The Fifth Lost Tale of Mercia: Alfgifu the Orphan
The Fifth Lost Tale of Mercia:
    Alfgifu the Orphan
    Jayden Woods
    Smashwords Edition
    Copyright 2010 Jayden Woods
    Edited by Malcolm Pierce

    “ Then came King Ethelred home, in Lent, to
his own people; and he was gladly received by them all. Meanwhile,
after the death of Sweyne, sat Knute with his army in Gainsborough
until Easter ...”

    --The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry for Year 1014

    *

    Spring, 1014 A.D.
    Gainsborough

    Alfgifu of Northampton did not want to admit
that she was nervous, but when she saw the Viking encampment
looming ahead, her fear burned in her stomach until she could not
ignore it. She forced herself to think the same thought over, and
over, and over again: Canute lost his father, too. Canute lost his
father, too.
    This single thought struggled to stay afloat
as the approaching camp drowned her with physical sensations. The
lines of brightly painted shields along the burg walls seared her
eyes. Meat-scented smoke burned her nostrils. The clashing of
playful weapons rang in her ears. These sensations pulled her too
deeply into a reality that made her doubt the strength of her
purpose.
    But Canute lost his father, too.
    A growl rumbled from her throat, and her thin
legs clutched tightly around her horse, making it lunge forward.
When she thought about it too much, she wondered if this single
fact had truly been reason enough to travel almost one hundred
miles and introduce herself to the new King of the Vikings. She had
so many hopes for what to accomplish here, but as far as true
justifications went—or reasons to believe she might actually
succeed—they all boiled down to a mere gut instinct, and the one
thought that seemed to accompany it.
    Yes, Canute had just lost his father. She had
lost her father many years ago, and it had changed her life
irrevocably. This would bind her to Canute, she thought, and form a
permanent connection. She would be able to help him in a moment of
weakness; she would be able to understand what he was going through
better than most. She would be able to gain his trust.
    And once she gained his trust, she would be
able to turn him against Eadric Streona.
    *
    “What do you mean, he is busy?”
    “He’s busy,” repeated the thick-skulled
housecarl, gulping from a horn of mead.
    “This is unacceptable,” hissed Alfgifu. “I
have brought him two hundred pounds. I have brought him horses, and
cloaks, and fine blades, and—”
    “These are very good gifts, my lady.” The
warrior nodded approvingly while running his calloused finger over
one of the blades in discussion. “I think he will actually like
them, more than most of the gifts he has received. But … Canute is
busy.”
    “He cannot be too busy to see me .” She
straightened as tall as she could, her chest swelling, her chin
thrusting high. But this movement felt like a mistake once the
housecarl’s eyes began roving her body. He did not seem pleased by
what he saw, and this only made her tremble with more fury. People
had always told her she possessed a “boyish” figure. She was
skinny, her chest flat, her limbs lanky, and on top of all that her
face was very square. She could only hope that this would keep the
housecarl from thinking about her womanhood, so she forced herself
to stand secure and not wither under his gaze. “I am Alfgifu of
Northampton. I am the daughter of Alfhelm, who once ruled as
Ealdorman of York—”
    “And our king just died, so I don’t care who
the hell you are, you stupid bitch; go away.”
    “ Just died?” She looked around
curiously at the soldiers lounging in streets and lodges they had
taken over. The place was filthier than it should have been, she
realized: a sign that the army had been here for some time without
moving. The men and women labored through their daily chores with
sloth and boredom. How long had it been since these Vikings were
mobile, she wondered? Had this whole army stayed here since the
death of their last king, doing nothing, even though the

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