Read all ten Lost Tales compiled in one edition. Ten short stories explore Anglo-Saxon England through the eyes of ten intertwined lives: from a blushing maid to a bold mother, from a daring soldier to an unready king, and many others. The tales introduce the people who will fight, love, and betray each other until the rightful king claims the throne in the novel, "Eadric the Grasper."
WORCESTERSHIRE, 993 A.D.
Even the lazy pigs stirred to life when Alfric and his men came riding over the hills. The hogs rolled and squealed, bobbing up and down on stubby legs as they ran around in mass confusion. The dog barked, lifting wiry haunches from the dirt to point his muzzle and boom his howl of alert. The horizon undulated as the ealdormen’s cavalry sliced black silhouettes against the iron gray clouds. Chills raked down Golde’s skin as she watched, though the breeze brushing her pale hair blew with the warmth of spring.
“Hunwald?” she called. “Hunwald!”
She heard no response from the swineherd: only the thunder of Alfric’s men galloping closer. Then, over the cacophony of thudding hooves, grunting pigs, and barking dogs, she heard a child yelling.
She turned just as his little hands struck her skirt, pulling and tugging. She looked down at his big blue eyes, unable to be mad at him even though she wished that right now, he would simply disappear. “Eadric, find Hunwald and tell him to put up the pigs.”
“I’ll do it myself.”
Golde shook her head helplessly at the boisterous seven-year-old. Only yesterday, one of the hogs had flattened him in the mud and nearly crushed his chest. Already, he seemed to have forgotten the incident. His thick yellow curls lashed against his face in a visage of defiance. “No,” said his mother, “you’ll help him, and then you’ll feed the pigs yourself while Hunwald joins me inside. Can you do that?”
“I suppose.” As if noticing them for the first time, Eadric stared at the war-horses riding closer. Even in the fading sunlight, the chainmail and weaponry of the riders glinted brightly. “What’s this?” The little boy sounded more exasperated than afraid.
“Off with you!” She kicked his departing rump with too much force to be playful. Sometimes she wondered whether she had sheltered the little boy too successfully from the horrors of the world he lived in. He seemed oblivious to pain and danger.
All too soon, the riding men reached her, flinging dirt onto her dress as they reined their horses to a sudden stop. Despite their intimidating approach, there must have been only a dozen of them, most of them wounded and weary. Foam bubbled from their horses’ mouths and salt whitened their flanks. She squinted disapprovingly as she searched the score of dismounting men for the one she knew to lead them.
He was not a hard man to find. He had a head of such thick, golden curls that he could have been a second sun rising from the east as he pulled off his helm. He wore a blue mantle, though now it was stained with filth and blood, and a tunic of crushed diamond twills in flax covered his mail. It was a garment any outlaw would risk his life to obtain, so Golde thought he was a fool to wear it. He jangled from the weight of his weapons and jewelry as he blundered towards her.
“Oh, Golde!” he cried.
Before she could stop him, he fell against her and wrapped her in an embrace. He probably intended it as an embrace, at least, but it felt more like he simply threw his weight against her and expected her to hold him up.
“I’m done for—disgraced—humiliated—finished!” He clutched her fiercely, his whole frame trembling.
“You’re … pathetic!” She put her hands against his chest and pushed him back with all her might. He staggered, sapphire gaze splintered by fury and sorrow. She noted with some amusement that he had tried to grow a beard, though it was more of a vague yellow haze over his mouth and chin.
“You—you—you dare touch me like that? You miserable wench, I am an ealdorman!”