The Seventh Lost Tale of Mercia: Hildred the Maid
The Seventh Lost Tale of Mercia:
    Hildred the Maid
    Jayden Woods
    Smashwords Edition
    Copyright 2010 Jayden Woods
    Edited by Malcolm Pierce

    *

    “ This year was the great
famine in England so severe that no man ere remembered
such.”

    --Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Entry For Year 1005
A.D.

    *

    SHREWSBURY, MERCIA
    1005 A.D.

    On her way to church that morning, anger
poisoned Hildred’s devotion. She knew that she was supposed to
worship God with a pure and loving heart, but she also doubted that
God would notice one way or another. After all, He clearly didn’t
see—nor care—what was happening to her body, nor the bodies of her
entire family, most of whom were dead.
    The majority of the people trudging on the
same dirt path to the church suffered more than she. Their skin lay
flat on their bones and their raggedy clothes flapped loose on
their joints. This was the worst famine any of them had seen in
their lifetimes. Hildred fared better than them only because so
many of her own family members had died in the last few years,
leaving fewer mouths to feed.
    Her eyes stung at the thought, but her
physical discomfort overcame the torments of her mind. Her belly
ached and her muscles trembled. For weeks she had lived on little
more than nuts and water. What money she and her father had, they
used to buy milk for the baby. A year ago, Hildred’s mother died
giving birth to him. Somehow, little Coenred had survived, and
lived still. He was growing sick, and he slept much more than a
baby should sleep, and every instance he squirmed and cried came as
a relief.
    When she awoke this morning, she did so with
the determination to save her baby brother no matter what. Perhaps
that was why she dressed herself nicely today. She donned a soft
linen dress that once belonged to her mother. She untangled her
long brown hair with a pick and splashed her face with
stream-water. She was not even sure why. It was a desperate clutch
for pride and hope, she thought. When she knelt and prayed to God,
perhaps He would notice her at last. Perhaps He would pay
attention. And then He would show her mercy.
    She heard a disturbance behind her and turned
to see two horses galloping up the road. As they neared the
pedestrians, the riders gave half-hearted tugs on their horses’
reins, but gave no indication that they would slow down to an
agreeable pace. The townsfolk murmured and pushed one another as
they tried to get out of the way.
    The horses had little choice but to skid to a
walk or trample some human beings, so they cast clouds of bitter
dust into the air and snorted with dismay. Standing defiantly in
place, Hildred glared back at the two riders shuffling closer. One
of them was older and more rugged than the other, his wolfish hair
and beard shaded gray, his large hand on the hilt of his sword as
he yelled, “Make way for Thegn Eadric!”
    Her glare fiercened. As the dust cleared she
saw Lord Eadric, a man near her own age at some nineteen years, his
red tunic blazing with color in the light of the sunrise. His long
yellow hair was tied back, but still several strands sprang about
his cheeks, thick and curly. Her heart gave a little leap at the
handsomeness of his face, the bright blue eyes and slightly bumped
nose, and she struggled to remember why she ought to dislike him.
In truth people said the land-owning swineherd was a good lord: his
own estate currently fared better than anyone else’s in all of
Shrewsbury. But people also whispered that he was a liar and
deceiver, though none of them could prove why. They probably
assumed that because he began as a base-born nobody, he must have
achieved his position by some evil, unfair means.
    Her heart lurched again when she realized
that he was staring back at her. Without deciding to, Hildred now
stood in the middle of the road, blocking his path completely.
People on either side of the road kept him from moving around her,
and his horse had slowed nearly to a stop. She shut her gaping
mouth

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