In many ways this chapter depicts what is about to be lost in 1066. It portrays the Anglo-Saxons indulging in one of their favourite pastimes; feasting. The feast within the longhall was an important part of Saxon culture. Rules governed every part of the occasion. Guests sat according to their rank and station and food was provided with this in mind. The host, in this instance High Theign Aethelwine of York, was judged on his attention to detail and the quality of his provisions. Everyone from rich to poor would turn out in their best clothes and jewelry; men and women both.
As well as food and drink entertainment would be provided. Typically, this would be music, wrestling, and, perhaps the favourite of all, a scop; a traveling poet. The scop would regale his audience with poems and stories, as well as bringing news from other parts of the country. As Edwin and Morcar are both young and ambitious it seemed logical that they would try to impress the people of York with a fitting feast on the eve of battle. As eorldermen they wanted to impress upon the lower class both their authority and suitability. Obligation was very much a part of the Saxon way of life and it was very much reciprocal. The nobility acknowledged that they had certain responsibilities that came with their rank.
This chapter gave me an opportunity to enjoy some Anglo-Saxon poetry. Unfortunately, I lacked both the knowledge and the time to make an acceptable translation of the poem, The Wanderer, so I approached Rick McDonald who had published a very accessible version. He graciously gave me permission to use it. This also allowed me to use the various verses to reflect the thoughts of Coenred, Mildryth, and Eorl Edwin as they interpreted what they hear. It is quite a lyrical. J.R.R. Tolkein based a short piece that appears in The Two Towers on this poem also.
The feast is the only occasion in the whole trilogy that Coenred, Mildryth, and Wulfhere are present in the same place at the same time. Wulfhere is there keeping an eye on Mildryth and he does not like what he sees. She is there as a guest of Aethelwine’s and is separated from Coenred by several others. He is there as an eorl’s man, a huscarl, possessed of the necessary station to be sat at the top table. Both Coenred and Mildryth experience a change in their attitude towards each other on this night. The poem reminds Mildryth of how cruel and how sudden fate can act against a person. She has already lost more than most, but her desire to continue living her life as fully as possible awakens within her feelings that she had thought lost or just forgotten. For Coenred a quick but insightful talk with his friend, Sigbert, suggests something similar. Occasionally, when the threat of danger is greatest, people are prompted to live their life to the fullest.
Below is a PDF file of the chapter under discussion. Please, click on the link and enjoy.