The Axe the Shield and the Triton

THE AXE AND THE TRITON


The Folk are long settled in the fortified East Holding. Atland is just a legend told and sung by the Chieftains scop. Gewis, the chieftain Baeldaeg's son loves his elder brother's betrothed Elwine and runs away from the East Holding, seeking service in some Lord's war band.

Fate has other ideas and he finds himself in North Africa, part of the Vandal pirate navy. Rising over the years to a position of some power he returns home to the East Holding and along the way becomes immensely rich.

He is able to save his folk and the widowed Elwine from famine and the encroaching Danings by planning and financing their migration to post-Roman Britannia's east coast, long inhabited by people of the same blood, long ago migrants from Atland.

Driven by storms they are blown far to the southwest where a greater destiny awaits them.






Sample Chapter

Chapter 1

AD 1685
Jo’s Tale, the Treasure


When I was a child I loved the hill, for I knew nothing then of its blood-drenched soil. It was my playground and my playfellow.
The final climb to the top, worn to bare earth by much use, was nearly vertical. When there were other boys present, we would challenge each other to slide down this slope on our arses. Sometimes this led to torn breeches and a good hiding at homecoming, but the fear and joy of casting off caution and care, of the rush down the slope, the landing and the laughter, was worth it. This was the reason my breeches were now of cow hide, hard and chafing when new, but well worn now, softened by a boy’s hard use and almost indestructible.
I loved the hill best of all when great clouds billowed bright gold on top, silver blue underneath. I daydreamed they were the hills and valleys of some giant country. Here, in my imagination, I found adventures and riches in each shadowed valley or over each shining hill.
Later, of course, I learned about the blood that had seeped into the soil I so joyfully and unknowingly hurtled down on my leather-encased behind. The blood that fed the roots of woody cover that softened the hill’s steep outline, but until that day it was unspoiled and it nurtured my daydreams.
When I tired of adventuring in the clouds I would turn to scan the land for anything that moved and might take my interest. Today, a light drizzle fell from the overcast sky, neither heavy enough to send me to shelter nor cold enough, on this mid-September day, to make me seek the comfort of the kitchen hearth. There were no valleys to see in the clouds and no giants to dream about today. The ground being wet, I stood and searched the misty horizons.
I looked west, along the old Roman road towards Taunton. When I had left the house this morning, my father and the preacher were in grave debate at the door. As they saw me they fell silent and turned to walk away, but not before I overheard the preacher say, ‘... he is hanging them in Taunton this morning; and worse ...’
This was a mystery to me and I probed it in my mind. I knew there had been much excitement in recent days and that some of our men who worked about the farm, constant in my life as far back as I could remember, were missing. I knew too that there had been gloomy faces and sobbing women around the village for days. I asked questions, but they were all unanswered.
Now, as I looked west, I saw something strange. There, just near enough to make out through the misting drizzle, was a hooded cart of the sort that pedlars use. It was a small cart, drawn by a single horse between twin shafts. As I watched, the horse ambled for a while then, as if spying a patch of rich grass, it stopped and lowered its head to eat. After a time, as if bored with eating it ambled some more before again stopping to graze. It came to me that the cart was untended and the horse, without direction, was pleasing itself. The strangeness of this, added to the weather that made my playground so bleak, led me to begin a rapid descent.
Whilst I slid and slithered downwards, sullen cloud bases pushed in from the west, darkening the overcast. Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning flashed and the drizzle turned to rain. By the time I reached the road the rain was so heavy it bounced when it hit the ground; raining crocuses, as they say. Lightning forks were all around me, angry, sun-bright spears, and crashing thunder boxed my ears so I jumped and ducked at each clap.
Although I now started to shiver as the water soaked into my jacket and trickled down my neck, I welcomed it. Any walker on the road, not seeing what I had seen, would take shelter and I would get to the cart first and solve the mystery of what it contained, and perhaps even - and here my heart beat faster for this was the stuff of my hilltop dreaming made real - claim abandoned treasure!
I saw myself, thirteen years old, surrounded by riches, telling others what to do instead of being told; doing as I wished, not at the beck and call of all. I increased my pace to a steady jog trot, so determined was I to get to the idling horse and its burden before some adult should beat me to it and, in the way of grownups, dispossess me of it.
The more soaked I became, the faster I ran and in very short order the cart appeared out of the sheeting rain. The horse, a mare, short of leg and fat of belly, was not eating now, but danced on shuffling feet, head up and eyes rolling. Fearing it would bolt, dragging my cart and its treasure with it, I seized the reins gently pulling the beast’s head down, letting it see me, speaking as softly as the wind and thunder would allow, stroking and patting to take its attention from the tumult around us. It ceased its dancing and I judged it calm enough to leave. Longing to get out of the cold raindrops beating on my head, I jumped on the shaft nearest me and climbed up onto the driver’s seat. Swivelling round I
swung my legs over the seat and slid through the opening and under the hood.
And nearly died from fright.
My tongue, tingling, tasted of sour apples and my stomach rose into my chest. I farted as I heard a hoarse scream - and knew it was mine. I crouched, muscles tensed, preparing to spring back the way I had entered. Why I did not flee in panic as though the Devil himself were after me I do not know, except that I heard a croaking voice and it brought me back from the quivering edge.
‘Help me,’ came out of the mess of body and blood and bedding, cutting through my fear. Here was someone suffering harm, not some demon about to harm me.
My only reward for the cold and wet I had suffered lay on a mattress, a cloth bag stuffed with straw, covered by a coarse blanket of un-dyed wool, though dyed now with black-red stains spreading on its upper width. The air smelled foul, of sick flesh and vomit, a privy bucket stench that hinted at unseen soiling.
The creature, whose life blood seeped into and coloured the bedding, lay on his side, half in and out of the blanket. His face, above the beard and luxuriant moustaches of fair shading to grey hair, was also grey. Both eyes were blackened and swollen; crusted blood from his nose smeared the skin on either side of his nostrils and caked in his moustache. Lumps the size of hens eggs already turning black and blue and yellow, stood out from his temple and cheek on the left side and his jaw on the right, giving his face a lopsided look. His shirt was just a torn, blood-soaked rag, held on by the collar, still secured at the throat with a bone toggle. Under the shirt was the mischief that caused the blood to flow.
The marks of a savage whipping crisscrossed the man’s upper body back and front. From these wounds blood oozed. I knew little of matters of life and death but my instincts and commonsense told me that this man would die if not given care soon.
He uttered no sound, as if the one cry for help had exhausted him. He had made his try and now he awaited his doom or salvation, yielding all will to fate, much as I did when in play I careered down my hill on my leather-encased backside.
I knew I must first attend to the horse, for the cart moved jerkily, as if the mare, again bursting to get away from the storm still crashing about our heads, could not, as yet, decide where to run. I also knew that when she made up her mind, the little jerky motions would become a headlong gallop to disaster. I slipped ferret-quick out of the stink. Relishing, the sweet, rain-scented air, I leapt from the cart and took hold of the bridle then, softly, the mare’s upper lip. The iron chain traces jingled, becoming tight then slack as the beast shuffled to and fro.
I spoke low; calling her good girl, telling her all was well. Her quivering stopped, although it came back at each thunderclap and returned as rain turned to hail. When I felt I had her under control, I climbed back into the seat, grasped the reins and started her walking.
By the time I had reached the gates to our front yard, between the two massive and ancient cedars that flanked them, the storm had passed. Only the puddles, the sprinkling of ice across the road and the occasional sparkle of water from the bushes, bore witness to its progress.
Getting down from the cart I grasped the bridle and led my treasure through our gateposts. I drew to a halt, afraid now at the boldness of my actions. I waited, with heart hammering, for someone, anyone, to come and rescue me.