On the day commonly known as Woden's Day, King Wihtgils customarily judged his people, since it was felt that his great-great-great-grandfather the god would be more likely to pay attention to his people's doings on the day that they were supposed to honor him. Even though Woden wasn't always known for his justice and had a reputation for slipperiness and sharp-dealing both when he was a king and later when he became a god, still it was acknowledged that justice would likely be done since it has always been in the best interests of both King and God to be known as a dispenser of Justice.
It was early spring. The roads were unfit for travel and planting hadn't finished so Wihtgils was still in Viborg. There would not be enough food or beer in the countryside and lesser villages to render fit hospitality to the King and his retinue, so Wihtgils stayed put in his capital town until later in the spring. Then he would ride circuit over his kingdom, collecting taxes in kind and dispensing low justice on matters not important enough to be brought to Viborg.
King Wihtgils sat down abruptly on the large chair that would do duty as a throne atop a stone platform that his servants had placed outdoors on the common field in the middle of the town. He glanced over the crowd of notables gathered for the occasion and sighed. Most of his Council of Ealdormen were present because some of them had a definite interest in the case that he would decide today. King Wihtgils knew he'd disappoint one or more of these chieftains representing powerful clans today.
Turning to his right-hand man, King Wihtgils said, "Let's get on with it, Cerdwulf. Announce the case."
"Mathilda, daughter of Ledric Ledding wishes to inherit her father's lands and property upon his death." Cerdwulf pointed to a short, dumpy, blond young woman in her early twenties standing protectively next to an old man.
Mathilda Ledricing was plump almost to the point of being fat. At age twenty-three, she was reckoned an old maid in a tribe where women were married at the age of eighteen, or even sixteen if sufficiently nubile.
"She has no brothers, uncles or even a male first cousin to inherit firstly and solely," Cerdwulf continued. "She lacks a husband for her father to adopt into their clan. She respectfully petitions you, Lord, to let her inherit her father's lands and property, or lacking that, for enough property to provide a suitable dowry so that her father's lineage, if not his name, does survive." Cerdwulf coughed, as if to provide a pause between the litigants.
"On the other hand, the widowed daughter-in-law of Ledric's youngest brother Ofor, Ingrede Jadulfing, demands that you follow tradition and entrust Ledric's property to her, as custodian for her four-year-old son, the sole male left of the Leddingas clan other than old Ledric." Cerdwulf pointed to a pretty brunette standing off to the right. She held her son in front of her.
"If that is not enough, King Wihtgils, there are others concerned in this case. There are foreign and domestic interests involved. Hoc Sea-Dane, the noted despoiler of Britannia is here, possibly to profit." Cerdwulf pointed to a burly, middle-aged man with grizzled brown hair possessing an air of determined truculence.
Hoc nodded to King Wihtgils, then stepped to the side and back of Mathilda Ledricing and her father. Hoc's daughter, whom he had taken along, moved around the edges of the crowd to stand a few paces behind her father.
Wihtgils glanced at Hoc Sea-Dane. He had met Hoc the night before, but had not talked to him other than in introduction. Wihtgils knew why Hoc was here today.
"Stanhild Nieliging," Cerdwulf said, "a member of your Council of Ealdormen will have something to say in his own turn. It is common knowledge as to what these people before you want. It remains for you, Lord King, to hear testimony and render a verdict."
Stanhild, a tall thin man with a pinched look about his features took a step toward Ingrede and her son, leaving a four-pace distance between them. He shot a wary glance at Hoc Sea-Dane.
"So I shall," King Wihtgils said.
He glanced over the crowd, noting that every man who could afford it had on his mail byrnie and sword, but to show peaceful intent had brought along a wife or a child. The principals that Cerdwulf introduced were all well armed and armored. This was a case involving notables, somebodies who possessed lands or great reputations. Hoc's reputation had even brought in some out-of-towners.
Wihtgils exhaled a breath, glanced at Mathilda and her father and said, "You are the ones who seek exception to the custom of sole male inheritance before females. Tell me why I should change this in your case."
Mathilda stepped forward, as did her father. Ledric cleared his throat.
"It is not altogether my fault that there are no male heirs to my property, Lord King." Ledric looked at Stanhild. "The Nieligingas have hit my family hard as a result of an old bloodfeud and when they got the upper hand, refused to accept wergild. Instead they have killed all my sons, and brothers, too over the years. They have kept the injunction against destroying an entire clan by leaving myself and my young grand-nephew alive, but that is all."
Stanhild made as if he wished to step forward to challenge Ledric's account, but King Wihtgils raised his right hand in Stanhild's direction. Stanhild stood in his tracks.
"Once we were rich chieftains. We still have over twenty hides of real property and plenty of sheep and cattle to cover those lands," Ledric said. "When my brother Ofor married, my Father Ledi gave him his share. Ofor's son Jadulf lived long enough to breed a son before he was killed by the Nieligingas. It is simple greed that makes Jadulf's widow claim inheritance from me."
"The Saxons and Franks let their daughters inherit if a man has no sons," Mathilda interrupted.
King Wihtgils frowned. "This is not Saxony and we are not Franks. Jutish law and custom are the only things that matter here. Do not waste my time with irrelevancies, woman."
Mathilda looked frightened. She had done her cause no good.
"I apologize for my daughter's behavior, Lord King," Ledric said. I would like to pursue options well within Jutish law. I have talked to a foreign man of great power who will be able to restore my family's power and numbers. Hoc Sea-Dane has expressed an interest in marrying my daughter. I adopt him as my son. Mathilda's men-chilren will be my heirs. The Nieligingas will dare kill no more Leddingas," Ledric said, with a cool smile at Stanhild Nieliging.
"Do you agree to this, Hoc?" Wihtgils asked.
"Yes, I do, King Wihtgils. It is a good deal all around," Hoc said. "Except for the Nieligingas. I can handle them."
"We shall see about that. The King's Peace is in effect today," King Wihtgils said, referring to the rule that no one could commit bloodshed except at the King's command. Wihtgils looked to his right. "Who is against this solution to the Leddingas' problem."
Ingrede Jadulfing stepped forward, carrying her son. "I am, as a Ledding by marriage." Looking King Wihtgils in the eye, she said, "My son, Ofor II, is the only male left who is of the Ledding blood. Jutish law is plain: Only male offspring can inherit. While the daughters are left with dowries to provide for their children and themselves, it is the sons who inherit. Failing sons, it goes to a man's brothers, then that man's brother's sons. It has always been that way because it is a man's world and that is the way it always will be."
Young Ofor tried to wiggle out from out of his mother's arms. She only held on the tighter, smothering her son's struggles. King Wihtgils looked past the son and mother toward where his son Hengist was staring at Hoc's daughter Hildeburh. A pensive look settled upon King Wihtgils's face for a moment, then faded away.
Ingrede looked over at Mathilda. "I have known Mathilda for a long time, since before I married my husband who was killed by the Nieligingas. I don't begrudge her a generous dowry of half her father's property, both real and personal. I would like to see the Nieligingas pay for what they have done to my husband. But I am only a woman, not allowed to take up a sword and not trained in the ways of war. So I have come to an arrangement with Stanhild to pay him what is left of Ledric's inheritance for peace with the Nieligingas. This way my son will grow to have sons without his having to see them killed because of this bloodfeud."
Ingrede glanced back to King Wihtgils, then toward Hoc. "Hoc Sea-Dane has a wife in the Dane's Mark. Do the Jutes need a foreigner getting involved in our wars and gaining our lands through marriage or war?"
"Whether I have one wife or twenty and where they are living is not at issue here, King Wihtgils," Hoc said. "My Danish wife died last winter and I am looking for a new one. Not that it matters. If a man is able to provide, he can have as many wives and children as he can support. As for a war, I don't go out looking for unprofitable fights. This one will come to me through the obligations of honor."
Hoc raised his eyebrows, winked and smiled at Ingrede. "After enjoying Mathilda's charms for a good year, perhaps I could marry you for your small dowry. A good idea has come to me as to how you could cheaply pay for my protection from the Nieligingas."
Most of the listening men laughed. King Wihtgils couldn't forebear a grin. Stanhild Nieliging looked sour.
"King Wihtgils, the law is clear," Stanhild said. "And it is not the King's right to change it at his will on a moment's notice even if people say the law is unfair. The Law is the Law.
"Besides, we don't need a Welas, a foreigner, coming over here and getting involved in our fights. It is part of Jutish nature to fight amongst ourselves but to present a united front to outsiders." Stanhild looked about at his friends on the Council of Ealdormen. "Hear, Hear," came the mumble from a few.
King Wihtgils frowned. Stanhild Nieliging had brooked him several times with his legalistic sanctimony, whenever he had an advantage. Stanhild always overtly kept the letter of the law while sourly pissing on its spirit. As a member of the old Jutish aristocracy, he kept his disdain for the half-Anglican Wihtlaegingas ruling family under a loose rein.
"I know what the law says, Stanhild. There is sufficient precedent for this case to go either way, subject to my decision. There would have been no need for my getting involved in this case if there would have been decency aplenty on both sides, yours in particular. You spoke, but your standing in this issue is peripheral." King Wihtgils stood up. "I wish to talk to some of the Council of Ealdormen, those not involved in this case. I will come to my decision in an hour, maybe two. Dismissed!"
The people around the throne dispersed for dinner. Mathilda, her father, and prospective husband along with his retainers left for the house of friends. Ingrede Jadulfing, with her son in hand, turned away alone. Stanhild looked defiantly at King Wihtgils for a long moment, testing Wihtgils's patience until Wihtgils placed his hand upon his sword hilt. With a growl of impatience and command, Stanhild turned and left for a tavern, taking his relatives and supporters on the Council of Ealdormen with him toward the nearest tavern.
"You ought to let me kill him, Lord King," Cerdwulf said. "The foolish pig will have it no other way."
"Not yet," King Wihtgils said. "But it is pleasant to think about doing so." Shifting his attention to a distant cousin on the Council of Ealdormen, Wihtgils summoned both him and the remaining councilmen toward him as he sat back down on his throne.
"What do you suggest, Cousin Monwulf? For that matter, what do the rest of you suggest?" Wihtgils asked, waving at the rest of the Ealdormen.
"It is up to you to decide, Lord King," Monwulf Orming said. Monwulf looked a bit like his third cousin, but was fifteen years older and very stout. "I remind you that Stanhild is one of our own, but he is a pig. A pig who has about a third of the Council on his side. Are you ready for civil war, King Wihtgils?"
Monwulf sighed. "On the other hand, Hoc Sea-Dane is reckoned one the best warriors of our time. He could help maintain any decision that you make in his favor. We are at peace with the Danes right now. I would hate to fight a people so much like ourselves for another generation. In any case I support you, whatever your decision."
"Is there any dissension among you concerning Monwulf's analysis?" King Wihtgils asked his Council.
No one spoke up. A few of the older, more stolid members shook their heads.
"Then I shall make my decision after dinner," King Wihtgils said. "Everyone is to return at noon."
At the appointed hour, all of the principals in the case resumed their proper places.
"I have come to a decision, which all shall hear and obey lest they face my displeasure." Turning to Mathilda and her party, King Wihtgils said, "You have my permission to marry your adoptive brother. Hoc Sea-Dane will have an additional name, that of Ledricing. If you give birth to a son . . .,"
"A woman can't marry her brother, King Wihtgils," Stanhild interrupted. "It is against our laws and those of nature."
Wihtgils turned to Stanhild. "She is not marrying her blood brother, you fool. And don't interrupt me again. This adoption of Hoc into her family as a brother is for the purpose of giving her issue the Ledricing name."
Turning back to Mathilda, Wihtgils said, "The gaining of your father's full inheritance is conditional. If you bear sons then your father's property will pass through you to your male children. If you conceive only daughters or have no children at all, then you are to have only half your father's property as a dowry and the rest is to go to Ingrede's son."
"But sir! If you let Hoc Sea-Dane marry into the Leddingas family, then he will be forsworn to continue the bloodfeud against us Nieligingas," Stanhild protested. "You cannot allow a foreign chieftain commanding foreign troops to kill a clan of your own people."
"So I am no longer an ill-bred, usurping, Angle half-breed from a family that has come to the throne by conquest, eh Stanhild? It didn't bother you to kill the Leddingas clan as long as you outnumbered them, did it?" King Wihtgils looked amused. "Well, you need not piss down your leg. I have come up with a solution.
"Hoc Sea-Dane Ledding, you are not entitled to continue the Leddingas-Nieligingas bloodfeud unless it is in self-defense. I cannot allow foreigners, even those who have come into the tribe by adoption or marriage to kill a member of an old family."
"A pity," Hoc said. "I was looking forward to one of my marital rights being the legal opportunity to kill one such as Stanhild."
"Ingrede Jadulfing, your son will have the opportunity to live to the age of maturity," King Wihtgils continued. "The Nieligingas are constrained from pursing the bloodfeud until your son has attained the age of eighteen and he can decide whether he wishes to continue this feud. Neither King nor woman should prevent a man's doing what he must do. You don't need Ledric's property to pay weregild."
King Wihtgils looked about. "Is there anyone who wishes to gainsay the King's decision?"
Stanhild shifted from foot to foot and cleared his throat. He was about to speak when he noticed both Cerdwulf and Hoc eyeing him much like a pair of wolves measure a fat rabbit. Stanhild coughed, then looked away.
"This case is settled," Wihtgils said. "Are there any others? No? Then all are dismissed."