The small handcart jolted along the rough and muddy track, the two men pulling and pushing it over the ruts and through the puddles, stumbling with weariness, and sweating with their effort and their overwhelming sense of haste.
‘We’re not going to make it, Aldus!’ gasped the younger man as he turned and heaved on the crossbar, to pull the wheels over a rock lying in the way.
‘We surely won’t if you waste time gabbing, Orvin lad!’ snapped the older man, coming round to lift the side of the cart over the obstacle.
‘It’s no good getting caught with this lot, is what I’m thinking,’ muttered Orvin. He faced forward once more and hauled the cart onwards as fast as he could. ‘If we can’t reach the forest, we need to change our plan, else we’re dead men just like them on the battle-field.’
‘Look around you, lad!’ grumbled Aldus, moving to the back again, and continuing to push the cart. ‘Can you see anywhere we can hide – I can’t, not a tree, a rock, a handy fold or barn! . . . I’m thinking, don’t you doubt it! But till something comes along that’s likely, we’ve just got to keep going. That is, unless you want to leave it all and just scarper, empty handed!’
‘Nah! We’ve risked our necks for this, but if they come up on us before nightfall our necks is what we might lose.‘
They struggled on for another hour or so, constantly looking around for any possible place of safety, and trying to calculate how far they were from the edge of the distant forest. Every now and then they had to stop for a few minutes to get their breath, and when they did so their faces wore a taut, frightened, listening look.
Eventually, just as the light began to dim towards dusk they saw, off to the left, a small, rocky knoll crowned with a small copse of trees.
‘Is that any good, Aldus?’ asked Orvin, pausing to wipe the sweat from his face.
‘It’s not really big enough to be much help. Just because it’s the only possible hiding place for miles they’re likely to search it as soon as they see it, ,’ answered Aldus. ‘Still, I’ve an idea in my mind which might just work if we can get out of sight for a few hours; and now it’s growing dark, might be a good moment.
‘Now, listen carefully – it’s no good hauling this over to yon hillock, we’d leave tracks a blind man could see in the dark. We must carry the booty, and do it by as many different ways as we can so we don’t wear an obvious track through the grass. Then we’re going to break up the cart and carry the pieces over there too. We can use the wood for a fire, if there’s a hollow among the rocks deep enough to hide the light.’
‘I don’t understand,’ began Orvin, but Aldus interrupted him.
‘You don’t have to understand, just do it! We haven’t time to stand out here in the open while I explain it, dummy!’
It took about an hour of hurried and anxious work to empty the cart, then dismantle it and remove all signs of it from the trackway. Fortunately there were many other wheel tracks in the ruts, and it wasn’t obvious that one had suddenly stopped and vanished.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The two men sat in a tiny hollow among the trees. They’d moved stones out of the bottom to build up the sides a bit, and once they’d dug a narrow firepit, had lit a very small fire from dry twigs, and now were able to add parts of the cart to it. Stale bread, and some leathery strips of dried meat were all they had to eat, but they were famished enough not to grumble over the meagre fare, but to make the most of it.
‘Now, Orvin, this is what we’re going to do,’ began Aldus quietly. ‘The problem is the size and weight of all this stuff. The battle was well over when we took it, and no one was around to lay a claim on it. We thought we could take what we wanted and there’d be no arguments – dead men can’t complain if you take their swords, and our lot were hunting the last few down in the river valley, and didn’t look as if they were going to come back until they’d finished them all off.’
‘That’s right,’ broke in Orvin. ‘How’d we know that old Blagden’s sister-son Erling would decide to send out the war-arrow last week, and come along to avenge his uncle?’
‘We couldn’t’ve known, of course. It was pure luck that message rider passed us, and told us Erling was scouring the countryside in search of anyone he could wreak his vengeance on!
‘Now I know these blades are good work, and worth a lot in a safe market, but I dunno how many we’ve got here, but it’s too many. They’re heavy, they’re unwieldy, and they’re noisy, rattling together as they do. The gold, the straps and decorations, they’re worth a hundred times the blades. So never think you’re going to sleep tonight, my lad; we’re going to strip it all off, and make up a handy bundle of it, which we can slip away with all unnoticed.’
‘If we make up two small bundles, that’d be even better,’ enthused Orvin. ‘We can move much faster, and if we had to we could split up, and meet at the old place in a week or two. But what’re we going to do with all the blades and stuff?’
‘We’ll lay them flat in this hollow, and build a cairn over them,’ explained Aldus. ‘If we build it just right no one will touch it, ‘cos they’ll think it’s a grave. Now come on, there’s no time to waste, let’s get on with it. There’s some good strong knives here which will get this stuff off without too much trouble!’
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The plan had been a good one, but neither of them had reckoned on Erling turning the tables and coming out the final victor. When that happened they decided it was far too dangerous to try to sell either the sword blades or the gold. Erling was after weregild for his uncle, and if he couldn’t have it, he’d have a few heads which could be identified as having had any part in the great battle.
So it was that Aldus and Orvin buried their hoard of gold in Aldus’ field strip – deep enough not to be touched by any ploughing – and hoped that some day they might become as rich as once they had dreamed.
Which no doubt they would have, if, attempting another harebrained scheme which went awry, they hadn’t fallen foul of Garritt, their Lord and been executed.
And so the years rolled over the hoard, until this very year it was uncovered, and set the finders a fine mystery to solve!
Is this all of it or only half? And where are all the hidden blades?
This is my totally imaginary story of the origin of the Saxon Hoard, found in a Staffordshire field in July 2009, and which I saw in Birmingham during its first week on display to the public.