Ill winds muddy the waters
The ride through Silchester lands was a quiet one. The counties knights who had ridden as their warders returned along with them in a more friendly gesture, with both sides having reaffirmed the desire for peace. No further raids seemed to have struck on either side of the border, but trouble was once more ahead of them. Riding immediately for Sarum, the band of knights drew up warily on reaching the stables. Sir Dolwyn, the resident hippophile was the first and keenest to observe the foreign horses contentedly resting by the great hall. Laquered bow cases and overstuffed quivers of arrows still hung from saddles of unfamiliar construction, and in their midst were horses in more familiar Cymric tack – but unknown to Salisbury’s knights.
Cautiously seizing hold of Sir Oswlad the herald, the group made careful efforts to speak privately to the Lady Ellen and update her of goings on in Silchester – not least the swearing of Duke Ulfius’ oath to his new overlord. By the reports of Lady Ellens sister, (carried in secrecy by one knight alne to prevent their being carelessly spread) the Dukes oath had been sworn before the Saxon gods, and not by the christian or pagan ones loved by Logres. Lady Ellen absorbed this information as best she could, and then filled in details of the visitors at court. Sir Caddor of Cornwall with his loyal knights was present, a mercenary for hire since the death of duke Gorlois and a man of fearsome reputation. Also present and seeking coin for his strength at arms was Preator Syagrius of Gaul, along with a group of savage Hunnish horse-archers.
Returning with the Lady, the knights quickly settled down to seek out what rumours these visitors carried, and why they had come to Sarum at such an inauspicous time. Duke Idriss of Amaurica, in the absence of a stronger contender, had declared himself to be king of Cornwall, and was busily subduing his rivals and pressing against Jagent and Somerset for lands lost in the chaos. Sir Caddor was unsure of this new lord, and had absented himself rather than bend knee to a man he did not fully trust. Syagrius was present simply to fight for the highest bidder, and was interested to hear what offer Salisbury might make with war looming on the horizon.
With so ample an opportunity before him, Sir Sewyl made quick work of announcing a series of duels he intended to host – a way to satisfy the militant urges of the assembled knights in an orderly and controlled manner, and to call for donations towards a church and house of healing which he planned to build. While discussion of this made its way around court, Oswlad burst through the doors to declare once more “Saxons! Saxon armies approach milords! Three great hordes of the brutes!”
Wasting no time, Sir Maddog ordered him at once to seek clearer information, knowing from past experience that the heralds count could be wildly inaccurate at times. Looking terrified at the prospect of riding out to seek a truer account alone, Sir Brychan took pity in the interests of moving the man along and suggested that scouts would be a sensible approach to the matter. Much relieved and free of his moment of paralysis, Oswlad immediately set about his task.
In short order, it was confirmed that three parties of Saxons approached, though each was but a handful of men. They came separately and were making a clear effort to remain so as they came on. Further word confirmed them as envoys of the kings of Wessex, Sussex and Essex. Hurried preparations were made – the visiting knights were asked to retire, and the Huns led outside to speak with Sir Dolwyn on the matter of horses… and to distract that knights almost rabid hatred of the Saxon people. Cautiously the three groups were allowed to the hall of Sarum, with wary knights surrounding them as they came into the presence of the young Earl Robbert.
The first to speak was Prince Aescwine of Essex, who demanded double tribute within two months, or the armies of Essex would descend and burn all of Salisbury to ash. Only a brief discussion was needed before he was coldly informed that Sarum was not intimidated by the empty threats of false kings form lands so distant no one cared what ill formed words they chose to spew forth
Even as the abrupt and ill tempered Aescwine prepared to leave, Sir Maddog took it upon himself to speak a few final words before sending him on his way; a curse on Aescwine and all his family, that he should never know the joy of parenthood – stricken barren by the gods.
Within the hall, the more controlled and well spoken Prince Cynric of Wessex declared he was happy to await the pleasure of the young Earl, or his mother, until after their business with the envoy from Sussex was concluded.
Sparks thus struck, the young prince of Sussex stepped forward to imperiously demand, in the wake of Essex’s similar call, for three times the tribute they had already requested. Blustering and threatening dire consequences, he appeared not to notice the darkening brow of Sir Brychan until the knight stood almost nose to nose with the small Saxon. Ominously, Brychan said “Boy, you would do better to stay silent until you can stand as proudly as your bodyguards, if never as tall. When you are old enough to grow a real beard, seek me out with a sword in hand and cross blades with Sir Brychan the Wolfsbane. Until then, cease your yapping.”
Disgruntled and deflated, the Sussex Aeteling stepped away, and Brychan returned to his place in the crowd. With lines drawn in the sand, much to discuss, and two parties of Saxons hostile to one another in the house the precaution of bread and salt was taken, each leader eating before the others watchful gaze. The symbolism done, each retired to their bedchambers, as far apart as could be, while the knights settled down for a long night of urgent talk.
In the morning the Prince of Sussex was approached in a more conciliatory manner; whilst he may be a yapping fool, fis father ( King Aelle ) was well known to have a bite for worse than his bark. A message would follow within two weeks to state a full and considered response.