Chapter 2 – Early 1007 – Northman
They’d only just made it home in time. As they’d settled the horses and people within the suddenly, a little too crowded, house near Deerhurst, the faint whispers of snow had begun to fall and by the time the short day was over, the land was coated in snow that reached high up the legs of the hounds.
And it didn’t stop there either. A full week of snow followed, sometimes soft and gentle, sometimes tumultuous in its ferocity and always settling to the ground, the layers increasing daily. Those who were forced to venture outside grumbled at the severe cold and the wet, whilst those indoors grumbled at the opening of the door that presaged a sharp blast of shrill wind. Tempers did not flare because the mood within the house was sombre anyway. The realisation of what had happened to Leofwine slowly being accepted by all.
Amongst the sea of sullen faces, Northman found himself seeking the comfort of Wulfstan’s steady presence. Remarkably, of them all, he appeared the one most able to shrug the dishonour accorded to Leofwine aside. He was angry and shared his Lord’s outrage, and yet, he did not raise his voice or, when the mead flowed too freely, stand and shout curses at the King or at Eadric.
And Northman was not alone in his preference for the older man’s company. His own father was often sat with him, polishing his sword or sanding his own shield. He too calmed when Wulfstan was near and in those few days of fire and cold, heat and chill, Northman gained an insight into the power that Wulfstan held over men.
His words were never hurried, his tone rarely angry and yet, all listened when he spoke. Initially, Horic had roared and screeched with his rage, earning himself some sideways glances from Aethelflaed and his own wife that he’d ignored at his peril. Only when he’d been struck down by a monumental headache brought on by the vast quantities he’d drunk had he subsided to calmness. He too had gravitated towards Wulfstan, where Oscetel and the men of the war band had been slowly gathering.
None plotted treason or revenge. Their stoicism in the face of such treatment after they’d faced Swein of Denmark for their King and beaten him into retreat amazed Northman.
One night, as the fire in the centre of the hall had crackled and roared with the huge amount of wood heaped upon it, Wulfstan had leant towards Northman.
“What do you think lad?”
“About what?” Northman had uttered, stunned to realise these was the first words he’d spoken all day.
“Of your father’s men? Do you understand their acceptance of what’s happened, or like your brother, are you angry that the men do not shout for justice?”
Northman took a moment to consider his reply. Wulfstan was right in what he said. Leofric was angry and unmanageable. His high-pitched voice could often be heard angrily berating his younger brother and sister, and more than once, their father had been forced to intervene, carrying a sobbing Leofric to his private quarters so that they could talk about his behaviour. Northman understood the rage that cursed through his brother’s blood but couldn’t bring himself to mirror that rage.
“I think they wouldn’t be so high in my father’s esteem if they didn’t think as he did.”
Wulfstan chuckled at the reply.
“As I said boy, you’re growing wise with your years. Remember that.”
Northman nodded to show he understood the lesson.
“Do you think the King will act further against my father?” the words were forced past the lump in his throat that formed whenever he considered that possibility. They felt more harshly rung than any sentence he’d ever yet had to speak.
“No lad, I don’t. The King has no cause to drive your father further from his counsels. He needs men who are compliant and do as their told. And we all know that they’re in short supply around this King. But no, the King will let matters settle now. Eadric has what he wants, and mayhap, he too will let the dust settle before he asks for anything further from the King.”
Again, Northman nodded to show he understood.
Before him, Finn was leading the huge array of children in a fair imitation of a learning rhyme, and for the first time in years, Northman was almost tempted to add his own voice to the song of his early years. Leofric was sat with his sister, his face, for once, free from the scowl that had graced it for the last week. Near the fire, his mother sat quietly nursing the baby, a smile of contentment on her own face, free from lines of worry for the time being, and his father was embroiled in a lively debate with Horic about the virtues, or not, of the axe as both a fighting weapon and a weapon of the farm.
It all felt very normal, and Northman relaxed, his small shoulders un-tensing, his eyes half closing as he leant against Wulfstan. Normal felt good.
The songs of the children swirled around his head, like the stray smoke from the fire, and he slept where he sat, not even stirring when he felt the strong arms of his father carrying him to his bed, warmed by his already sleeping hound.