The Northumbrian Saga excerpt

Berhgred slammed through the door. He crossed the room in three great strides, violently grabbing Aethelwin by the hair and hauling her to her feet.

“Did you know?”

Spittle flecked her face. His eyes were wide and murderous, his plump protuberant face blotched red and white.

“Tell me you traitorous whore, I know you were in on the plan.”

Aethelwin had never known fear like this. Even Hild was backed up against the opposite wall, her eyes wide as she watched her husband in shock. Ailith sat huddled in the corner sobbing while the servant cradled her head in comfort. Behind Berhgred were four other men as big and as burly looking as he. They were clearly enjoying the spectacle.

A blow to the stomach snapped her out of her stupor and sent her reeling to the floor. She heard Ailith scream before Berhgred’s thick fingers clenched her hair again, dragging her back to her feet. Aethelwin didn’t know what was worse, the pain from the blow to her stomach or her head.

“Tell me!” he roared

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything!”

Again the blow and again the bite of his hand in her hair.

“Where have they gone?”

Aethelwin was too busy trying to draw air into her lungs to answer quickly enough. He loosened his grip on her hair, letting her sink to the floor, before kicking her in the head and stomach, again and again and again. When the blows finally stopped, all Aethelwin could think of was the pain. Everything in the room was disappearing in a haze. She wheezed painfully, trying to fill her lungs. Slowly, she became aware of the faint sound of men’s voices, followed by the distinct growl of Berhgred.

“Not her, the other one. The one who won’t stop crying. She’s coming, as well. He wants them both.”

Suddenly his voice was hissing in her ear, his warm breath making her skin crawl.

“If you don’t tell us, your sister will. When we have hunted down your brothers, we will skin them, like the pigs that they are. I will personally see that you watch them die.”

He kicked her again for good measure, then she was lifted up by her arms and dragged out into the blinding light. From behind her she could hear screaming. A frantic, high pitched sound that was cut off brutally short. Aethelwin tried to twist around in the men’s grasp to see where her sister was, but the searing pain almost threw her into unconsciousness. Through the blur and confusion she could just comprehend what was happening.

They were making an example of them, dragging them through the streets for all to see what became of traitors. That no matter how high you were born or how wealthy you once were, if you crossed the new king, it would be the last thing you would ever do.

She felt rather than saw all the wary eyes following them as they made their way to the old wooden bridge across the River Foss. They all congregated in doorways, peaked over the wicker work fences and stalls, gawked from the safety of their fishing boats as the procession cleared the bridge and continued on to the old fortress.

It was the first time Aethelwin had been within the Roman walls. Built as a square fortress by the Romans, many of the walled defences had been neglected and sat in ruin, slowly disappearing as the townspeople used the rubble in other buildings. The most notable of these projects was the Minster of St Paul, which sat in the centre of the complex. Most of the northeast and northwest walls still held out admirably against time, but the southern half had suffered from looting. A ditch and pike wall had been set up in the south and east to shore up the decaying city defences.

None of which passed the notice of Aethelwin as the procession led her up the main street towards the Minster.

They turned off onto one of the side streets just short of the Minster. The voices of men shouting orders and calling out to each other filled her ears. Arms pulled and grabbed at her and the shouting and calling turned to jeering and catcalls.

At last, the men let her go, and she felt herself crumpling to the floor. The dull thud of the wooden door echoed around the room, followed by the click of a lock. It was the last thing she remembered before she was overcome by darkness.

Copyright © 2013 by A H Gray.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the Author at the addresses below.

A H Gray

Author’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, com-panies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

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