Aethelwin should have been glad he had gone, this was their chance. They were unguarded, free to roam as they pleased, free to escape. But all she could feel was the coldness of his absence in the room.
“Will they be back before the attack?”
“Of course. He’s barely left our side these past four months. He won’t be far away.”
“But he took his weapons, and others have been leaving as well. Perhaps they know of the attack and are leaving? Perhaps they are afraid?”
“Perhaps.” Aethelwin mumbled.
She thought of Grendel. He didn’t seem to be the type to run away from battle. If anything he seemed to thrive on it. He was forever going with different raiding bands into the countryside. As for Thorstein, he seemed to be more interested in making money and trading than creating death and destruction. Why then had he chosen to go with Grendel? Why had he willingly left them?
“There are others leaving.” Ailith called from the doorway.
Aethelwin joined her and they both watched the procession. Swords and axes, spears and daggers hung from belts. Brightly patterned shields glinted in the early springtime sun. They were all calling to each other happily, laughing, cat calling, mocking each other playfully. They were excited and content, but there were just as many Danes standing in their own doorways, watching the procession with as much interest as the two girls were. They were not abandoning the city at all.
“Perhaps they are going on a raid after all?”
“Or perhaps they know there is to be an attack and are going out to meet them?”
Aethelwin went back inside to sit with her sewing whilst Ailith stoked the hearth.
“Maybe it’s a miracle?” Ailith murmured.
“It’s St Cuthbert’s day, patron saint of Northumbria. Perhaps he has called them out of the town as a diversion for the army. Stranger things have happened.”
Aethelwin didn’t respond. She wanted to believe but couldn’t quite.
“They will be back.” She stated more firmly. “Thorstein wouldn’t leave us if he knew there was danger. If he knew the army was on its way, he would take us with him. Even me, kicking and screaming.”
Ailith brightened at the thought of such a scene and stopped worrying.
Thorstein did not return that night. No one did as far as they could determine. The girls sat listlessly at the fire, each secretly wondering what they should do. If the Danes really had left, the army would walk into the city gates and take the town as effortlessly as the Danes had four months ago. There would be no need to flee. But if they did not leave, and by some twist of fate the Danes won, then they would be captives again. Not only that, but they would be caught in the middle of the battle field.
Excerpt from The Northumbrian Saga by A H Gray
Copyright © 2013 by A H Gray.
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