He awoke in a ditch covered by mosquitoes, with their tiny bites and incessant buzzing, he shifted in the mud, brushing some leaves off himself and gazing at the constellation of Orion. Another night, another brawl. And so he had staggered over the hill out of sight of the docile little village on the coast, curled up in a ditch and tried to sleep. The constant bites may have woken him but feeling as he did, his brain throbbing, all energy sapped from his body, his stomach threatening to return the venison he'd so enjoyed the night before, it was something else that made him come to. Something seemed off, more so than the usual of course, something was not right. The sounds from over the hill were not the same as he was used to. There was a strong smell of smoke and a silence that should not have been. Pushing himself up and swaying at first, he walked towards his "home".
Aethelstan gripped the pommel of his sword, tight enough that his knuckles turned the same white as the chalk embankment that he had tried to sleep beneath. The sword he had mockingly named "Tebecranwulf", destroyer of wolves. It was rusted and blunt along one edge, nicked in four places from some archaic fight, and was generally a sorry excuse for a weapon of a Saxon warrior with the name of a king, but then Aethelstan was neither. He was merely a sixteen-year-old herdsman, his dirty blond beard still wispy and his shoulders not yet filled out. His parents had been of a somewhat grandiose bent when they'd named him Aethelstan and thus far the boy had yet to live up to such a pretentious name on a mere serf. Those same parents now lay a mile up the track, butchered and covered by flies.
A day ago the village of Weymouth, nestled on the coast of Dorset, beside the turgid river Wey, had boasted a population of one hundred and two, a thriving community by the standards of 910 Anno Domini. Aethelstan and his two fellow villagers, Kimball the eeler and Banan the boarsman, who had all been absent during the slaughter, accounted for three...the rest of the village had been comprised of three old men and five old women, in other words, those over the age of thirty-five, thirteen middle-aged men and nineteen middle-aged women between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four, fourteen more young men and twenty young women between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four, and the rest were an assortment of children, from snot-nosed toddlers to equally grubby preteens. One could count the fourteen odd slaves, mostly male farmhands, but then nobody counted the slaves, except perhaps for the buxom, chestnut-haired Irish girl Moira, who filled the dreams of many a Weymouth lad. But to their regret, she only ministered to the ale induced flaccid needs of the village Chief Osric, formerly a corpulent, red-nosed bully of a man, now Osric had been reduced to nothing more than a corpse face down, a very large ax gash in his back as he had turned to run, in his own hall.
It was not until the evening of the day after the raid, that Aethelstan had crept into the village and seen the devastation. Recovering fast from his hangover due to the immediacy of the threat, from his vantage on the hill above the village, he had seen uncommonly large billows of smoke wafting over the hilltop, far more than could be produced by the blacksmith and the Chief's hall, and so ignoring his woolen charges, he had sprinted to the summit and there spied the longship a good distance out upon the tide. It sat in the water, sleek and menacing in an almost indifferent way, its dragon-headed mast facing outwards. The boy stood upon the hilltop transfixed, a witness to the destruction of his home, the ocean breeze brisk and bracing against him. Two thoughts occurred to him, firstly that it was unlikely the invaders knew of Hrorgards stash of beer and secondly that the next time a Dane stepped foot on this shore would be their last. And so he stumbled towards Hrorgards burnt home.