Introducing Eadric Streona
The following short stories provide glimpses into the early life of Eadric, from his early youth as a swineherd to his promising career as a thegn. Listed in order of chronological occurrence:
Golde the Mother
Athelward the Historian
Edmund the Aetheling
Hildred the Maid
SUMMARY OF EADRIC'S YOUTH: Eadric is born circa 986 A.D. When his mother Golde becomes pregnant, she runs from her duty as a maid for Ealdorman Alfric of Mercia to live with a humble swineherd named Hunwald. Eadric spends his early childhood with the swineherd tending pigs. When Eadric is seven years old, Ealdorman Alfric of Mercia visits Golde at the swineherd's farm. Alfric seeks refuge because he has just betrayed Engla-lond to the Danes and suspects the king's men are after him. Intrigued by the ealdorman, Eadric follows him home and witnesses the chaos that ensues: Alfric's legitimate son, Algar, is blinded by the king's men. Most of Alfric's home is pillaged and demolished. Alfric himself escapes, alive and ready to scheme his way back into King Ethelred's favor.
After this incident, Golde takes Eadric to a powerful man she knew from her days as a maid for Ealdorman Alfric: Ealdorman Athelward of Wessex. Golde offers to pay him if he provides her son with an education, despite the strangeness of such an exchange. Young Eadric impresses Athelward with his intelligence and eagerness, so Athelward accepts the task of educating him. For several years, Athelward tutors Eadric. Afterward, Eadric moves back north to serve a swineherd of Staffordshire, Wulfric Spot.
At the age of sixteen, Eadric accompanies Wulfric Spot to the witenagemot in Lundenburg. Here he meets young Edmund Ironside, without knowing that the boy is an aetheling, and casually counsels him on the nature of warfare. He tells Edmund just want he wants to hear, so Edmund runs to his father the king and repeats Eadric's words. King Ethelred summons Eadric for further discussion, not realizing that he is only a lowly servant. After a conversation with the witty swineherd, however, King Ethelred is inspired to commit one of the most foolish acts in his lifetime: the attempted murder of every Dane in Engla-lond.
Despite this botched and regretful incident, young Eadric remains strongly in the king's mind. King Ethelred gives Eadric a small estate on which to live as a thegn. Eadric soon proves himself a worthy thegn by helping his people survive one of the worst famines Engla-lond has ever seen (see the short story, "Hildred the Maid"). When Eadric is twenty, Ethelred sends Aetheling Edmund to visit him. Edmund brings a letter from the king ordering him to assassinate Ealdorman Alfhelm, who is also coming to visit. Murder is not in Eadric's nature, but ever since his visit to the royal palace, he cannot erase the king's daughter, Aydith, from his mind.
Eadric soon finds himself doing everything in his power to impress Aydith, even if the future of Engla-lond they each desire differs greatly ...
his head deep, as if ashamed of the sorrow he so purposefully
displayed. But perhaps, in a way, he was. “My lord. My friend. My
brother. You have been kinder to me than I deserved, for you are
merciful, and your heart is strong and pure. You are a worthier king
than Engla-lond has ever known before. Please, Edmund.”
He looked up into his new king’s eyes. “Trust me one more time.” (from Eadric the Grasper)
HOW MUCH IS FACT? Eadric's birthdate is not known. Neither is the identity of his father, for whom history books offer three candidates: Alfric of Mercia, Wulfric Spot, and Aethelward the Historian and Ealdorman. Whether or not Eadric was responsible for the Massacre of Saint Brice's Day is speculative. The prime history source for this time period, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, does not blame Eadric for this occurrence, but you will find the event attributed to him in later history books. According to Edward Freeman in Old English History for Children (1869): “It is said that Ethelred was advised to do this by one Eadric, surnamed Streona, a man of low birth, who became his chief favourite, and to whom he gave his daughter Edith in marriage. Of this Eadric we shall hear a great deal for some years" (pg. 211 Freeman). But it has also been said that Eadric was a man to whom many crimes were attributed when no one else was to blame.
Nevertheless, several of Eadric's actions seem evident enough from the original sources. Here is a list of things Eadric certainly did:
(WARNING, the list below contains SPOILERS for the novel.
Highlight if you wish to read it anyway)
- Seize church lands in his own name, therefore earning the nickname "streona" meaning grasper / acquisitor
- Assassinate Ealdorman Alfhelm of Northumbria in the woods Shrewsbury with the help of the town hangman, Godwin "Porthund" (Town Dog)
- Marry Aydith, daughter of King Ethelred, in 1007 A.D, thus becoming Ealdorman of Mercia
- Encourage King Ethelred to pay the Danes not to attack. This payment was called the Danegald
- Convince King Ethelred not to face Thorkell the Tall in battle in 1009 A.D. All the troops had already been gathered and were ready to fight, but Eadric talked them out of it and they let Thorkell pass
- Act as a go-between for King Ethelred and Thorkell the Tall during the ransom of Bishop Alphege. The ransom was set for three thousand pounds, but Alphege refused to let his fellow Englishmen pay it. He died at the hands of the rowdy Danes instead
- Assassinate Sigeferth and Morcar, allies of Edmund Ironside, by inviting them over to feast and then attacking them. One description of this murder is particularly cruel: the two thegns might have tried to escape by rushing into a tower with their hearth companions for safety, at which point Eadric's men lit the tower on fire
- Join the Viking King, Canute. The timing of this means that Eadric probably would have been with Canute while the Viking cruelly raided sections of Mercia
- Somehow win his way back into Edmund Ironside's good graces, only to betray him in the Battle of Ashingdon
- Assassinate Edmund Ironside
"[Eadric] was a man of humble birth, but his tongue procured him both riches and high station; he was of a ready wit, of persuasive eloquence, and surpassed all his contemporaries in malice, perfidy, pride, and cruelty.”
–Florence of Worcester, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle p. 257
Clip from Chapter 2
Eadric felt elated with power yet sickened by anxiety all at once. He wondered if it would have been better to have never met Aetheling Edmund, and thus King Ethelred, at all. Perhaps meddling with nobles and royals was not such a pleasurable pastime as it appeared. Perhaps a life among pigs, muddy though it may be, was in some ways preferable. All he wanted to do now was return to Bram’s estate and flirt with the curvy brunette in the kitchen.
For better or worse, an alternative appeared before Eadric quite suddenly. A young woman approached him, and judging by her attire of embroidered linens, she was not a girl he could ignore. For the third time in a week, he would speak to a member of the royal family; and as it so happened, she was the most beautiful young girl Eadric had ever laid eyes upon.
This aetheling was younger than Edmund, perhaps only twelve years of age. She must have shared his mother, Ethelred’s first wife, for her features were much darker than the king’s. She had long hair the color of a maple tree ripe with syrup, and deep brown eyes like the floor of a forest dappled with shadows. But her beauty was not so striking as the determination sharpening her gaze and pinching her small pink lips.
“Who are you, and what did my father want with you?”
Eadric just blinked at her at first, still dazed by the strength of her presence. How could a small, bony girl—of royal lineage or otherwise—have this sort of effect on him? “My … my name is Eadric. I’m from Mercia.”
“Mercia.” Her dark eyes sparked slightly, like the embers of a fire. “Go on, then.”
“I don’t know why your father wanted to see me, to tell you the truth.”
“You’re the one who made such an impression on my brother Edmund?”
“Why … yes.” He wondered how often the repercussions of that chance encounter would thrash against him.
She did not look pleased. “Your advice to him was foolish. I hope you did not give the same speech about ‘protecting one’s own’ to my father?”
Eadric shrugged helplessly. Was it possible that he felt more nervous in front of this sharp young girl than he had before the king?
“Tell me what you said.”
He struggled to regain his composure and lift his chin high. He brushed back his thick curls with one hand. “If he wants to share that with you, then he may. Otherwise, our conversation remains a secret.”
“I am Aetheling Aydith, and I asked you a question. You will answer it.”
Her show of authority sparked a flare of rebellion in Eadric’s spirit, and a sharp smile curled up his face. “Peace, my girl; you are far too beautiful to let these grueling matters ruin the pleasure of your company.”
Her mouth gaped open a moment, and then the water struck his face before he saw her move at all. He did not even understand where the liquid had come from until he saw the empty animal-skin in her hand. Icy cold drops poured down his neck and matted his hair against his tunic. He blinked desperately to clear the droplets from his eyes. Then he could do nothing but stare at her in awe and fury.
“Churl or noble,” she said, “you’re either a fool or a coward, like all the others. And I hate both.”
And then she stormed away.
Eadric rode back to Bram’s estate in a daze. The water on his head turned to frost on his lashes and hair. Even so, his body felt flushed with warmth. The events of the day made his blood burn with both excitement and foreboding. Though the manner of Aetheling Aydith had grated his nerves, he could not wipe a ridiculous smile from his face. What an incredible girl!