Hereward 03 - End of Days

Hereward 03 - End of Days by James Wilde Read Free Book Online

Book: Hereward 03 - End of Days by James Wilde Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Wilde
to his new allies. How they must have laughed at his friend Hereward’s misfortune. He ground his teeth.
    ‘I will say a prayer for him when we reach Ely,’ she said.
    Alric felt a pang of guilt. Sooner or later they would have to tell her that Hereward was missing. In her village, she would have thought it another excuse to deter her. He hoped she would forgive him.
    Once across the causeway, they made their way up the winding path to Ely’s gates. Only then did Alric feel safe. God had granted them a fortress of lethal bogs and dense woods and foul black water that the Normans could never cross in force. If they had made their stand anywhere else in England, the rebellion would already be crushed and his head would be sitting on a pole alongside Hereward’s and Kraki’s and all the rest. For that, he would give thanks every day and every night.
    Once the gates had trundled shut behind them and the guards had set the great oak beam to bar them, Alric frowned at a babble of angry voices drifting across the hillside. A crowd had gathered along the street leading past the dwellings and workshops to the minster on the summit. Among the scowls, the monk glimpsed familiar faces, Ely folk, and others from the Camp of Refuge along the hillside, where all those who had sought sanctuary with Hereward had made their home. Kraki and a few of Hereward’s men were all but encircled.
    ‘Where is Hereward?’ Rowena asked. ‘I would speak to him now.’
    Troubled by the confrontation, Alric guided the woman toone side and said in a low voice, ‘Go to the church and wait. I will meet you there soon.’
    ‘I will wait. I have nothing but time.’ She looked across Ely’s thatched roofs, marvelling at the activity in the bustling settlement, so far removed from her own quiet village. She set off, taking a path between the houses to avoid the crowd.
    Alric and Thurstan walked to the edge of the gathering. Folk were oblivious of them, their anger focused on Kraki and the warriors.
    ‘Nothing but grief have we had since you came to Ely,’ someone called.
    ‘You hide the one with blood on his hands,’ another shouted. ‘Give him up.’
    ‘Still your tongues,’ Kraki bellowed, shaking his axe.
    The crowd quietened. Eyes dipped down in fear of the warrior’s fierce demeanour, but Alric could still see anger and resentment simmering in those faces. What could have happened while he had been away from Ely?
    ‘We hide no one,’ the Viking continued, pacing around the circle of bowed heads, ‘because we do not know who committed these crimes. Nor do you.’
    ‘The knife …’ someone began.
    ‘The knife was stolen,’ Kraki barked. ‘But we will find who spilled innocent blood, and they will be punished. That is my oath. Now, return to your homes.’
    The men and women lingered for a moment, not satisfied by what they had heard. Then one by one they began to drift away, sullen eyes darting back to the band of warriors.
    When the crowd had dissipated, Alric marched over to Kraki. ‘What has put the fire in them?’
    ‘Another murder,’ Kraki grunted. ‘A woman from the Camp of Refuge, strangled and thrown into the waters.’
    The monk bowed his head. ‘And they blame Hereward’s army?’
    ‘Aye. When we came here, we turned their lives on their heads.’ The Viking hawked phlegm and spat. ‘But mostly theyblame Hengist. His knife was found by the body of Oswyn the potter. Stolen, he says.’ He shrugged.
    ‘You do not trust him? He has always been loyal—’
    ‘I do not trust anyone any more,’ Kraki snarled with such ferocity that Alric took a step back. ‘Since Hereward has gone, we bicker and fight. Now this … Soon the folk here will drive us out of Ely. What then for the last hope of the English?’
    Alric felt his heart fall. Hope was thin on the ground.
    ‘And while we tear ourselves apart here in Ely, the king does not rest. Come with me. There is a man you must meet, a new arrival in the camp.’ The

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