The Northern Way


5. Amluth - Page 2

Uncertain of how the Jutish nation would react to his deeds, Amluth lay in hiding until he could learn the people's thoughts. Everyone living nearby had watched the hall burn through the night, and in the morning they came to see what had occurred. Searching the ruins they found nothing but a few burnt corpses, and the body of Feng stabbed with his own sword. Some were angry, others saddened, others happy that the tyrant had been slain.

At this, Amluth abandoned his hiding place, and called an assembly. Here he told the Jutes of the circumstances that had brought this about, where upon the people proclaimed him king, seeing him as a man of wisdom and cunning.
With this done, Amluth equipped three ships, and sailed back to Britain to see his wife and his father-in-law. With him went the best of his thanes, well equipped and richly clad. He had had a shield made for him, upon which was painted the story of his exploits.

The King of Britain received them well, treating them as befits a king and his retinue. During the feast he asked;

'Is my old friend Feng alive and well?'

Amluth shook his head.

'He died by the sword,' he replied.

'Who slew him?' asked the king sharply.

'It was I,' replied Amluth.

At this the king said nothing, but secretly he was horrified, for in their youth he and Feng had sworn that each should avenge the other's death if one of them were to be slain. But the slayer was his son-in-law. Which should he chose, to honour his vow, or to respect the ties of blood and marriage? At last, he chose the former, but decided that he would achieve vengeance by the hands of another.

'I have sad tidings to relate, also,' he said. 'While you were among the Jutes, my wife died of illness.'

Amluth offered his condolences, and asked if he intended to marry again.

'Indeed,' the king replied, 'and since I am delight with you cunning and craft, I would like you to find me a fresh match.'

'Do you have any preferences?' asked Amluth.

The king replied that he did. 'In Pictland there reigns an unmarried queen named Eormenthryth. I wish to marry her.' But he neglected to tell Amluth that the reason the queen was unmarried was because she had the custom of killing all who wooed her.

Amluth set out for Pictland with his thanes and some of the king's attendants. When he was near the hall of the queen, he came to a meadow by the road where he rested his horses. Finding the spot pleasing, he resolved to rest himself there, too, and posted men to keep watch some way off.

Queen Eormenthryth learnt of this, and sent ten warriors to spy on the foreigners. One of them slipped past the guards and took Amluth's shield, which Amluth was using as a pillow, and the letter the King of Britain had entrusted him with. When he brought these things to Queen Eormenthryth, she examined the shield, and saw that this was the man who had with cunning and craft unsurpassed avenged on his uncle the murder of his father. She also read the letter with distaste. She had no desire to marry an old man. She rubbed out all the writing, and wrote in their place saying that the bearer was to ask her hand himself. Then she told the spies to replace both shield and letter.

Meanwhile, Amluth had found the shield had been stolen, kept his eyes shut and feigned sleep when the spy returned. As the man was replacing the shield and letter, Amluth sprang up, and seized him. Then he woke his thanes, and they rode on to the queen's palace.

He greeted her.

'I am here to represent my father-in-law, the King of Britain,' he told her, and he handed her the letter, sealed with the king's seal.

Eormenthryth too it, and read it.

'I have heard of you,' she said. 'You are said to be very cunning. Your uncle deserved all he received at your hands. You achieved deeds beyond mortal estimation. Not only did you avenge you father's death and your mother's faithlessness, but at the same time you gained a kingdom. You have made only one mistake.'

'And that is?' challenged Amluth.

'Why, your lowly marriage,' Eormenthryth replied, as if it was obvious. 'Your wife's parents were both of the stock of thralls, even if they became kings by accident. When looking for a wife, a man must regard firstly her birth over her beauty. I, whose origin is far from humble, am worthy of your bed and your embraces, since you surpass me in neither wealth nor ancestry. I am a queen, and whoever I deem worthy of my bed is king.' She embraced him.

Amluth, overjoyed by her words, kissed her back, and told her that her wishes were as his own. A banquet was held, the Picts gathered, and they were married.

When this was done, Amluth returned to Britain with his bride, and a strong band of Picts followed to guard against attack. As they came south, they met the King of Britain's daughter.

'It would be unworthy of me to hate you as an adulterer more than I love you as a husband,' she said, 'for I have now a son as a pledge of our marriage, and regard for him, if nothing else, means I must show the affection of a wife. He may hate his mother's supplanter, I will love her. But I must tell you that you must beware your father-in-law.'

As she was speaking, the King of Britain came up and embraced Amluth, and welcomed him to a banquet.

But Amluth, being forewarned, took a retinue of two hundred horsemen, and rode to the hall appointed. As he did so, the king attacked him under the porch of the hall, and thrust at him with a spear, but Amluth's mailshirt deflected the blow. Amluth was slightly wounded, and he went back to the Pictish warriors. Then he sent to the king Eormenthryth's spy, who he had taken prisoner. The man was to explain what had occurred, and absolve Amluth.

The king pursued Amluth, and slew many of his men. The next day, Amluth, wishing to fight, increased his apparent numbers by setting some of the corpses on horseback, and tying others to stones, and giving the impression that his forces were undiminished, and striking fear into the hearts of his opponents, who fled. Amluth's forces came down upon the king as he was retreating, and slew him.

Amluth amassed a great amount of plunder, and then went with his two wives back to his own land.
In the mean time, Wadolgeat had died, and Wihtlæg, his son, had become king of the Angles. He had immediately begun to harass Garthryth, Amluth's mother, and stripped her of her royal wealth, saying that Amluth had usurped the kingdom of the Jutes, and defrauded the King of the Angles, his overlord.

In a spirit of conciliation, Amluth presented Wihtlæg with the richest of his spoils, but soon after he seized the chance for revenge, by attacking and subduing him. After this, Wihtlæg recruited the forces of the Angles, and challenged the Jutes to war. Amluth saw that he was caught between disgrace and danger; if he accepted the challenge he would risk defeat or death, but to flee would be dishonourable. Finally, he decided to meet Wihtlæg on the field of combat.

But because he loved Eormenthryth so much, he was more concerned about her widowhood than his death. She said that she had a man's courage, and would not abandon him on the battlefield. But she did not keep this promise. Amluth rode against Wihtlæg in Jutland, and met his end in the fray. Now Eormenthryth accepted Wihtlæg's offer of marriage, thus betraying Amluth's memory. So fell the Jutish royal house.

After this defeat, many Jutes fled to Frisia, where they were welcomed by the king, Folcwalda, and their descendants were still at his court three generations later.

Wihtlæg ruled over the two kingdoms for many long and peaceful years, before dying of disease.

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