Ok… I had originally planned to do this in two parts, but it has turned into three? So, here is part two- our arrival in Wessex and the feast that changed our entire plan for this voyage!
Our ships set sail and we were bound for Wessex. Some might wonder, “Just where exactly is Wessex?” Many of our voyagers were confused about that as well. I would oft hear asked questions asked regarding this. Were we going to Angle Land or were we going to Wessex? People would scratch their heads over this puzzle so often that I sat down with Athelstan and we tried to explain as best we could how Wessex was a part of Angle land but still it’s own kingdom with Ecbert as it’s ruler. We would be settling on land that was given by Ecbert within his kingdom so that should mean that once settled there, we would fall under Ecbert’s rule.
Wessex was one of four main kingdoms of that Angle land. There was Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, and North Umbria. North Umbria was where our men went that first time they came to Angle land and landed at Lindesfarne. That kingdom was far to the north of Wessex. Now we would be going to the southern part of Angle land.
History of Wessex
Kings and Queens of Wessex, Timeline of Wessex http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Kings-Queens-of-Wessex/
As we made our voyage, I had my own questions for Athelstan about Wessex and some places that I was sure would be near to us. As many grew suspicious and wondered why I would know about this land, I made explanation of having traveled for a time with my brother on his trading missions. Most people were so excited about their own journey that they took me at my word and did not concern themselves further with my history. I had with me some other small maps which I shared with Athelstan and asked him of the locations which I was interested in.
Athelstan had traveled during his time as a monk, so I was sure he might have knowledge of Stonehenge? It would be within our kingdom and I might be able to travel there if need be… I wanted to assure myself that should I need to return to the present day, I would know of locations near to me. Tis always best to keep these facts in mind when traveling!
The other place that I was interested in and much curious about, for historical purposes only, was one Wilton Abbey located at Wiltshire or Wilton. My excitement in coming to this land was the fact that we were traveling to which was the beginnings of such important history for England. This place, Wessex, and Ecbert’s descendants would be key to the future of the country. I could hardly contain myself, I wanted to see all of it and pondered on how I might accomplish such a thing? But, that was thought for some other time, right now I must stick to the most important things, like getting through this journey!
For the present time, I would content myself with the few bits of information that I could easily glean from conversation with Athelstan. I asked him about Wilton Abbey, and yes of course he knew of it. He did give me a puzzled look when I spoke of it and asked me how I would know of it? I had to tell him quietly that he was not the only one torn by the differences in beliefs. I shared with him that once upon a time in my earliest life I had been taught of his religion and his beliefs. Those beliefs were and are still a guide post for me in my spiritual life but I have come to accept that there are many ways and paths to God. We let it go at that and he continued his knowledge of Wilton. Wilton Abbey was a Benedictine convent in Wiltshire, England, three miles from Salisbury on the site now occupied by Wilton House. A first foundation was made as a college of secular priests by Wulfstan, Ealdorman of Wiltshire, about 773, but after his death (802) was changed into a convent for twelve nuns by his widow, Saint Alburga, sister of Egbert of Wessex. He stated that as far as he knew, it was a small convent of not much significance. He wondered why I should be so interested in it? Well, I could hardly tell him the truth, which was that it would become very important and significant in the future. And, that future would begin with Ecbert’s son, Aethelwulf. So, I made mention that I had heard of it from a merhant’s daughter on a trip to Angle land with my brother Gunnar when I was young. I told him that I had a small amount of silver set aside that I should like to contribute to them. That portion was the truth. Though I am not Catholic, nor much of any religion for that matter, I do hold to some remnants of belief and faith. For some reason, I felt a need to see Wilton and make my own small offering to their future. Truth be told, I was also thinking ahead as well to other options I might need to make use of in the future should anything go wrong.
Rollo and I had once made jest of the idea of me retiring to a convent… Well, the fact was that it was an option that I must consider and plan ahead for if I should ever need a place of safety or sanctuary? Many Christian women used the convent as their option for escape or safety and not just as a place of holy worship to God. It was in general, one place you could seek sanctuary in and could not be removed from. As a safe haven, Wilton was my best option. It was within Wessex, and it was protected by King Ecbert himself. As far as my goodwill donation to them, that would open their doors to me… I had another amount of silver safely set aside to pay for my admittance to their cloistered life. You see, it was not free to become a nun or have their protection. No, it was in all reality, quite expensive- that is how they made their profits, by charging a high price to become one of them. One must pay a goodly amount, the amount equal to a Bride’s dowery to be accepted into their convents. It would also help to have a skill that they regarded in high esteem… of those skills I had a few important ones. I could read, write and I could sew! Ohhh, it was not just plain sewing which they looked for, anyone could do that reasonably. They looked for ones who could do fine needle work with intricate detail. That talent I did have. I learned it from Grandmother when I was very young and somehow, I knew it would be valuable to me one day?
Women in these times had little control over their lives. Some women truly did have a calling and a devotion to serving their God, some were sent to convents as punishment or as a way for their families to rid themselves of an unwanted wife or unmarriageable daughter. There were some women who were offered to the church much as a son would be offered to the priesthood- this had little to do with whether they had a true calling to God. And, yet other women chose it for themselves as that retreat, retirement or sanctuary which I spoke of earlier. It often did not have as much to do with God’s calling as with the fact that they might fare better here than on the outside in times of great strife or trouble.
In it’s future, Kings would be educated there, Queens would protect and preside there and it would be in the middle of battles between Saxons and Danes, then Saxons and Normans.
Life of a medieval nun
You may wonder why I am spending so much time on this subject of God’s houses and God’s callings? Well, I want you to understand more fully how important the church and the religion was to people of this time. People like Athelstan, and Aethelwulf, and his wife Judith. The Christian church was not just about a belief system, it was far more than that. It was the political power structure of the time. Your King or ruler in most instances controlled your life but the church controlled his life! The real king or ruler of all at this time in Christian held strongholds was the church and it’s leader, the Pope. If you wanted real power and control, you would find it difficult to achieve without the backing of these religious powerbrokers. And, for the lower common people, the church was often their survival, their salvation? In times of strife, a good church, good priests, would look after the hungry and the needy thereby endearing the people to them and creating such a devout devotion to the church. Times were difficult for those common people and for nobles as well. They needed something to believe in, to hold faith in and the Catholic Church provided this in spades! In return, the church was rewarded with enormous wealth and even more power over their followers. Everything in the church system had a price attached to it and you would willingly pay such price for the promise of great reward in the after life or to avoid the wrath of an angry God or earthly church!
Alright enough of my thoughts on religion… one other thing concerns me about this land we are being promised? Yes, King Ecbert has offered and promised us land to settle within his kingdom, that is all well and fine. I think I have touched upon this dilemma previously but I feel need to make mention of it again because it does concern me. No one has asked my opinion in this matter, why should they? But, I will speak of it here. This agreement puts us in somewhat of a Catch22 situation, or between a rock and a hard place. We shall accept King Ecbert’s offer of land to farm in peace, and that shall put us as subjects of King Ecbert rather than Ragnar. For, I am quite certain that in order to receive this land we shall have to swear oath, fealty and allegiances to King Ecbert? That should be only right as we will live in his kingdom under his protection. If we should not agree to this, he would be well within his rights to deny us the land, evict us from it… and then where would that leave us all? You see my worries and concerns, my reasons for looking into my own personal options for survival? In these coming battles between the Norse, the Danes and the Saxons, most of the kingdoms will eventually fall to the Norse and the Danes. Wessex will be the last kingdom, last stronghold and eventually, the victors for Wessex… that will put their feelings and attitudes about Danes living in their midst into a very negative light. I came willingly on this voyage but that does not mean that I am without doubts, worries or great fears for our future, because I know how much of it ends and it does not favor us well!
I will say no more about the situation for now. I will just tell of our arrival in this land of Wessex.
Ohhh before I tell of our arrival and our first days there, there is one other situation that I would share with you? I spoke of everyone else’s reasons for coming on this voyage but did not mention of Bjorn and his new wife, Porrun? Of course Bjorn would join his family on this adventure and thus bring along his wife. He was not exactly happy with all of it though. Porrun was determined to prove herself free and able to choose in all ways now that she was no longer a slave. That is understandable. The choices she insisted upon making though caused much aggrevation and frustration for everyone in the family. She was insistant on making this voyage not just as Bjorn’s wife, but as a shield maiden and warrior. Now, we all would not have taken exception to this choice had something else not been rather apparent and had she not been quite so forceful and down right moody in her decisions and her attitude at the time?
The sea voyage was not such a pleasant one for those of us who had to share the confines of the boat that carried Bjorn and Porrun!
There was much speculation over her moods and of other issues, which we will not mention so as not to put a shield maiden in any bad light… All I will add is that she did not sail well during this trip and we quickly surmised why?
Porunn was with child and yet she insisted upon choosing to be a warrior and shield maiden, would go so far as to put their unborn child’s life at risk by going into a battle that it was not necessary for her participate in. Bjorn was torn but could not dissuade her from this decision. He made comment to Lagertha that Porrun was stubborn just like someone else he knew? The difference in these two situations was that Lagertha set aside her warrior ways for Motherhood and Porrun does not seem to understand this yet. This stubbornness would put both her and Bjorn in a difficult position later.
For now, let us go back to our arrival and meeting of King Ecbert? There was some uneasiness when Ragnar had to answer Ecbert’s question of where King Horik was?
The look on Ecbert’s face showed that he did not believe Ragnar’s explanation of some unfortunate accident, but he did not pursue the matter and let it slide for the time being…
He welcomed us graciously though his son Aethelwulf chose instead to sit in the background with his infant son, holding on to him as if to protect the child from all of us heathens!
There was a great feast and celebration in our honor? At least that is what we first assumed it to be… it turned into a discussion of our land grant and a change in the agreement. The meeting seemed to go from bad to worse and Ragnar just chalked it up to the way his luck was running at this time. He was much irritated by all of it but there was not much he could do. It all started when he casually asked what had become of the men who had stayed to help Princess Kwentirith in her fight to win Mercia. The looks on Ecbert’s and Kwentirith’s faces told us that this was not going to bode well for us?
Ragnar’s simple question was answered evasively by Kwentirith who made excuse the battle does not go well in Mercia, but surely with our help now, it can finally be won?
Yes, the evening just went downhill from there when we realized that we had been in some ways set up? King Ecbert held the land grant over Ragnar’s head and insisted that in order to receive it now, some of our men must help fight this battle…
At first Ragnar argued that this was not the original agreement, nor was it our fight… it got him nowhere and he realized that to continue arguing the point was futile. He did at first tell Ecbert that this was not the agreement…
Ecbert’s response to that was to explain that his people were not all happy with this arrangement?
Ragnar knew what was coming… He just groaned, covered his face and swore to himself!
There was no point in arguing, so Ragnar made his own agreement to the terms but warned that he could not speak for the others?
He explained the situation to the others and they each made their choice to join Ragnar in the fight…
There would be some argument over Porunn’s decision but wisely it was not brought up at this time!
Floki added his agreement somewhat grudgingly and none too optimistically? His answer was, “I will be like a fly and follow the dead meat.”
Before Lagertha could voice her thoughts on the matter, there was a surprising addition to the volunteers? It came from Aethelwulf. Aethelwulf and Judith had been quiet throughout all of this, though Judith did seem to be watching our priest, Athelstan quite closely…
Finally, Lagertha voiced her thoughts on the matter
She does finally add her agreement….
But, Ecbert had a few other ideas as well…
Ecbert goes on with his suggestion of someone to lead the settlers, one who knows of farming and is respected by the people… all the while eying Lagertha? Athelstan steps in and explains that Ecbert thinks she should remain as this leader? Ragnar is highly suspicious now. But, Lagertha eventually agrees to this new arrangement.
Having played his game so well, Ecbert had one final move…
There was a short discussion between Ragnar and Athelstan over this but Ragnar stated that he trusted Athelstan and that he should stay? I can only think that Ragnar chose for Athelstan to remain and keep some sort of protective watch over Lagertha who would now be in close contact with this King who was none too discreet in his interest of her!
The evening turned out as none of us expected or wished for, save maybe Torstein and Bjorn who really did want to fight! The rest of us finally retired for the night but Ecbert called Athelstan for a last meeting… It was a quiet meeting between two friends. Ecbert was truly glad to have his friend Athelstan close to him again and could not help but remind Athelstan of his God’s calling?
To be continued!