Eivor talked to Randvi about pledging to Essexe.
- Eivor: What of Essexe?
- Randvi: We received a summons from the ealdorman and his Lady of Colcestre, requesting you specifically, for "a matter of great secrecy."
- Eivor: Foreboding. And who is this ealdorman? One of King Aelfred's lackeys?
- Randvi: According to my scouts, he is a man who cares more of his own indulgences than the safety of his people. Approach with care.
Eivor pledged to Essexe.
- Eivor: I will leave at once.
- Randvi: An alliance in Essexe would be invaluable. But go with caution.
Eivor left to find and speak with Birstan of Essexe. Arriving at the Ealdorman's House, Eivor looked for Birstan.
- Eivor: It seems Ealdorman Birstan has made this ruin his longhouse.
Eivor went inside to see a group of people waiting and talking with each other.
- Wyatt: Why is my cup empty?
- Aldrich: Perhaps because you have drunk the barrel dry?
- Wyatt: Damn Birstan! His household is as poorly run as his lands!
- Eadred: Estrid is a good wife, far better than he deserves.
- Wyatt: You would say that, Eadred. Your wife acts like a sow in a skirt.
- Eadred: My Sweterun is a worthy woman, you coxcomb! She's an excellent cook—
- Wyatt: With a fine nose for truffles!
- Eadred: If Birstan does not return soon, wine will not be the only thing spilled upon his floors.
- Aldrich: Now, gentlemen, everyone is fractious with this waiting. Let us be civil at least.
Eivor went to speak with the lord, Wyatt.
- Eivor: Lord.
- Wyatt: Ah! A heroic-looking Dane in our midst.
- Eivor: I'm looking for Birstan, ealdorman of this shire.
- Wyatt: Our lord is not at home. But his wife is receiving visitors upstairs, in her usual fashion. If you speak with her, pass on that we have run out of ale.
Eivor left the conversation to speak with Estrid. Eivor reached nearer to Estrid's room.
- Gisele: Birstan's thegns disrespect you, lady. Sour ale in the air, muddy boot steps all over the floors! Ces Anglais sont des cochons.
- Estrid: Les anglais sont des hommes.
- Gisele: And they've eaten us out of house and home! We have but one cask of ale and two roasted pheasants left.
- Estrid: Let us hope Birstan has at least killed a boar or two, or his thegns will add inhospitality to their list of complaints.
- Gisele: Cochons! Filthy swine!
- Eivor: Chut, ma chere. There is no use fretting.
Eivor entered the room and saw Estrid with Gisele. Estrid stood up and pulled out a knife.
- Estrid: You! Guards will come at one cry from me.
- Eivor: Sheathe your blade, lady. I am Eivor of the Raven Clan, here at your husband's request.
- Gisele: Another Dane.
Estrid holstered her knife.
- Eivor: I am Estrid, wife of the Lord of Essexe. As you may have heard, my lord is not at home.
- Eivor: I am weary rounding up Saxons. Is your husband stolen, drunk, or wayward?
Eivor went to the main room as Estrid addressed the thegns.
- Estrid: Patience is a godly virtue, Eadred.
- Eadred: Even the saints would tire of waiting for Birstan to hang up his bow. Dear Estrid, we must discuss the affairs of this land, with or without him.
Eivor left and went to search Birstan's camp in Epinga Forest.
- Eivor: Hunting is a fine sport, but I hope the ealdorman has not become the prey. No good comes from a camp this bloody.
Eivor investigated the camp and found a dead body ravaged.
- Eivor: The remains of the hunting party. This one was savaged by a large animal.
Eivor noticed the campfire disturbed.
- Eivor: They were caught off guard as they supped.
Eivor found a half-eaten horse.
- Eivor: They were attacked by a beast. Something strong enough to kill a horse.
Eivor looked further and found tracks.
- Eivor: Some large prey left these tracks in the grass.
Eivor concluded what happened to Birstan's camp.
- Eivor: The hunters were prey to a large beast or two. I can only hope that Birstan still lives.
Following the evidence, Eivor went to find the ealdorman. Viewing the ealdorman over a dead bear, Eivor noticed more bears coming to attack.
- Eivor: Birstan?
- Birstan: Ready your weapon! Or accept your fate as a feast for bears! Do not let them charge you! Ha! We'll fight to the death, worthy one. Ha! Your weapon strikes true! This is one Saxon you won't kill today. Gets the blood coursing. You have savaged enough men today, beast!
Eivor and Birstan killed the rest of the bears.
- Birstan: Well fought, friend. I would not have survived this ambush without you.
Eivor spoke with Birstan.
- Birstan: You have my gratitude. To stumble upon me in my moment of greatest peril, perhaps you were God-sent?
- Eivor: I am Estrid-sent. Your wife and the thegns of Essexe both want your balls on a blacksmith's anvil.
- Birstan: When do they not? You could return and report that the savage claw took me. "Poor Birstan, his exit, pursued by a bear!"
- Eivor: And make the beast Lord of Essexe in your stead.
- Birstan: No doubt Estrid would prefer his velvet paws to my calloused hands. So who are you? A sellsword?
- Eivor: I'm Eivor of the Raven Clan. You hinted at an alliance for the loan of my unique talents.
Eivor and Bristan started to leave to go back to Colcestre.
- Birstan: I am glad you answered my summons. I did not expect such a skilled fighter!
- Eivor: It's good I came when I did. You lost many men on this hunt.
- Birstan: Good men, all. They will have the proper rites, and their families will be cared for.
- Eivor: Your people sacrificed much for your sport.
- Birstan: They did. There is no balm for my tortured heart.
- Eivor: Why did you ask me here?
- Birstan: Do you believe in true love, Eivor?
- Eivor: I have loved.
- Birstan: But have you truly? Has a longing burned in your breast, a sweet, lingering pain? Paralyzing you with its sting?
- Eivor: There is pain enough in battle, I do not seek it out in love.
- Birstan: I long for it. The thrill of a fight softly won. My wife Estrid lacks fire. She is a fish out of water. Cold and dead.
- Eivor: She showed great passion when I met her, keeping your thegns in check.
- Birstan: O, they love her, it is true. Some with too much devotion. And I have not been a good and attentive husband. I have always been a plucked goose in matters of love. And a piss-poor ruler to boot.
- Eivor: Strong must be the hand that steers the ship, Birstan.
- Birstan: My hand would rather tug the catgut of well-crafted bow, my eyes narrowing at the sight of prey.
- Eivor: Aye. A crown sits heavy on the head.
- Birstan: Then let us run wild and free in the woods as the wolves do! Live on our wits. Prowl and stalk and feast.
- Eivor: You have a romantic way about you, Birstan.
- Birstan: Do not fret. My guards will not worry you when we are together.
- Eivor: You mismark me if you think I'm capable of worry. Have you built your city in the ruins of another?
- Birstan: No. These builders are lost to the annals of time. Far advanced of the Saxon hovels of wattle and daub. I have ambition to build a great palace, myself. With mosaics and balmy courtyards.
- Eivor: What stops you?
- Birstan: That which stops all but the most creative minds. Coin, imagination, talent.
- Eivor: And your people? Is Essexe happy?
- Birstan: That is a question I never really ponder. I suppose they are. I hope they are. Aelfred believes I rule like a chick-less hen. Flapping and squawking over nothing but the farmer's dinner.
- Eivor: He interferes?
- Birstan: No, he disapproves. Is that not infinitely worse? But look, we are nearing the hall. I must face the wolves at my door before we discuss your favor to Essexe, Eivor.
- Eivor: It may be I can speed your business along?
Eivor and Birstan join the hall meeting as the thegns looked displeased from waiting.
- Birstan: Ready to help me fend off the spears of their displeasure?
- Eivor: Let them speak their woes. I'll advise you if you can.
Eivor and Birstan walk towards the center table.
- Wyatt: Who is this owl, Birstan, that twitters in your ear?
- Birstan: An advisor, nothing more, here to help Essexe navigate her brewing storms. Now, my dear brethern. Eadred, perhaps you will start us off. What troubles you?
- Eadred: You're a disgrace, Birstan! Couldn't get a sow pissed an alehouse. Aelfred's men are crawling all over Essexe.
- Birstan: King Aelfred, yes ... though it is within his right, the constant presence of his men is certainly an issue.
- Eivor: Are they men or babes? If Aelfred meddles in the affairs of Essexe, send his men home in shrouds.
- Birstan: Ah ... we should challenge his right to rule? Was not Essexe once a thriving kingdom of its own? We should fight! Yes, fight!
- Birstan: And you, Wyatt? What do you say?
- Wyatt: Your preparations for the Lammas festival. How can you think of spending so much coin, when your people are starving?
- Eivor: Drink, be merry, eat your fill. Sing of great battles, for tomorrow we may die. There's no problem that mead and song can't solve.
- Birstan: Do we not deserve such mirth? A great feast of happiness? The dark days of winter approach, let us drink them away!
- Eivor: He should put his own ham fist in his purse and contribute to the festival.
- Birstan: Yes, you worry about the cost of such a festival, one that thanks God for our great harvest? Contribute your own coin, then.
- Eivor: Often should one make an early meal, nor fasting come to the feast.
- Birstan: The feast, yes. The festival! This is not for full bellies, but to bless the loaf. Does that not bring us all good fortune?
- Eivor: Refuse to send your men. Let's Aelfred people die for his hopeless cause against the Norse.
- Birstan: Then ... we ... refuse?
- Aldrich: Refuse our king? Has madness taken your wits, Birstan?
- Eivor: There, have I not answered all your questions?
- Wyatt: You are a stain on this shire, Birstan! Useless!
- Aldrich: Useless...
- Eadred: That's right.
- Eivor: Yet, still you haunt my hall? Begone, I haven't time for your squabbling!
The three thegns left his home as Eivor and Birstan went to see Estrid.
- Birstan: That ceased their prattling! A fine outcome, Eivor. The very soul of balance.
- Eivor: A firm hand is all you need, Birstan, whether on your hunting bow, or on your helm.
- Birstan: All this talk of hunting makes long for the woods.
- Eivor: Your wife awaits, Birstan. Are you not worried some other man will drench your sheets with his sweats?
- Birstan: Ha! She does as she must. As do I. But you will discover this soon enough.
Eivor and Bristan met up with Estrid and Gisele.
- Estrid: You have done the impossible, Dane. Returned my errant gander to his coop.
- Bristan: My pettish love, such a stormy countenance clouds the sun of my return.
- Estrid: Your thegns drank the ale the abbot gifted us. All of it.
- Bristan: Now that is a tragedy my heart will not easily overcome.
- Estrid: If he looked at me for the same affection he shows for hunting deer, our marriage might have survived.
- Eivor: I noticed your love has gone sour. Was it fresher than this?
- Estrid: There is so little difference between love and hate, it's difficult to say where the sourness comes from.
- Eivor: So what do you need of me?
- Eivor: Does your god not allow husbands and wives to part?
- Birstan: Our God, our king. There is much standing in the way of a joyous uncoupling. Ours was an arranged marriage, a political need, and not easily broken.
- Eivor: Explain yourselves, clear and plain, and I will do it. The poetry here is mind mud.
Estrid left for the marketplace.
- Birstan: My wife is a gracious and attentive host, Eivor. The only thing that keeps my braying thegns at bay.
- Eivor: And the woman found?
- Birstan: A darling May-bud. Alfida, my childhood sweetheart. I left her twenty years ago in Maeldun to marry my prickled pear.
- Eivor: Twenty years? Can an ember so cold be reignited?
- Birstan: We can hope! You must fan the flame. Find her, bring her to my lakeside cottage, and light a bonfire there. I will know to come. I believe she lived in the last house of Maeldun. A small, sweet place where fond memories were made.
- Eivor: I will do as you both ask, and ask Freyja for success in this love game.
- Birstan: Good luck in your endeavours, Eivor. I pray you find my Alfida, with a fair face and a yearning heart.
Eivor agreed to help the estranged couple.
- Eivor: Now, should I look for Alfida first or meet with Estrid at the marketplace?
Eivor protected Birstan from bears, returned back to Colcestre, and agreed to help break up the arranged marriage between Birstan and Estrid.