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WORCESTERSHIRE

993 A.D.


Even the lazy pigs stirred to life when Alfric and his men came riding over the hills. The hogs rolled and squealed, bobbing up and down on stubby legs as they ran around in mass confusion. The dog barked, lifting wiry haunches from the dirt to point his muzzle and boom his howl of alert. The horizon undulated as the ealdormen’s cavalry sliced black silhouettes against the iron gray clouds. Chills raked down Golde’s skin as she watched, though the breeze brushing her pale hair blew with the warmth of spring.

Hunwald?” she called. “Hunwald!”

She heard no response from the swineherd: only the thunder of Alfric’s men galloping closer. Then, over the cacophony of thudding hooves, grunting pigs, and barking dogs, she heard a child yelling.

Mother!”

She turned just as his little hands struck her skirt, pulling and tugging. She looked down at his big blue eyes, unable to be mad at him even though she wished that right now, he would simply disappear. “Eadric, find Hunwald and tell him to put up the pigs.”

I’ll do it myself.”

Golde shook her head helplessly at the boisterous seven-year-old. Only yesterday, one of the hogs had flattened him in the mud and nearly crushed his chest. Already, he seemed to have forgotten the incident. His thick yellow curls lashed against his face in a visage of defiance. “No,” said his mother, “you’ll help him, and then you’ll feed the pigs yourself while Hunwald joins me inside. Can you do that?”

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