Saturday, May 27, 2017

Bretwalda - Daggers of Oxenaforda pt.4 - Fallen King

: Oxenaforda area, Danelaw's territory, Border with Wessex.
Time: February-March
Character Cast:


The founder of the Danelaw, Guthrum, is marching south to find less desolate lands into Wessex. His objective, Oxenaforda (Oxford) to winter in a position where he can negotiate the subservience of Aelfred the Great, King of Wessex. Brynjar is brokering the annexation of Oxford to the Danelaw in order to avoid a bloodshed, and secure arable land for his family.

Overtaken by politics, Brynjar promises to drain the swamp.


Off Coventry, late January
Eydis trotted towards the marching army of the Bretwalda. She soon was overtaken by Brynjar, who was unwilling to let her outshine him. A quick scan of the column revealed no signs of Guthrum. However, Brynjar ran into Aage, a powerful jarl and an uncle to him. The two men exchanged warm welcomes and settled for a meal. Aage managed to pull the entire story from Brynjar with clever lines of questionning. Brynjar's transgression in Beckley was to be forgiven. Aage suggested to hand over the saxon theign to Guthrum as a tribute.

While Brynjar was reminescing with Aage, Eydis left in search for her patron. She was followed by Aarne until they ran into the camp of the Bretwalda. At first ignored, Eydis managed to draw her patron's attention. Aarne, fearing the wrath of Eydis, started to make a fuss about a prophecy. It eventually drew Guthrum out of his tent and become attentive to his plight. By then, Aage and Brynjar had arrived with Econbert (the prisoner saxon theign). Aarne sold Guthrum to the idea that Brynjar was a broker of peace with Oxford.

By then, Osmond had maintained the attention of Aage's danes and had made plenty of friends. They rode alongside the head of the column for two days. Guthrum sent Brynjar and his retinue, accompanied by four of Aage's housecarls, to return to Oxford and extend Guthrum's terms.

Conquering England, one limerick at
 the time.
Eoffrey, earldorman of Oxford, received the news of Guthrum's arrival with resignation. He agreed to pay danegelt to the Bretwalda against the protection of his domain. Osmond had managed to suggest three areas to ransack for food. Eoffrey entrusted Brynjar to act as a liaision with the danes who were to winter in the villages of Colton and Beckley. Brynjar's danes decided to relocate to Foresthill and live under the local theign's roof for the next few weeks.

The Theign of Foresthill made room for them immediately. The danes suspected that something was amiss with this theign. However, a careful reading of the man by Osmond under the pretense of reading chicken entrails, yielded no usable information.

Wintering in the area
Guthrum arrived in Oxford and peace was agreed upon swiftly. Brynjar became the emissary for both sides as danes would not to enter the walled city of Oxford without permission. The food raids had been successful. A messenger was sent to Winchester to compel Aelfred the Great to negotiate subservience to the Bretwalda. Aelfred delayed for over a month before Guthrum lost faith in the process and decided to march south to Winchester.

Eoffrey of Oxford married Eydis after Guthrum ordered the widow to remarry. There was a feast, and the following day, the Dane army was marching into Wessex. Love is such as simple thing in yesteryears.

The two armies met along the highway and paused. A hill was selected for a day of negotiation. Slaves from both camps setup on the hill in preparation for the highest level meeting to take place in centuries. While the preparation were undergoing, Osmond lead Aarne to a patch of swamp grasses where they harvested a vile poisonous stem. Aarne brewed it into a sharp tasting concoction. He gave the poison to Osmond for later use.

The negotiation stalled and everyone became frustrated. By mid-day, it was clear that the resolution shall be made by cold steel. Each party left the hill behind. Osmond defected from the dane army to the Saxon's camp.

Osmond insisted in being baptized to anoint his sinful life of the past. Aelfred saw this as a good omen for the battle on the following day. During the evening, Osmond managed to drop the poison in the barrel of wine. The king, notorious for his frail health, became very ill. He withdrew to his tent and was out of commission for the coming few hours.

Battle of the round hill: Opening moves
The hill that was the site of a formal negotiation was repurposed as a battlefield on the following day. The danes had a slight advantage on the slope, but the real game changer was the turmoil on Wessex's lines about the ill King. Was God sending a message to the Saxons to surrender? The priests certainly didn't think so. However, it took a bit of time for the King to join the rank, and his frailty shone through his slightly oversized chainmail. Osmond grabbed a leather cap and a hatchet to blend in and shadowed the huscarls in hope to get a stab at the King.

For the next two hours, the shield walls moved back and forth as the number of fallen climbed in the hundreds. Aelfred's defensive stance wasn't good enough to blunt Guthrum's aggressive push. Brynjar had a brief stint in the wall no-man's land and gained valuable points. Aarne kept close from Aage and bolstered the morale with a few well placed, and oft witty rhymes.

At some point, on the other side of the line, Osmond slipped past the huscarls and made it in reach of King Aelfred. As he sized the chainmail and his dagger, he realized that a fatal stab would have to be neigh impossible to conceal. There was about 20 hulking giants around to grind him to a paste if he did, he had to make a split decision, and chose life. The swell and waves in the crowd drew him further as the housecarls shoved him aside.

Battle of the round hill: Guthrum going for broke
The shield wall back and forth turned into an organized retreat. Danes started to slip past the wall over the wings and pillage of the train began. Although this came at a cost for the danes, nearly 3 times as many Saxon were on the ground, pushed into an untenable position. The King's guard advised Aelfred to withdraw and let his captain to lead the retreat.

Osmond jumped to the opportunity and drew the King and 5 of his housecarls into a depression beyond the hill. The retreat was turning into a rout, the train was overrun and set afire. Brynjar and Aarne boldly made it through the collapsing shield wall and penetrated behind Saxon line. Brynjar lost control of his men as they joined the sacking of the train.

Aarne spotted Osmond's head peering out of a depression near a hedge. The dwarf drew the danes to him. He started to rave as if hundreds of danes were rushing onward to find the King. Keeping their heads down, the King and his guard came to the conclusion that surrender was the only option. When Brynjar and Aarne showed up, the King ordered his guards to surrender. Only a few minutes later it became clear that they had been played by the perfidious dwarf: no dane army was on the cusp of cutting him down to pieces.

Aelfred was tied to a pole and mocked by Guthrum and Aage all night. Five hundred men would keep crippling memories of the day, and 280 would be buried on the spot: danes and saxons side-by-side. Most of the Saxon nobles were killed if they couldn't be vouched to be ransomable. Brynjar was made a theign, but a few years later an Eardorman in Oxenaforda. He would reluctantly replace Eoffrey but let them stay with Eydis in the citadel. Aarne rejoined Ragnar and dedicated his life to advise Brynjar/Aage in matters of politics. Hallvard was granted the status of ceorl by Aage, and later on would be betraying the dane to obtain Earldorman's status in Mercia.

As for Osmond... well, history books will never connect the dots: the sickly king dropping the ball, the subterfuge, the untimely death of Alda in Beckley that opened the door to Brynjar and Hallvard to become nobles.  Who would suspect that cherub face for any of that? No one suspects the Cornish dwarf.

The last laugh, I had.

The end

Next stop: 2170AD, Asteroid belt, for a transhuman caper.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bretwalda - Daggers of Oxenaforda pt.3 - Iced-in

: Oxenaforda area, Danelaw's territory, Border with Wessex.
Time: January-Frebruary
Character Cast:


The Earldorman of Oxenaforda has invited Brynjar's danes to live under his roof in the citadel. Brynjar is itching to find a way to capitalize on this new trust from the Saxon noble. As winter is settling in, life takes a slow turn. The downtime highlights the perils of two marching armies set to clash over the city.

If another one gets diarrhea, I'm going to lose it.


Oxenaforda, First lights
After their arrival in Oxford, Brynjar's danes settled into the citadel and attempted to make a space of their own. Brynjar placed himself in the service of the Saxon Earldorman. Aarne befriended a pagan seer named Ragnar. An anti-christian resistance galvanizing around Ragnar. Hallvard spent time building a network of spies, with tentacles spanning the whole town. Brynjar and Aarne tried to engage the Earldorman into discussing a gift of land. This approach failed due to distractions as the birth of a the Earldorman's child was imminent. Hallvard queried his spies for potential farmstead sites where they could negotiate for. They were recommended to check a location near the hamlet of Foresthills.

Foresthill, 1 hour outside of Oxford
The bones are telling me pretty crazy 
stuff tonight.
Brynjar, Hallvard, Eydis and Aarne rode to Foresthill in search of a farmstead that burnt down and was never reclaimed. They passed by another stead that they assumed to belong to the theign of Foresthill. As they crossed the vale, Aarne noticed two men following them on foot. As the rest of the party explored the singed ruins, Aarne met for the stalkers.

The man was a theign, accompanied by a teenage boy. Aarne introduced themselves as the new owner of the stead, by proclamation of the Earldorman. The theign invited the danes to a meal at his home. There, they discovered that the Saxon knight was wealthy and successful. He had more tenant living in cottages than his estate really need, and had a stockpile of weapons to match. After a long conversation, Brynjar asserted that the theign has had some kind of side deal with Alda, the defunct dane leader (that they had killed a few weeks ago).

The theign was a widower just like the Earldorman. It appeared that consumption had claimed the lives of a lot of people during the past year. He attempted to court Eydis, and the other danes didn't interfere. Eydis made her usual display of contempt for the situation.

Birth of Maeve
The Earldorman had remarried very quickly after losing his wife and kids in the previous year. His new wife, Maerwynn, remained in labour for the best of the night. The household stayed up amidst the distant screams of childbirth. The full moon was driving Aarne nuts, and he has to retreat deep into an adjacent building to escape the screams and the blue light of lady moon. By early morning, a healthy baby girl was born. Eoffrey, Earldorman of Oxenaforda, paraded like a proud father.

It crossed the dane's mind that the mother, recovering in her bed at the moment, could believably die without anyone thinking about it twice. However, Aarne consulted the bones and the omen weren't good for such sinister endeavour. The Earldorman requested of Aarne an omen to mark Maeve's birth. Aarne read from the bones that Maeve's blood was brining together Saxons and Danes under Guthrum's banner. Hallvard tasked his network to spread the omen to the townsfolks. Soon, gifts from the more affluent town denizens started to arrive.

Oxford, one really bad day.
I've got a finger in every pie in Oxford
The freezing rain increased and Oxford slowly sank under the weight of blue sheer ice. The sky was purple, gray, and lifeless. The stone structure of the citadel creaked. The collapse of wooden constructions within the city walls was frequent. Townsfolk started to stream in the citadel in search of a dry patch to warm their bones. Soon, the citadel was overflowing and they began turning down people at the portcullis.

After the rain ended, a cold snap came down on the region. It turned 5-7cm of ice into steel-hard plates. The region was devastated. Overcrowding in the citadel and the remaining standing buildings soon devolved into dysentry (or something like that). Few were spared but the Earldorman.

Aarne, Brynjar and Hallvard set out to find medicinal material in the woods of Foresthill. Hallvard couldn't handle riding on sheer ice and returned to Oxford. Although the excursion was not successful due to all of that ice, they did assess the devastation and could report to the Earldorman.

When they arrived, the news of Maeve's death sank their hearts. The Earldorman had given to grief. Panic settled in the citadel and started to spread to the city.

General panic
A council of theigns was held to find a way to take control of the situation while the Earldorman was out of his mind. Beaduric was the natural next in command as Eoffrey's most trusted theign. Beaduric didn't, however, have that kind of people's skill and made the situation worst by adding his booming screams to these of the distressed population.

Aarne consulted the bones and the gods told him that Eydis was better off dying of fever than be healed. He instructed the maids to refrain from giving her water "as it made her fever worst".

Aarne took over and rallied the household with a poetic-sounding, omen emulating, string of soothing words. The gods clearly had rained on Oxford for its transgression over them, and Brynjar the wolf was here to make things right. Hallvard tasked his spies to rally folk to listen to Aarne in the town square. Aarne's broken Saxon words calmed their hearts and they regained composure. With the help of the Danes, Oxford would prevail under the banner of the Earldorman.

The next fives days were spend chipping ice, salvaging lumber to rebuild shelters, and making large pots of food. Eydis survived despite Aarne's attempt to let her die. All of the household busied to recover from the natural disaster. Brynjar enlisted the help of the Theign of Foreshill to have lumber cut from the woods to relieve Oxford.

Intrigue: Econbert, theign of Wessex
The news that a knight from King Aelfred's court arrived spread like wild fire in the citadel. King Aelfred was apparently raising an army to meet Guthrum and defend Oxford. The Earldorman tasked Brynjar to lead a mission to locate the advancing Danes and report back. Econbert insisted in being part of this mission as he didn't trust danes to negotiate with more danes. Fully award that the Earldorman wasn't keen on the Christian King to the south, they cooked a double-crossing plan to delay Wessex long enough to hand over Oxford to Guthrum, and keep the Earldorman in charge of the city. The only problem was to deal with Econbert. Their solution was to invite Osmond, the cornish dwarf assassin who had dispatched Alda so effectively a few weeks ago.

Brynjar tried to deal a land grant via his slave, Hallvard. The sharp tongue of the seer sealed the deal in the end. The ruins off Foresthill was theirs to occupy when the warm season would return.

On the third day of riding, they spotted a column of at least 1000 danes marching south toward Oxford. Upon that sight, Econbert bid his farewell to alert the Saxons and hurry the march of Aelfred's army. However, the others weren't inclined to let this news leak. Osmond got trampled trying to hold Econbert's horse and Aarne slammed the knight to the ground. The knight got incapacitated by a freak groin-first landing on a ice boulder. Out of breadth, and with a soprano-like quality to his voice, Econbert was now a prisoner.

The danes turned back toward the marching army. Eydis, ward of Guthrum, was the only one smiling. Out of these warrior probably stood the danes that they had betrayed to gain the favour of Oxford.

"Hold my beer, boys, I got this."

End state

  • Econbert is prisoner of Brynjar's danes. 
  • Guthrum's army is about 6 days away from Oxford.
  • Brynjar is a leading theign of Oxford. 
  • Oxford's people are favourable to a god-sanctionned new era of peace under the Danelaw.
  • Brynjar obtained land grant near Foresthill.