When Boston and Sukki got up for the morning shift, William was already up and in morning prayers. “Must keep discipline,” he said. Boston understood. She got the fire going while Sukki put on the breakfast leftovers. They walked once around the camp and found everything still and quiet.
The sunrise got rated a four that day. It stayed a bit overcast. They had a couple of hours of sunshine the afternoon before, but otherwise it remained overcast since they came into that time zone. They camped in a fallow field off the road, so there would be no Vikings sneaking through the woods to get at them.
“Maybe rain.” Boston examined the clouds.
“Maybe,” Sukki said, as they sat and watched the ground level mist slowly clear.
“Watling Street,” Katie said when she and Lockhart got up. “It runs from Canterbury to London. We should be near Rochester. I can’t imagine London is safe if it is in Viking hands.”
“We are too close to the coast,” Decker said, as he came to the fire, yawning.
“We are,” Lincoln agreed, as he and Alexis arrived.
“I wonder what is happening in Rochester?” Alexis asked.
“You mean, Durobrivis?” William asked as he came to join the others.
“Yes, Durobrivis,” Katie said.
William sat. “Last I heard, they are still resisting. The city was sacked and burned by a big raiding party of Vikings about ten years ago. Since then, they built up their defenses. Time will tell if they did enough to hold off the Danes this time.”
“Bread?” Alexis asked. She got out some elf crackers and put on the water to boil.
“Yes, please,” William said. He called it the best bread he ever ate.
“Not for me,” Lockhart said, and drank this time period’s poor excuse for tea, and thought about coffee.
Tony came out, let out a big yawn, and sat to fix a plate of leftovers and bread. Then he asked.
“Does the road we are on go through the city?”
“No, no.” William said. “It goes close, maybe too close, but outside of the city and continues to London. We stay about a mile from Durobrivis, but shortly after that spot we go…” He showed with his hand.
“Left,” Alexis said.
“Yes. It is the road to Winchester. About a hundred miles from that point to Winchester.”
“And we will move away from the coast at that point?” Decker said.
“Yes,” William confirmed. “Away from the Vikings. But near the Thames. We go through Surry. I don’t honestly know if the Danes may have pushed up the Thames from London.” He looked at Alexis. “Do you have the recipe for this bread?”
Alexis looked at the travelers, but Boston spoke right up. “It is elf bread. My people are smart.”
Alexis shrugged. Lincoln gave Boston a hard look because for once he kept his mouth shut. William paused in his eating before he shrugged and finished his breakfast. “It is good, whoever made it.”
“You are not surprised at the mention of elves?” Nanette wondered.
William shook his head. “I have heard stories of the little people all my life. I don’t know what they are or how they fit into God’s economy, but who am I to say those stories are not true? I prefer to keep an open mind and trust the Lord to show me what I need to know to do his will in this life. That is all that really matters.”
“Very wise,” Alexis said.
After they cleaned up the campsite and started up the road, Lockhart seemed more awake and asked a question. “You think the Vikings may have pushed up the Thames from London?”
William shrugged, not that Lockhart could see him since he rode behind. “All I can say is this was not a typical raiding party. These Vikings appeared in numbers more like an invasion force. More than three hundred ships. They had the strength to drive off the King of Mercia and had enough men leftover to overrun Canterbury at about the same time.”
“Not good,” Lincoln mumbled. Lockhart looked at Katie, but all she could do was nod.
Elgar led his thousand men of mixed Celts and Germans into Winchester. Gwyn and Osfirth would have to find a place for the men to stay while he went to see the king. He did not doubt the king wanted to see Elgar’s brother, Eanwulf, the Eorldomen of Somerset, but Eanwulf’s wife was expecting, and the pregnancy had not been a good one.
“Your Majesty,” Elgar said in his most humble voice. “I am your most humble servant.” He bowed.
Unfortunately, Osric, the Earl of Dorset stood there and scoffed. “Forget it, Elgar. You are not fooling anyone.”
“Eangar of Somerset, though Elgar is my name. Second son of Eanric, who with his father overthrew the fort of Watchet, the last British stronghold in the marshland. My father was made Eorldomen of Somerset by your father Egbert, a title my older brother Eanwulf now holds.”
“Yes, why is Eanwulf not here?”
“Alas, his wife is with child and struggling. He fears to lose her in the birthing. As the good younger brother, I felt it was my duty to lead the men of Somerset, all of whom have experience fighting these Vikings.”
“Good younger brother,” Osric scoffed.
Elgar, who was around thirty-one, looked at the nineteen-year-old that stood beside the king and winked. He assumed the young man was Ethelbald, the eldest surviving son, and Ethelbald responded with a big grin.
King Ethelwulf looked serious as Elgar continued.
“I have a thousand Saxons, British, Jutes, and Dumnonii who are all good neighbors, as all men should be, and who all have experience fighting the Vikings. I have brought many from Watchet and the small coastal estate by brother has granted to me.”
“What? Why is he granting land?” the king frowned.
“Ah,” Elgar said. “Just the coast from the border with Devon to the mouth of the Parret River. He has charged me to face and drive off whatever invading Danes might come along. I see it less as a land grant and more of a fiery duty.”
“The coast?” the king said, and thought for a minute before he added, “I won’t argue with that.”
“Your majesty is too kind,” Elgar said, and gave Osric a sly grin.
“Stop,” Osric said. “You are going to make me sick. But he speaks the truth about his men. Elgar was the one insisted we keep back a third of our men in reserve. We kept about a quarter that were willing. When we arrived at the battle, we saw the Danes held back some men in reserve as well.”
“What happened?” Ethelbald, the son spoke for the first time.
“The Danish commander blinked first,” Elgar said.
Osric agreed. “They threw their men into the line first to try and break us, and it had an impact on our line, but Elgar waited. I got nervous. But when our line began to give way, Elgar pressed forward with the reserves and those fresh troops broke the Danish line. It was a great victory.”
“I see,” The king said. “I hardly expected good Saxon fighting men would be held back once the battle lines were drawn up.”
“Frankly,” Osric finished. “He is a bit of a cheek, but between Elgar and his brother, you got the better of the deal.”
“And what do you have to say for yourself?” King Ethelwulf gave Elgar a hard stare. Ethelbald drew back a little even though the stare was not directed at him.
Elgar looked serious. “To be perfectly honest. I love my wife, and we have three lovely daughters. I had a son, but he died a few years ago. Back home, I have a house full of women. I figure dealing with a few Vikings will be less taxing than the cat fights I get in my house.”
The king thought again before he laughed.
Boston came back to the group, concerned, but not yelling. The Vikings ahead waited in ambush, not necessarily for the travelers, but for any person or group that might be traveling on the road. About a hundred of them stood around the sparse tree cover, their campfires well hidden. A few hid behind the couple of farm wagons abandoned where the side road turned off Watling Street and headed toward Rochester. No sign of the farmers, but one of the wagons smoked, like it got burned, and a couple of oxen stood in the field, grazing on what they could find.
Boston sent Sukki to the group as soon as she sensed the trouble in the road ahead. The travelers all stopped and dismounted. Presently, Elder Stow with his scanner and Decker with his eagle totem were looking for a way across country to the road to Winchester. Lincoln checked the database but said the maps of that era were not the best.
“No reason to confront the Vikings or get in a shootout if we don’t have to,” Lockhart said.
“There are hills of a sort beneath our position,” Katie said, shading her eyes to look. “They don’t look too difficult.”
“It’s the north downs,” Lincoln said.
“It can be treacherous,” William interjected. “The Romans only cut one road through there, the Winchester Road to go west from Londinium, and they had to come down to Durobrivis to start cutting through. The road above runs along the Thames, but on the other side of the river.”
“We don’t need to cut through the downs,” Lockhart said. “Just cut the corner to the Winchester Road.”
William and Lincoln both shrugged.
“My father,” Elder Stow came up first. “There are farms and farm roads all through the area we need to go. It will be tricky, but we should be able to manage it.”
“We used to go through the pure wilderness before roads were a thing,” Lincoln said.
“My mother,” Elder Stow continued. “I am picking up something else on the outer edge of the scanner. The image is not clear at that distance, but I would guess an alien ship of some sort.”
“Great,” Lincoln said, giving vent to his full sarcasm. “As if rampaging Vikings were not enough.”