Helghi staggered out from the doorway and lurched down the steps of the porch, belching and breaking wind loudly as he did so. He had no wish to leave the comfort of the hall but was unable to contain his need to relieve himself any longer. He’d made sure that he’d had more food and mead than was considered gracious of a guest. After all, was it not small compensation for the troubles that Wulfhere had caused him over the years? He made a mental note of them in his head; a crippled son for one, that was definitely Wulfhere’s fault. Then there was the loss of his crops over the years.... of which he was convinced was the doing of Wulfhere’s wife, Ealdgytha and her evil eyes. Hadn’t the witch poisoned Helghi’s wife and caused her to die?... Then there was Alfgyva….ah yes beautiful, dark and bewitching Alfgyva. The woman should have been mine, dammit! And she would have been had it not been for Wulfhere’s interference. There were countless more reasons for him to hate Wulfhere that stretched back over the years and Helghi was convinced that the Horstede clan had for generations, been responsible for Helghi’s family not having advanced their status.
He made his way along the side of the Longhall, hands groping like a blind man’s, flinching as a splinter from one of the timber posts caught his finger. It was useless for a man to try and find the midden pit in this state, he thought and then a smile came over his face as he pulled up his tunic. Squatting unceremoniously on the grass, exposing his bare buttocks to the chill of the night air, he defecated effortlessly on the ground, right beside his host’s hall. He smiled at the thought of Wulfhere or one of his grubby barefoot children stepping in it. His hands found the ground in front of him and he levered himself to his feet, adjusted his clothing and turned to go back inside, stumbling drunkenly as he did so. Rounding the corner of the front entrance he paused. Swaying unsteadily, he stood aside to allow a girl to hurry down the steps into the yard.
Sigfrith was making her way out into the dim moon-lit darkness to Lady Gerda’s bower to check on her as she had been doing throughout the night. Intent on her purpose and used to drunken men’s stares, she paid no heed to Helghi’s lewd observance of her. She made her way along the coarse pathway and paused for a moment to observe two figures stealthily dart across the yard and disappear amongst the darkened shadows of the out-buildings. They appeared to be a male and female, one being tall and slim of build and the other much smaller and slighter. In the darkness she could not have been sure, but was almost certain that it was Edgar and Freyda. Her tongue clicked the roof of her mouth, scornful of their disregard. If they are caught…she thought to herself, they will be whipped.
She made to move on when suddenly she felt an unexpected hand on her shoulder. She turned in surprise only to have a big hairy face with foul stinking breath, shoved into hers. Slobbering thick wet lips sucked at her own as she was pushed roughly up against the outer wall of the hall. Sigfrith tried to fight, but despite his inebriated state, Helghi was strong and she felt her skirts whipped up and his hands groping at her groin.
“Son of a…! Look at that fool!” exclaimed Tigfi, who had just been sharing a joke with Esegar on their way back from the urinal pit. “Not the best place to seduce a wench, in full view of anybody on their way for a piss. The man must be as full as a cow’s udder on a winter’s morn!”
They both laughed but they stopped laughing when they heard the girl’s muffled cries.
It was dark and light was sparse, but it began to dawn on them that the girl’s cries were not moans of pleasure after all and that she was struggling with the man who had her pinned against the outer wall of the Longhall.
“’Tis no seduction, my friend, that girl is the Lady Ealdgytha’s servant girl, the baker’s daughter. Looks like that filthy scum Helghi is attempting to be free with her and she is not liking it very much!”
“Nor would I, for that matter!” Tigfi replied in disgust. “Best we put a stop to it, my friend.”
“Aye, but we must not make a fuss. Wulfhere cannot know of this or he will fly into a rage, end the betrothal.... or worse still, kill Helghi and thus incur the Earl’s displeasure!”
Esegar knew that the fortune of his lord affected all of his people. It was of the utmost importance that the hostilities were not resumed.
Tigfi nodded. “There is nothing like a good feud to alienate Lord Harold. He hates feuding amongst his people. He says there are better enemies to fight than ourselves.”
“Then it is up to you and I, Tigfi to keep the peace,” Esegar said and the two men hurried to the girl’s aid.
Sigfrith was fighting hard against Helghi’s groping hands and was holding her own, but she didn’t know how long she could maintain it. It was with great relief that she felt Helghi pulled forcibly away from her. She stared with pure hatred at her assailant as he was held back by the two men, spitting and snarling like an angry bull.
“Are you alright lass?” Esegar checked as Helghi struggled to break free.
Sigfrith took a deep breath and nodded, then, with her skirts lifted, she swung back her leg and kicked her attacker full between the legs. The blow took them all by surprise and as they staggered back, Sigfrith took the opportunity to hurry away.
Tigfi and Esegar chuckled as Helghi bent double.
“The bitch! Fucking wild cat! ” He spat as he rubbed his private parts in agony. The blow had taken his breath. “She was asking for it all night!” he spluttered in a poor attempt to excuse his behaviour.
Enraged, Tigfi swung Helghi and slammed him up against the wall of the hall, eyes blazing in anger. He was only a youth, no more than twenty, but powerfully built from the rigorous training that huscarles were expected to partake of. Helghi even when clear-headed would have found himself no match for the younger man.
“You dare to dishonour the Earl and Lord Wulfhere by forcing yourself on his servant girl in his own home?” bellowed Tigfi angrily. “At your own son’s betrothal feast?”
The young huscarle held Helghi by his fleshy neck.
“What are you going to do about it?” Helghi snarled defiantly.
“Nothing, Helghi. It’s what you are going to do that is important.”
Helghi stared at Tigfi uncomprehendingly.
“You are going to get your fat arse back inside and behave as a good guest should,” Tigfi continued, “...and behave with the grace and decency a man should toward his host and lord.”
“What if I said I didn’t want to?” Helghi said through clenched teeth.
“Now now, Master Helghi. Let’s not be childish about this.” Tigfi tightened his grip on the older man. “I don’t want to have to explain to the Earl why your bollocks are impaled on my seax. If you follow my advice, then we won’t tell and the Earl won’t have to punish you for raping a servant girl. What’s the punishment for rape these days, Esegar? Is it still castration?”
“I didn’t rape her,” protested Helghi. He gave them a frustrated look.“Didn’t get the chance!”
Tigfi grasped Helghi’s balls in his other hand and squeezed them painfully as if to emphasise what he was threatening.
“OOOW! ALRIGHT!” Helghi gasped as excruciating pain struck him in the crotch. “Don’t you think they’ve had enough for one night?”
“Good man. Good man. Then we won’t have to tell the Earl that you raped a servant girl?” Helghi shook his head. “Good. We won’t tell him as long as you conduct yourself in the manner of a gracious guest from now on. Now run along like a good little peasant!”
Tigfi wheeled Helghi around in the direction of the Hall and watched him stagger back up the porch. Just as he entered through the door way, a group of young men came out on their way to relieve themselves. Seeing his dishevelled appearance, they smiled suspiciously at Esegar and Tigfi as they passed, for the two of them were loitering as if they had just been up to some mischief.
“What of the girl? Do you think she will tell?” Tigfi asked when the others had passed out of ear shot.
“I will speak with her,” Esegar replied.
Tigfi looked thoughtfully at a coin he had pulled from his pouch. “Maybe this will ensure that she keeps her silence.”
“That and your good looks,” smiled Esegar.
Tigfi grinned broadly. “They have been known to work for me before.”
“She won’t mind, but she’s evidently choosey, that one.”
“Apparently so, judging by her treatment of Helghi. Where do you think she was going?”
“Probably to check on the old lady in one of the bower huts over there,” Esegar replied and pointed into the darkness.
“Wish me luck my friend. Let’s hope my bollocks get better treatment! ” he said as he disappeared across the yard to a cluster of out buildings.
“Rather you than me,” Esegar called to him and returned alone to the hall.