This story by Howard was first published on the old Aldbourne website.
“Aelda,” said his wife, as she shook his shoulder gently, “It is late, will you not drink this mulled wine? It is the eve of’ our lord Jesus’ birthday and we celebrate His mass tomorrow, come drink to him and us.”
Aelda struggled to wake – the fire on the hearth glowed red hot and Aelda had his thick woollen cloak around his shoulders to keep out the draughts, he was warm and content.
His thoughts or dreams had been years away in times past when he was but a boy, then into his youth and thence manhood
When as a boy he had been in the household of’ King Aelthelwulf – his father had been a housecarl – one of the Kings body guard – and had fought with him when he had helped Burved King of’ Mercia subdue the Welsh.
The housecarls fought with great axes , wore link mail and carried stout wooden shields, he could see himself, even now, in his dreams being taught to wield the axe and sword so that he might succeed his Father.
Heathen men had by this time settled at Sheppy but at that time posed no threat. Aethelwulf’ also at this time gave over one tenth of’ his Kingdom to the glory of God and to ensure his eternal salvation, in the year 885 he went to Rome in great splendour with all his household and Aelda as one of’ the royal household was free on many occasions to roam the Eternal City and was amazed at Rome’s glory even tho the empire had passed away.
Aethelwulf’ came home and after two years passed peacefully away, his two sons were given the Kingdom, Aethelbold received the Kingdom of Wessex and Aethelbert Kent. King Aethelbold only reigned for five years , but Aelda remained as part of his household and of his successor.
In his time a great ship force of heathens came up and destroyed Winchester, Aelda remembered well fighting alongside Osric who led the men of Hampshire and the men of Berkshire and they prevailed against the heathen with great slaughter. In his dream he remembered being sorely injured having a great cut on his head and he could fight no more. But Alfred now was King, and he gave Aelda gold and land in Wessex for his valour so that he could build a Hall and settle.
But the Vikings still ravaged the land, eventually they came to ravage the south coast coming up from Exeter and attacking Wharem where they encamped inside the fort, and Alfred could not come onto them. After Christmas in 878 the heathen secretly stole across country when the snow was deep and overran Wessex, Aelda fled to Athenly in Somerset where Alfred sorely beleaguered had built a fort in the midst of the marshes. Aelda by this time had healed and joined Alfreds army once more
He remembered well how the men of Somerset and the Men of Wiltshire and of Hampshire joined Alfred at Easter and marched to confront the heathens at Edington and the whole force of them were put to flight. But Aelda also fought with Alfred at Cirencester and in East Anglia. Then he returned home to rebuild his hall. During this time many of the heathen Vikings went back over the sea to Frankland.
And he had heard how the Vikings had returned to attack Rochester in the land of the men of Kent but he could no longer help his king.
So in the winter evenings he would sit by his hearth and dream – as he had been doing now – his family to attend to him as befits a warrior in his old age – and it was Christmas eve.
A goose had been killed for the morrow and some suckling pigs , and the priest would come to his hall to celebrate mass.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and took the jug of mulled wine from his good wife
“Have we the mistletoe over the door and the holly hung about, wife?” he asked -“Yes my dear husband, it has been done while you slept , look around you” – and he looked , and was content.