Monday 13 May 2024

The Servant’s Tale by Penny Rogers, a flagon of mead

Edward was crowned in 975 following the death of his father Edgar.  Edgar’s death had precipitated a power struggle between supporters of his older son Edward and those who favoured his younger son Æthelred.

 

 In March 978 the teenage King Edward visited Æthelred at Corfe in Dorset. There is no certainty about exactly what happened, but we do know that Edward was murdered as he waited to be admitted. There is much conjecture concerning the role of Ælfthryth, Edward’s stepmother, in the assassination of the young king.

 

I, Hrothgar, am the loyal servant of King Edward.  He had desired to visit his half-brother Æthelred; for what purpose I knew not, and Kings do not have to give their vassals a reason. We journeyed to Corfe, that Royal Hall of feasts, kinship and plotting, but when we got there the gates were closed. We were told that Lady Ælfthryth had not completed her preparations for her stepson’s visit.

As we waited, one of Æthelred’s churls asked to speak to the King. He explained that a favourite mare was having trouble foaling and they asked for my help; my skill with horses had made me famous all over the land.  The King himself commanded me to leave his side; I did this with reluctance and followed his brother’s churl. The fellow took me on a long walk to the stables where I found a contented mare suckling a colt that was clearly a few hours old. I sensed danger and asked if this was some sort of jape or trickery. The miserable churl shrugged. With a feeling of dread I turned to hurry back to my place by the King’s right hand.

            I climbed the steep path leading to the gate where King Edward and his small company of men yet waited to be admitted. It was late afternoon, and wild March winds were howling across the hills of Purbeck. As the gate came into view, through the sound of the storm I heard a scream, a wail of mortal agony. Then I heard a piercing neigh, the high pitched sound that horses make when in terror, followed by the clatter of hooves tearing away over the rocky ground.

            I ran to the gate to find Æthelred’s thanes clustered around Lady Ælfthryth. She appeared angry and disconcerted. It was well known that she had championed her son to succeed his father, but Edgar’s older son, Edward, had been crowned. Ælfthryth had never accepted it. I arrived breathless to see blood on the ground but no sign of the King or his horse, nor indeed any of our churls who were supposed to be guarding him. Perhaps the King still lived?

I heard her say ‘Find him. Make certain he is dead and his body is buried with all haste,’ and I saw three of Æthelred’s thanes leap onto horses and gallop into the fading light.

But it was I, Hrothgar, who found the King’s horse many hours later. She had galloped twelve furlongs, dragging the King over stones, through brambles and briars and water. His broken and bloodied body still hung from the saddle, the ankle gauntlet on his left leg trapped in the stirrup.

            The hilt of a blade protruded from his neck, his fuzzy boy-man beard caked in blood and mud. The anointed King had been slain most brutally. It was a sight to make strong men tremble and weep.

About the author 

Penny Rogers lives in Dorset in the south of England. She writes mostly short stories, flash fiction and poems and facilitates an informal writing group. She is a regular contributor to CaféLit. When she’s not writing Penny makes jams, pickles and preserves from home grown or foraged produce. 

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2 comments:

  1. What an interesting story and from a different perspective. It really brought things to life

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  2. Thank you. It is interesting to consider what might have happened in the context of what did happen.

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