Over his land was Aldwyn lord, and kissed the ring of no gold-giver save the King of the West-Saxons, for proud was he in his strength, who had so mightily striven with King Egbert at Charmouth, where there was a great slaughter, and though victory had gone to the Danes, had gained honour. At Hengeston, too, he had fought, where the Danes were put to flight. At Egbert’s death, he had kissed, too, the ring of Ethelwulf, Egbert’s son, and to his lands gone, to live in his age, thinking to find peace, bowed down under the gifts of his kings.
Summer ripened to autumn, and peace silvered his beard as his fields turned gold and the harvest was brought in, and the windows of his hall held lit the darkness of night, and the laughter of braves mingled with the songs of the bards. Many came to Aldwyn’s lands, to kiss his ring of twisted gold, for his renown was known well, and news of his gifts of gold, and the good cheer of his table were spread far in the mouths of those who had tasted his hospitality. His warriors in their armour were as bright as their swords—shining death—and as straight as the ash spears they bore, and swift were their horses, and skilful the riders. Foremost among them shone the swords of his sons, and in the light their fair hair shone, for in Beorn’s face shone his mother’s, and in Alden’s, her eyes.
Many feasts there were, as winter silvered the land, and the wolves howled hunger in the shadows of the forest. With the new grass came gladness, for as the flowers to the trees, a child had come to Aldwyn’s home, daughter of his son, and Eadignes they named her, and Edyth they called her, for happiness she brought to that home, and her laughter sounded like a silver bell through the halls, and the cuckoo mourned that some other song was sweeter than its. And Beomia, her aunt, Aldwyn’s daughter, looked at the child and the soft smile on the face of its mother Eldrida, and the gentleness in Alden’s hands as he held her, and her dreams of horses and swords left her, and no longer did she clamour to hunt with her brothers.
In the summer they went to watch for the Danes, and to defend their coasts against the wolves of the sea, and Beomia bid them a sad farewell, and Aldwyn. Eadignes no longer was bliss, for the house resounded now with silence, and the steps of the women, and Aldwyn, grown unwillingly old. The fruit in the orchards was yet unripe when they returned, joyous though not triumphant, for no Danes had they found, but only good company, and hunting instead of war.
With them came Eadgard, come from his father’s lands in Kent, to kiss Aldwyn’s ring and fight his battles and share his feasts. All shining was he, eyes the silver of his sword—bright death—and hair the shine of sun on copper. And Beomia’s eyes sought Eadgard out, and held them as the days darkened. On All Hallows’ Even he asked for her, and on midwinter wed her, day of the longest night. With candles they lit the night, and with laughter the days after, and with songs they sent her to be peace-weaver in his home, and with gold, and with tears. Her brothers rode with her, and their laughter drowned the howling of wolves. Eadignes’ crying was loud in the ears of her mother, and Aldwyn’s hidden in his beard—his only daughter, she, and born in her mother’s death, and her mother’s image in a silver mirror.
Days they strained their eyes against the sun on the snow, waiting to see it churned up by horse-hooves, and see the smiles on her brothers’ faces, come home to tell them how she was loved in her husband’s home, how cherished. The snows weighing down the dead boughs dropped to the ground and a new burden grew and met it, and yet no riders approached, no horses. The dread in Eldrida’s heart grew as she watched, and often it seemed to her that the wind bore her husband’s last breath to her, and she longed to tell the lord of her house to shut his aged ears against the screams of his daughter. And into the house she went from her lonely watch, and sang to her daughter in a voice grown soft with unknown sorrow.
The riders that came were not those who had ridden away, and Eldrida had never seen their faces save at feasts to honour the father of her husband. Grave were they, and grim-faced, and armoured as for war. They drew rein at the gates of her house, and spoke in sombre voices with Aldwyn, her husband's father and now hers. Their words were not for her ears, but she heard their speech, and pulled her daughter far away, ere she heard as well. The Danes had come, sea-wolves, hunting in winter hunger, and her husband and his brother were perished, and their sister, and her husband, and all that kin were dead, and burnt in the great pyre of their hall in flames, like the great heroes of earlier times.
Yet the world went on, and there were guests in the halls. She shut her tears away, to be brought out in the dark of night, and savoured with her jewels and her husband’s memories, and brought mead to the friends of her father—she as his only child, now, sons and daughter and all—and let Eadignes charm them with her babble and be passed from lap to lap, till gnarled soldiers strove with each other to make her laughter sound out. And yet her heart beat time to the flurry of their horses’ hooves, and yet was Aldwyn gone. She waited till the sky had darkened, and beds had been found for all the riders, and her table greatly praised, and when the house was silent went softly to his room.
The candle’s light threw shadows on the walls, and gleamed redly on the armour pulled from its oaken chests, and the sword, still-sharp, in Aldwyn’s hands. All night she argued with him, but words could not dissuade nor pleading persuade him, and his life was as unlived were his sons unavenged, and his daughter, and her daughter who would grow without knowing a father’s face, or a brother’s. With dawn the riders rode out, and Aldwyn with them grey as the sky in visage and armour, and all his warriors still in his halls, and Eldrida waited with the babe in her arms and showed it the sunlight on snow, and on the tears freezing on her face. This, too, would pass.
All day the chargers rode, and old songs of war came easily to mouth and memory, and almost was this pleasure to Aldwyn, even in his sorrow, to again feel the horse lithe beneath him, and know himself a warrior riding to battle and enemies’ death. At eventide the Danes came upon them, and they fought on the icy road, till their horses were killed beneath them, and then on foot and in field and ditch they fought, and many Danes were sent forth under the bright death of gleaming swords turned dull. And yet did Aldwyn perish, and those he had ridden with, for the Danes were brave, and many, and they, though brave, but few.
He died under the westering sun, and no burial was found, nor stele built for him, for his sons were dead, and all his kin with him. The snow built him a burial mound, and in spring the mourning cuckoo wove his hair into its nest, and insects burrowed into his flesh to find homes for their young. His death went untold, for there were none remaining to speak of it, and none left to remember Aldwyn, and his sons and their sister, save the widow mourning in the empty home, and the child who knew only her mother’s name. Woods took on blossoms, dwellings grew fair, meadows grew beautiful, the world hastened on.
Title from "The Wanderer" (where has the horse gone? Where the rider/young man?). References to "Deor" and "The Seafarer". Historical events of the years 836-842 taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entries for those years; Egbert and Ethelwulf are historical figures.