The overexcited maidservant burst into Aelswyn chambers, desperate to tell her what she had overheard from the guards in the kitchen. Aelswyn lifted her gaze from the shirt she was embroidering with frozen fingers, seated at the window. She frowned at the girl; at sixteen years of age, she should know how to behave. She was to be married soon, and her future husband might not be as lenient as herself with her childish deportment.
The girl flustered under her Mistress disapproving glare and bowed, suddenly remembering her manners.
“Pardon me my Lady, I just heard the most incredible news. The Vikings, well one Viking, he was there and he wanted your hand and your father, he killed him!" she said without taking her breath.
Aelswyn sighed and asked her to calm down. Her servant was not making sense. She decided to interrogate her:
“Edith, who was that Viking, do you know what he was doing here?”
“I think they said he was a messenger, that’s it, from Sven something, he carried a white flag.”
“And what was the message about?”
“He wanted your hand in marriage, for his chief, and your father refused.”
Aelswyn scoffed. Of course, her father had been waiting for a much better suitor for her: the second son of the King, who was just coming of age. He was quite younger than her, but their union would secure the Duchy for the King, and increase the Duke’s closeness to power. Her dowry had already been set, and the contract would be signed soon.
“Is that why my father had him killed?”
“No, he ordered him out, but then the man declared war and insulted him, he must have lost his mind!”
“So the guards got rid of him?”
“Yes, and beheaded him, see, they are mounting his head on the stake right now!”
She pointed at the opening and Aelswyn’s eyes followed her direction. A male head, still dripping blood was being placed over the wall straight in front of her room. She would be having a great view of the crows eating those glazed blue orbs, pulling on that long red hair, and picking at those dead smiling lips. Disgusting!
Then it hit her: why was the man smiling? Surely dying was not a reason for merriment?
“A messenger you said? With a white flag? Not a negotiator?”
Edith shrugged, already loosing interest.
“That’s what they said my Lady.”
A cold shiver ran down Aelswyn’s spine. How could her father not see the trap? Messengers with a white flag were just innocent vessels for someone else’s words, and therefore harming them was deemed a vile act. This Viking chief was a cunning man, using the Duke’s ill temper to his advantage. Her father would get no support from his allies when the longships appeared. He just gave the first blow.
Aelswyn looked around her, hoping that the fort would hold, come the day. She grabbed her cloak, intending to do the only thing in her power: pray.
Lying low in the soaked grass on top of the hill, the scout grinned at the gory sight. It was better than expected, Sven would be pleased. Even in his wildest dreams, he had never hoped for such a public display.
The scout crawled back, taking to a run when he was sure to be out of view. His fellowmen were waiting in the nearby forest, and it took him only a few minutes to join them. The chief was seated against a tree, a blanket partly shielding him from the pouring water.
“They killed him Sven!” he panted, “They showed off his head!”
Sven laughed at the thought. These proud Saxons were so easy to manipulate! Must be their Christian faith, they used to be worthy warriors when they were pagans.
He patted the shoulder of his second in command, just beside him.
“Your brother did well, Olaf. He redeemed himself by dying like a true warrior. He brought honor to your family. I will make sure his courage will not be forgotten”
Olaf squared his broad shoulders and lifted his chin proudly:
“I claim the right to light the pyre at his funeral, as my privilege. May the Valkyries guide him to Valhalla!”
Sven nodded in approval, then motioned his men to come closer:
“Everything is going according to plan. Get ready to attack at dusk. You know what to do."