HRÆDWALDESHRIM [The Reckoning of Rædwald]

© Sam Newton 1989

Famous was Rædwald, Tyttla’s renowned son,

excellent among English kings;

through wisdom and through war-speed

 he held to his high-born destiny.

 On the first day of May was his marriage-feast;

 wedded was he to winsome Seaxwyn,

 East Saxon people’s peerless princess.

 Three royal bairns she bore Rædwald:

 Rægenhere, Eorpwald, and Rædwyn the fair –

wolf-cubs to further the line of the Wuffings.

As his children waxed beneath the wide skies

 he grew wealthy in harvests and wise in winters.

Heroes’ sons stepped in his steep-roofed hall,

 and saluted him on his high-seat.

 With golden rings he gathered them

 and in fealty they followed him,

 noble shepherd of North and South folk.

One mid-summertime was his worth tested –

sea-borne tidings came from southward

brought by gold-browed monks.

 Famous is Rædwald’s reckoning

of their rune-bound book lore,

enduring the wisdom of the warrior-king:

 “You bearers of book-lore

who have fared so far thus

to our ancestral Anglian turf

speak fairly, but we cannot forsake

 that elder way that we and all

our folk have ever held fast.

But our fathers’ house is high and broad

and room there is for all your runes.”

So roomy-hearted King Rædwald

 bid welcome the book-bearers

and bid his wood-wrights work them an altar

within his high- gabled gold-timbered hall

and its light shone thence through many lands.

Famed far and near for wisdom and foresight,

fate brought it about that he became

 Overlord of all in the island of Britain

when fierce Æþelfrið, Æþelric’s son,

 battle-crow of Bernicia

spoilt King Rædwald’s sovereign peace

with woeful sound, his war-song.

 Time was to unbind the battle-runes,

so unfurled was the wolf-flag,

war-vane of the Wuffings.

The runes were right the house-troop ready;

 so farewell he bade to his bower-queen,

to his hallowed hearth and high-seat.

Forth went Rædwald, to face fate’s decree.

Æþeling Rægenhere also, eager under helm.

 Behind followed the flower of the folk-host,

 linden-wood shields roundly shining,

mail-shirts ringing as they marched out,

warriors singing the Wuffing war-song.

 Until, faring ahead to the far Idle-ford,

 æþeling Rægenhere and his eager war-band

 waded the waterway, waiting not for his father.

 Of his error he learnt all too late,

as the raven’s cry on the river bank

signalled Æþelfrið’s sudden attack.

 The old war-crow swooped on the wolf-cub,

 swinging so hard his slaughter sword

that its bitter edge clove the boy’s brow;

Rægenhere fell, and the river ran red

as the æþeling’s life ebbed away with the tide.

 The lord of the North laughed aloud,

brandishing aloft his blood-drinking blade,

 the battle-crow delighting in his foe’s defeat;

his dark-coated fighters flocked and dinned,

as the ravens claimed a royal feast.

Then the main force of the Wuffing folk-host

 reached the Idle river-ford,

all too late to lessen the loss.

Fate’s seal was now set fast;

appalled but resolute, Rædwald advanced,

 let slip his war-wolves in woe-whetted mood.

Warriors let free grim-ground weapons,

 and shuddering shields answered shafts.

 Front-lines crashed and fated ones fell

 in weapon’s storm, while others stood steady.

 Bitter was that battle-clash,

 as bright English blood blackened Idle waters.

Then Æþelfrið, over-eager,

thought he saw the Wuffing throng waver

 and forward rushed ferocity renewed;

 but bettered he was by a wise war-smith,

 and right in his path stood ready Rædwald,

 awaiting his chance to avenge his loss.

The Wuffing king swung his war-sword,

 best of weapons, bejewelled by wonder-smiths,

 over the shaft-heavy shield of his foe

 so that its hard edge sang on Æþelfrið’s helm.

 Blood sprang out bright under battle-mask,

 yet in war-frenzy he fought on

bludgeoning with slaughter-blade

recently washed in Wuffing blood.

 Rædwald’s cunningly wrought ringmail,

 elf-lord Weland’s wondrous work,

 warded him from the worst of wounds,

for it withstood penetration from point and edge.

 Wuffa’s heir swung again his war-sword –

 supercharged blade bit battle-steep boar-helm,

 and the fatal stroke felled the lord of the North.

 The war-vane signalled the victory-runes

 and beacon lights broadcast

 the tidings of triumph.

Songs were sung in celebration

 and laments too for those lost ones.

Bitter was the battle that brought the victory,

the prince’s fall was too heavy a price,

 the flower of the Wuffings wasted ere he’d wed.

With his sword’s edge Rædwald had settled

 the deadly score with his son’s scather.

So the king returned to his ancestral turf,

 to his blithe burgh and bower garden;

 Rædwald’s wide peace was renewed again.

Sound and sage in wielding sovereignty,

well he ruled peoples that roomy-hearted king.

 Until, full of days, at the fated season,

 white haired and winter-wise,

he bade bravely

his final farewells

to his bairns and his bower-queen.

 Loyally he let go his loaned life.

 Grief sounded beneath golden rafters

 and household flags hung low.

Sad-hearted sea-wolves

carried their king out with care

 down to his boathouse as he himself had bidden.

At the royal berth, with bows beringed,

lay his flagship, the hero’s ferry.

 Aboard they laid their beloved lord

in great majesty by the mast,

with tremendous folk-treasures,

a fortune fetched from far and near.

 Wondrous was the cargo that keel carried:

 by his shimmering shoulder-mounts

 lay his gem-hilted hard edged

battle-blade, Æþelfrið’s bane,

 bejewelled work of wonder-smiths.

 Among crown jewels amidships

 Lord Rædwald lay in state.

 Mighty was the mourning

of the faithful Wuffing folk,

 yet they were grateful in their grieving

for the richness and rightness

 of King Rædwald’s golden reign.

Embarked now on the ebbing autumn-tide

 aboard his leaf-wood loyal longship

sailing its last and longest voyage

 across dark waters no mortal wit can fathom

bound for amber shores of eternal peace.

 © Sam Newton 1989

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