Downton and Cerdic 519 AD
Birthplace of King Arthur's Kingdom of Wessex and England
by Michael Alwyn Slade
Copyright 2010 ©
Dun-Ton (Downton) West Farm - Hal (Charford), East Durotriges. AD 519.|
The day previous to the Battle.
The view over the valley was clear and crisp. It was early May and the first cuckoo beyond the marshlands could be heard prospecting from the edge of the Forest. The valley's distant sky to the south was showing the approach of storm clouds - it was to be a nasty night.
Aeldred and Byrr were keeping watch on a flock of sheep between Brem Moor (Breamore) and Dun-Ton (Downton). They were 10 years old the twin sons of Derrig, their sheep farmer father, who was attending to his continual day and night-time lambing duties. The youngsters were enjoying the process of chasing trout up the sparkling streams by the Aluan, river. They would trap them up a tributary stream and dam it with a wattle fence piece. They had more than enough for tea but being boys they had yet to learn to catch just enough for the day. Their sack also contained twelve mouth-watering crayfish, the Aluan Valley supported its inhabitants well.
To the North could be seen the Moot at Dun-Ton and South Franken Burgh a smaller fortress lately having been rebuilt by some relatively friendly Franks. Different tribes could successfully integrate in this productive valley although this was dictated by a regular high rate of loss in local men when conflicts arose which was so often the case, every few years at least there would be a major disturbance.
The boys had a special pollarded willow tree just short of the marsh. This they would climb and see yet further along the valley. Caerl Burgh (Clearbury) with adjacent Giants Grave could be seen and then off to the south Castle Hill was just visible. Hal (Hale) just hidden close by in front of them was their local small defensive mount tucked in to the fringe of the forest.
The boys realised it was time to coral the sheep for the night, they had a handsome two hundred plus now and already a hundred lambs. Wolves wild boar and foxes could still be heard around most nights all seeking an easy meal.
Slowly a wisp of smoke was to be seen on the horizon, it slowly plumed with a definite whiteness, it was almost instantly spotted by the boys as coming from Franken Burgh and by the time a second plume arose from Castle Hill they were already rushing home-ward direct to their farmstead as their father called out the alarm. The signal indicated strangers approaching from the East. Different smoke plumes would have indicated different threats.
They knew they had a few minutes to gather an armful of food and a bucket and rush off with their parents to Hal fort and the relative safety from marauding trespassers. If the strangers took a sheep that was just regarded as insurance and they would hope they were on their way elsewhere and not be burdened by unnecessary heavy food that they could scavenge each day. The family had what little valuables they possessed fitted into their sacks on their belts.
Their father would leave them at Hal for he would be going on to the Moot with six other local freemen (Coerls) as part of the local Ton militia, the Alua. Some fifteen youths would be with the local wives and children to defend at Hal. Hal would see off all but determined raiders who could be backed up by reinforcements sent from the Moot and from the south if necessary. The Moot could be defended for 10 days, more than enough for all except exceptional campaigns.
The geese and dogs flew off in all directions as the family rushed across the secretive pathways across the marshes to the ford. The geese and the dogs would return almost directly this night time there to act as sentinels with the sheep. In Hal the farmers would know the movements of the incomers all through any night, they had their own animal alarm systems!
The smoke plume warning was spreading Northwards all up the valley, white smoke could be seen as far a Wither Ring Tun by the time they all crossed the river.
Dusk was now descending, they closed the gate at Hal to settle down the young ones for a comfortable night. These occasions were usually a just a passing band or a scouting party maybe a troop of cavalry off to further shires but it was the rule to anticipate the worst as there had been some surprises as Natan in charge at Dun Ton was now renowned as a leader well beyond his prime and holding on to the court reigns without securing reasonable levels of alertness, discipline or training to prevent several increasing incursions over the last year or two. Most intrusions were no more than at most twelve men and as such turn out to be little threat. Cerdic when he was in charge at Dun-ton some years earlier used to be alert and active for any sign of slackness and had proven his mettle across the nation and indeed in Gaul whenever he was needed. The valley could well do with Cerdic back. Little did they know that Cerdic was at this moment behind the spearhead scouts that had triggered the alarm to which they now were reacting.
It was known that Natan had recently activated some of his friends forces who were now being fêted at Rock-Bourne, Wigts Burgh and Caerl Burgh but it was not realised that more were on there way. Natan had run down his own defences and frittered away his local income. He had made promises to others, mostly non allied Saxon mercenaries, that should normally kept at more than arms length, two arms length even better.
Natan had not noted that the alerts over the last two weeks were showing a pattern. Scouting bands had been testing the whole valley from Twyn Ham (Christchurch) at the sea to Saerys Bryg (Old Sarum), and inland as far as Bads Burgh (Badbury), Shaftes Burgh (Shaftesbury) and even Wil Ton, Cerdic knew they that Natan did not have a co-ordinated force worthy of the name but they he had questionable supporters in number still arriving.
Natan was courting disaster on two fronts, unreliable allies and an enemy among his own "allies" his own nephew Cerdic.
Cerdic's men had already trounced Natan in arguments that overflowed 10 years before and Cerdic had now had his fill of Natan, well known now as Natan Leod. Leod the traitor. Natans new friends were not to be seen anywhere near Cerdics growing local influence, he had already seen the whole of the South centred on Caer Gwen (Winchester) becoming little short of a thriving nation again. He was already replicating the stronghold his Father and Natans brother, Lyr Merini, had ruled for many a year. Wizard of the Sea, Lyr Merini, Merlin - his name forever went before him.
Already his son Cerdic was multiplying his father's success. Natan could not have a worse enemy, he could not have worse allies.
Tonight we can expect a milestone in the history of the country. Either the continued Celtic Briton based royal culture would consolidate and expand or the Saxon influenced military domination would see off its biggest protagonist, Cerdic.
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