earning the respect and loyalty of the tough men even of the Hearthwearu. Garrick was content.
Edgar was on his oar on the morning of that third attempt. It was not a day such as the one on which they had arrived at Bamburgh – that had been a day with white gulls wheeling in the blue sky. Today was a grey wave-tossing morning with a thin cutting breeze slow to disperse the morning fog.
The breeze was soon looking to blow harder, bringing threatening waves with increasing visibility. Unexpectedly he heard a chuckle from Garwulf seated on the combing nearby. Garwulf took his turn at the oars, but not this early after the launching, when skill and experience were all. “Oh, there are times when I wish Hunlaf were here. Today promises to be such a day. I would love to see the snivelling wretch puke his guts out later today!”
He chuckled “Remind me when we do ship with that bastard again to ask Father to seat him downwind of me!”
Curious, Edgar found himself asking “Who is this Hunlaf, my Lord?”
Garwulf caught himself. Edgar was but a churl he had just met, but he trusted those brown eyes already, so he went on:” My father, Garrick, was sword-brother to his father Godfred. Garrick took Hunlaf in on his parents’ death. He is not a member of Garrick’s Kin, my Kin. Father took him in as he has no known kin-folk. He is the biggest rogue in Lindsey. A sneaking underhand thing. If you ever find yourself in a dice-game with him, mind his hands and beware of his long sleeves. Oh, they say he is handsome enough for the girls, but as my mother told me, handsome is as handsome does.......”
A hail from the look-out brought idle gossip to an end. Glimpses of another black long-ship ghosted in and out of the mist. The far-sighted Garrick peered long and hard then waved and called a greeting, as did the other vessel. They stayed on the alert until she again vanished in a fog-bank. This was the North.
The wind did blow harder. Garwulf did row. They beached most nights under strong guard. The food as ever grew more tasteless with each passing day. The men’s spirits remained high. The weather seemed to vary with each dawning. Sunshine and blue skies, grey drizzle and soaking-rain, but fortunately no gales such as they had run from before, because only a fool stands brave against the Gods. They were temperamental, as were men. Most men prayed to Thunor, the god of the sea and protector of seamen, and did not grumble even at the storms lit by his lightning-bolts. Hunlaf wore his swastika hammer symbol on his shield in honour of Thunor. Garwulf, like most men, respected Woden, the Sky-Father, the one-eyed Wanderer, whose two ravens, ‘Thought’ and ‘Mind’, kept him informed of the goings-on in the world. His father had especially led him to worship Tiw, whom old men sometimes said was the real Lord of the Heavens. For Tiw was the War God, the one who stood in the shield-wall beside a Man in the shock and fury of battle, the fear, sweat, and stink close, by the side of the man alone, in a thought-less maelstrom of iron.
Late one afternoon, with the sun’s evening rays already slanting down, they were looking for the usual night’s landing-site. The look-out hailed, softly, and Garrick stiffened. They were sailing further out than usual to avoid the rocks guarding the shore, and the Black Ship was already half-way past a small white cove, guarded both north and south by two promontories. On the furthest of these, the highest, was a tower.
No guard appeared to see them, although a wisp of smoke rose lazily, and proved the Tower held. Perhaps the evening sun, shining strongly in the eyes of any watcher, kept Wave-Cleaver from being seen. They had not been long since coming out from behind the first outcrop. Perhaps it was sheer incompetence.
Garrick called softly to his men to make as little noise as possible in lowering the black sail, leaving the White Dragon only under oars. Two men were stationed in the bows to sound the depth with lines as he manoeuvred the Black Ship close to the largest rock, almost an islet. There he anchored. The sun was falling fast to the horizon. They might escape unseen until night-fall. Gesturing to his helmsman Styr he whispered in his ear and the young Gesyth stripped and dived into the water and swam slowly and quietly towards the rock, and began to climb its slippery white guano covered side.
His men understood without a word. They hoped that this was the opportunity they had long looked for. Even if there was nothing worth the taking here, and its hinterland waste, at least the lax appearance of the inhabitants promised little effort in the taking. They watched Styr closely, and when he returned there were many hands ready to help him aboard.
Shivering, he wrapped a cloak about himself, and spoke to Garrick, who then turned and in a soft clear voice addressed the crew. “Styr has seen a clear channel in through the rocks to the beach. The lesser headland is bare. The beach shelves gently, ideal for taking in the ship and beaching her. There seems only one easy path up to the top of the larger promontory, and that is guarded by the tower. However Styr believes that he has seen enough to climb the cliffs and to take the lazy Welsh in the rear. He saw only one head above the parapet, and even at that distance could swear that he was dozing!” The men liked the sound of that!
“Men, this is by far our best chance in all our long voyaging. The fields inland which we have been able to see when we have beached at night seem to be good. This could be made into a true stronghold and keep for a settlement. At least there will be war-loot for men willing to take it!”
Styr quickly recovered. The plan was simple. Styr and three others would land first in the skiff in the hour before moonrise. They would scale the cliff and wait, examine the ground and defences. One man would keep his eyes on the ship. After two hours the ship would sprint silently for the shore. There would be no signal. Garrick would lead the reinforcements up the path, while Herewulf and Garwulf, with four trusted churls guarded the ship, ready to cover any retreat.
Garwulf turned to his father. Before he could speak Garrick squeezed his shoulder, and said “Not now, Son.”
Garwulf subsided. At least Edgar would be one of the churls left guarding the ship with him.
The men prepared silently for battle. They lowered the skiff and Styr and his comrades rowed with muffled oars for the shore. It was a clean approach, and the watchers thought that they saw them secure the boat and begin to climb the cliffs.
Garwulf heard what happened next from Styr himself. “The climb was easy enough, as was the approach to the tower. We passed through a few hovels making up the village below the Tower. The hamlet stands on a sort of ledge or step. The village was deserted. All the people were in the Tower. The ditch was almost filled in, but the stockade gate was barred. We saw a man on the ramparts of the tower, and one above the gate. There seemed to be some sort of drunken celebration going on. Not even the two guards seemed sober, turning and shouting to each other and to others in the courtyard below. We were really in luck. We found a place within bow-shot where the undergrowth had grown back, and young Bertred crawled to a vantage point from which he could see you and the ship, and we could see him. Haesta carefully chose his truest shafts, and we waited.”
They had not long to wait. As the sounds of revelry within the stockade began to subside as drink-sodden celebrants began to fall silent and into sleep, the black ship glided silently out from behind the rocks and toward the cliff and the small sandy cove at its foot.
Bertred signalled. Haesta drew and shot two war-arrows in quick succession. His skill with the bow was legendary. Both guards seemed to fall in the same moment, soundlessly. The ship grounded and the four Gesyths crossed the clogged ditch where the palisade was collapsing inwards. A few moments and they were over. Before them was a scene of chaotic disorder. Most of the inhabitants were probably in a drunken sleep in the Tower and outbuildings, but a few were happily staggering about the courtyard, toasting each other and whatever and whoever was the cause of their good cheer. Two couples at least lay in dark corners. No one looked up, or noticed the absence of the guards they had so recently been talking to.
Bertred joined them. The ship had grounded. Garrick should be on the path by now. The men parted swiftly, Haesta and Bertred to sidle along inside the wall to the gate and unbar it when they heard Garrick’s owl-call, Styr and his companion to ready themselves to hold the main door to the Tower.
Styr heard the owl-hoot, and Haesta’s reply as he slipped out of the shadows to unbar the gate. He heard Garrick’s men charge within, but saw them not, his mind fully on his allotted task. There was some confusion as they brushed past the scattered people in the courtyard, bleary questions quickly cut short. They mounted the steps to the door, heard a doubtful challenge and Styr thrust his sword into the guts of a half-armed warrior. He collapsed, and the two Engliscmen looked around them at the hall.
Men were slumped at their benches, others had slid under them. The women were more alert than the men, and shouted the alarm. Two men, one middle aged, the other younger, pulled weapons from the wall. A third followed, perhaps more soberly, drawing a sword. All three were dressed in soiled finery, but the third looked more of a threat.
The first two rushed clumsily upon the two Engliscmen, who stood with their backs to the door. Styr did not wait for them. Leaving his companion to hopefully guard his back, he was in amongst them in a split-second. His blade swiftly slashed right, almost cutting the right-hand Welshman in twain. Quickly withdrawing his blade he stabbed into the bowels of the second, who fell in dying agony. The third man fell back. He was far from being in fighting condition, but had good fighting instincts. His sword-play surprised Styr. This man was dangerous. Twice the Welshman parried Styr’s cuts, and backed slowly towards the hearth. The other Welsh were silent now, cowering, drunk or dead, covered by the second Gesyth, with the sound of Garrick’s men loudly charging their way up the steps.
One woman, she who had shouted the warning first, quickly glanced around her and defiantly plucked a knife from the table. Before the other Gesyth could react she flung it at Styr whose attention was on the swordsman. Styr ducked and almost absent-mindedly slashed her down, cutting her face wide open in a bloody gash from eye to jaw. She fell dying among the rushes, screaming soundlessly. Styr’s eyes had never left those of the swordsman.
A few more passes between them showed the weakness of the Briton’s old factory-made Roman sword. The fine pattern-welded steel of Styrs’ sword bent it and made it twist in the other’s hand. Frustrated and unable to get past Styr’s guard, seeing his death in those ice-cold eyes, and with no help coming, the Briton threw caution to the winds and hurled himself at Styr. Styr ran him through. The Briton’s desperate strength still drove home his own poor sword. It made no impression on the fine-wrought links of Styr’s waist-length byrnie. Styr wiped his sword on the dead man’s tunic and, looking down, regarded him for long seconds. “A brave man. I must know your name.” he said out loud.
There was no more resistance. Garrick charged in, shield and sword ready. They hustled the prisoners into the courtyard along with those Garrick’s men had taken, searched each floor of the tower, and dragged out the dead. Garrick had ordered that their be no looting or unnecessary killing. Their first priority was to secure the prisoners, their second to be on their guard against a bid to recapture the Tower, and for news of that they must interrogate the prisoners.
The information was easily forthcoming. Shock had overwhelmed the captives. From owl hoot to Garrick’s entry into the hall had taken no more than five minutes, and in that time Garrick heard that he and his men had killed not only their Lord, but his only son whose marriage day this was. His bride, she who had hurled the knife at Styr, and everyone of the half-dozen armed guards their lord had had at his disposal – either on the ramparts, in the Hall, or during Styr’s charge through the courtyard, had been killed. He identified the headman of the village, and found Edgar a ready speaker of Welsh – Garrick was heard to mutter that there was much to discover about that young man.
“Who was your Lord?” demanded Garrick
“ Brendan, your Honour.” he was told by the headman, ”although His Roman name is Flavius Decimus. His son too was a Flavius, but known to us by other names. His wife was a nobody, My Lord. She was my daughter.”
“I see.” said Garrick.”Already I begin to learn about your village politics.” Garrick grinned grimly. “You are no longer Headman. You and your immediate family will be held close until we free you. Fear not. You will be fed and well-treated. If we discover that your duties have been well performed, and feel that you can be trusted, you will walk free.”
Garwulf understood his father’s words. The headman was to be hostage for all the villagers.
Styr stepped forward, and with a nod to his Lord, said to the ex-headman, shortly, “If she was your daughter you breed spirited children. She was brave.” He nodded to the ex-headman. “Be proud of her. Very Proud.” The ex-headman bowed his head.
Styr added “I would know the name of the swords-man who fought me.”
“Caradoc, Sir. He led Brendan’s bully-boys.”
“I care not for his life. He died a Man and a Warrior.” said Styr flatly. He will be buried separately from the others, with his weapons and war-gear”
A slight man in a crumpled and dirty cassock stood forward and said “Sir, I am Luke, a Priest of Christ. Caradoc was a Christian, of my flock. I would beg you award him Christian burial.”
“So be it.” said Garrick, after seeing Styr nod. “But once you have buried your dead, leave this settlement. I will have none of your spying ways.”
It appeared that Brendan, or Flavius, had no close kin or allies. In these troubled times many had claimed his allegiance, but he had been a wily man, however humble a lordling. He even married his own to avoid entanglements. Garrick would not have to fear an immediate attack, although he would take all precautions.
In the fine dawn light he stood with his son on the ramparts, and together they looked out over the panorama spread beneath them. “First we must put a permanent watch on that southern headland, I want no man to surprise me as I surprised Brendan. From that vantage-point not even a skiff can lurk behind those rocks. These Welsh were not seamen. I must buoy the channel, patrol the cliffs.”
A river debouched from the distant hills and meandered across the plain. It cut through the cliffs in a series of small waterfalls by which Styr and his comrades had climbed the previous night, and flowed over the sands to the sea. “It was fortunate that we did not see all the hazards of landing here.” Garrick told Garwulf. “It might have discouraged us.”
Turning inland he looked at the miserable hovels in the village below. “Brendan obviously taxed his peasants to the limits in their daily lives. No wonder they took full advantage of a rare holiday at their Lordling’s expense – although no doubt he would have made them pay heavily for their hangovers.”
Beyond the fields was rough pasture, the rising land gradually changing into hummocked moor-land. The rocky moors were not flat but cut by ancient watercourses, some of which still flooded in winter and spring, turning much of the land to treacherous bog. Deep hollows and crooked fissures pockmarked the landscape. The rocks and hillocks were sculpted into weird and wonderful shapes by wind and water. Clumps of gorse and heather were interspersed by bent and twisted trees. Out there a man could search and find traces of The Old Ones from long ago, their carved standing stones hidden by time and neglect. Isolated rocky outcrops were sometimes linked by saddles to simulate miniature ranges as the moor rose, stretching away to the faraway hills, blue in the morning sunshine. ”Brendan was a mean fool.” Garrick continued. “A little more risk, a little more expense, and he could have taken many more acres under the plough. Much more of that pasture-land can be ploughed. Our ploughs are heavier and cut a straighter furrow. Then we can graze our stock further out.”
“Yes, he said to his son. “ This will be our home. Here we will build. We will make ourselves secure, ride the moor together, then send back Wave-Cleaver for your mother, and for the others.”
As he turned he saw the little priest, and stopped. Before he could talk, the cleric spoke “My Lord. I am not a fighting-man, but a man of God, a man of peace. I will be no spy. No lord now has claim upon me, no bishop is nearer than Carlisle. I beg you to allow me to continue serving my flock. I am a good healer. I can tend your wounds and help you in sickness. My flock would want me to comfort them in these times”
Garrick thought. This man might help to keep the Welsh in line, readier to accept the new order. He would need their labour.
“You may stay, Priest. First I want from you and your ex-headman a thorough accounting, of every beast, plough, tool, and person, on this land. Inform me of each man or woman’s skills and gifts.”
A more personal thought had crossed his mind. His beloved wife Elfgivu was born of true stock on the Wall, of warriors who had long served Rome, before the Romans had scuttled back to their looted city and left these miserable Welsh to do their own fighting. Such as his wife’s family had served them well and loyally, but as the people they served dissolved in civil war they had bethought them of their kinsfolk from across the seas, and joined hands with them. His wife, like many long-settled foederati, had a few Christian ways, that she never mentioned to her husband. Garrick loved his wife, and wanted to try to please her. It would perhaps suit her to have a priest near.
When the little man had vanished back to his humble wattle and daub chapel, father and son looked down upon the courtyard where their jesting warriors worked and supervised the villagers. They both knew that they had not taken a mighty fortress or realm, but just a petty tower once built by the Romans to watch these coasts. Still in these days of wattle and daub it gave Garrick status. And a claim.
Both also saw their toe-hold for what it really was. Here they were far from both Englisc and British princes, even beyond Aethelric’s writ. Once their Lady and Osred arrived with her reinforcements they could make themselves secure, and build. Then they could test their neighbours, find how far they could find their natural bounds. Theirs was only a watch-tower, but the Englisc needed no walls. They would build their homes here near it. From here they would take their land in The North. The iron in Garrick’s hair told the world of experience, and he still showed strong of arm and firm of speech, and he had a son beside him to be proud of. Garrick might not lead a war-band as mighty as that of Aethelric, but for all that he was subject to no man.
As for the Welsh, they were many, the Englisc few, but the contest was still unequal. It was between a dynamic and innovative Warrior culture set against a crumbling one which lived for past glories. The Englisc sang songs of the Heroes of old in order to inspire their young, but the Welsh sang theirs as mourning dirges. This was their Wyrd.

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The rune ‘G’ for Gar
‘S’ as in Styr
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