Read The Edge on the Sword Online

Authors: Rebecca Tingle

The Edge on the Sword

Learning to fight

“Where were you?” Flæd demanded when she reached the scriptorium entrance.

“Went to see the smith,” Red replied mysteriously. “Follow me.” After a second’s pause, Flæd hurried after the Mercian envoy, who strode on until they had passed through the gates of the burgh wall. Here he turned and went along the wall until they reached an outcropping at the base of a watch shelter. No guards had been posted here yet, and the place looked deserted to Flæd as she watched her warder poke among the piled stones. He drew out a battered sword of medium length, a leather cap not unlike the one he himself often wore, and a heap of grey metal links which, when held up, proved to be a boy-size shirt of ring mail.

“I told the smith these were for the king’s child. He thought I meant Edward,” Red told Flæd, “but they will fit you. Let’s get started.” With a grin Flæd wedged the parchment she had been carrying into a niche of the wall, and began pulling the heavy mail shirt over her tunic.

“A compelling coming-of-age-story…Tingle has imagined an action-packed life for Æthelflæd.”


BCCB

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The
Edge
on the
Sword

REBECCA TINGLE

speak

An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

SPEAK

Published by Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

Penguin Books Australia Ltd,

250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,

Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

First published in the United States of America by G. P. Putnam’s Sons,

a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2001

Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2003

1   3   5   7   9   10   8   6   4   2

Copyright © Rebecca Tingle, 2001

Map illustration copyright © Karen Savary

All rights reserved

Text set in Aldus.

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED

THE G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS EDITION AS FOLLOWS
:

Tingle, Rebecca. The edge on the sword / by Rebecca Tingle.

p. cm. Summary: In ninth-century Britain, fifteen-year-old Æthelflæd,

daughter of King Alfred of West Saxony, finds she must assume new responsibilities

much sooner than expected when she is betrothed to Ethelred of

Mercia in order to strengthen a strategic alliance against the Danes.

1. Ethelfled, d. 918—Juvenile fiction.

2. Great Britain—History—Alfred, 871-899—Juvenile fiction.

[1. Ethelfled, d. 918—Fiction. 2. Great Britain—History—Alfred, 871-899—

Fiction. 3. Kings, queens, rulers, etc.—Fiction. 4. Anglo-Saxons—Fiction.

5. Vikings—Fiction. 6. Mercia (Kingdom)—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.T4888 Ed 2001   [Fic]—dc21 00-055353

ISBN: 978-1-101-56344-1

Printed in the United States of America

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

For Bryce
,
mannum mildust ond mon ð wærust,
leodum li ð ost ond lofgeornost

Contents

I. ♦ Late Winter

1.   Dusk

2.   Moonrise

3.   Midnight

4.   Red

5.   In the Great Hall

II. ♦ Spring

6.   The Marsh

7.   Mercia Rallies

8.   A Mound on the Plain

9.   Mercia Bested

10. Treachery

11. Truce

III. ♦ Summer

12. The King’s Council

13. Battle Lessons

14. Message to Mercia

15. Waiting

16. Ethelred

17. The Race

18. The Trap

IV. ♦ Summer’s End

19. Leaving Home

20. Blood Money

21. Fortune’s Wheel

22. Dead Letters

23. Hunter & Hunted

24. Noble River

25. Lady of the Mercians

Historical Note

Note

I
N
THIS
STORY
, I
HAVE
USED
THE
REAL
NAMES
OF
CERTAIN
CHAR-ACTERS
who actually existed in the late ninth and early tenth century. Writing such names is not always easy, because although the Anglo-Saxons of this time mainly wrote using the Roman letters we use today, they also continued to use several much older rune letters. In this story, I have changed the rune letters wyn (ρ), yogh (δ), and thorn (þ) and eth (ð) into the Roman characters w, g, and th, which indicate almost the same consonant sounds to Modern English readers. I have kept one letter, æsc (æ), in its Old English form, in part because there is no good Modern English equivalent, and because it represents the principal sound in my main character’s name. The letter æsc (æ) in an Old English word should be pronounced like the short a of our word “cat.” So the name “Æthelflæd” rhymes with “apple-glad,” and the nickname “Flæd” rhymes with “glad.” (As Flæd herself will demonstrate, the name of this letter, æsc, is pronounced “ash.”)

The story begins in West Saxony—a kingdom contending with the threat of Danish invaders from the north, with restless and sometimes hostile Welsh neighbors to the west, and with the delicate loyalty of Mercia to the north and the east—a once great kingdom which the West Saxons have just reclaimed from the Danes.

I
Late Winter

1
Dusk

C
LUTCHING
A
GREY
CLOAK
AROUND
HER
SHOULDERS
,
THE
GIRL
hurried into the broad meadow. The river at the edge of the pasture had flooded with the winter’s rain and snow, and had overflowed its banks. Now a shallow lake shone in place of the river’s curve, and at the edge of this wetland the girl crouched down to unlace her flat leather shoes. Barefoot, she began to pick her muddy way around the water. Birds rose and landed, calling to each other across the sunset colors of the pool. The girl was shivering by the time she reached the opposite bank of the lake. Quickly she slipped between the first knotted trees of the forest and made her way toward a flicker of light.

She was late. Against her promise, she had kept him waiting. There had been a time, she remembered as she walked the rough path, before promises and arranged meetings. Not so long ago she and her brother had been free to go out together almost every day, the two of them roaming deserted stretches of their father’s land. But those days were over now.

Damp branches touched the girl’s legs where she had lifted her gown, and scraped across the arm she put up to shield her face. No one had seen her come to the pasture, she felt sure, and so far she had seen no living creature except the birds. She hurried faster, less careful than she had been a few moments before. The light was close now—she was almost there. In her haste, she did not notice a form which slipped from the shadow of a large tree just after she passed and began to follow her along the trail.

A fire brightened the little clearing as she entered it. With a sigh she threw down her shoes and went toward the warmth. Seated in the firelight, another slight figure wrapped in grey wool gave a startled cry and scrambled to get up.

“It’s me, Edward,” the girl said quickly, “it’s Flæd.”

“I knew it. Wulf and I knew it was you.” He pushed back his hood and gave her a pinched smile, looking up from beneath the fringe of soft brown hair across his forehead. Behind him a big dog with a coarse grey
coat raised its sharp face in her direction, eyes glowing. “We’ve been waiting.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Flæd came and seated herself beside him, clasping her arms around her knees and leaning against the dog’s flank. “Put some more sticks on the fire, Edward.” She nudged him with an elbow. “And bring me my shoes. I dropped them over there.” She stretched out her legs as he rose, and scrubbed with her palm at the drying streaks of mud. “I’m almost as dirty as you tonight, little brother.”

Flæd’s shoes landed with a slap by her hip. Squatting down again, Edward poked at the fire, breaking small branches and adding them. “Wulf and I have to hunt,” he said gruffly. “We can’t sit around all day and stay clean.”

“Not many people can.” She snaked a finger toward his ribs, and he fell backward with a yelp. “You’ve lived just thirteen winters,” she tried to tease him, “and already you work so hard.”

“You’ve
only lived fifteen,” he scowled, pushing away her hand. “You don’t know so much.”

Behind them the dog shifted. A growl rumbled through his body, and Flæd twisted around to stare out into the darkness. No movement. No sound, except the noises of the birds settling themselves for the night out in the flooded pasture. What was bothering Wulf? No one saw me come, Flæd thought anxiously, and no one but us knows about this place. At last Wulf heaved his sides in a sigh. He thrust his big head between the two humans and settled his nose on his paws.

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