At the end of episode 3, Leofrich and Uhtred watched the Danes leave and Leofrich had some serious words for Uhtred about his future… “This year, what you’re giving to Alfred, it’s not about a mail coat and helmet. It’s about you. The Bastard thinks, didn’t I say that? He wants more than a year’s service, he wants you. He wants you to help take back England, all of England. Of course when the year is up, you could go back to the Danes… but what would you be, who would you be?”
This question will haunt Uhtred throughout his life, it will tear at him as he tries to figure out the answer and it will ever be what causes him to fight both the physical battles and those battles within himself. As the land settles into some temporary peace before the storm Uhtred will find no peace within himself for a very long time. He has sold himself to Alfred for the vague rewards that Alfred promises and it eats at him continually. The anger, frustration, resentment and guilt are always there just beneath the surface for Uhtred. Of course, those underlying feelings are much of what makes him the warrior that he is and will ever be, but they also cloud his judgement and his reasoning.
Episode 4 deals with the peace being over in more ways than one. It is not so much about peace being over in the land with the Danes, but more about peace of mind, peaces of heart being torn and doubts creeping into cracks. It is about those underlying conflicts coming to surface as the larger storm of war approaches. It is about those differences of thought and opinion that can tear a land apart before it even begins to do battle with an enemy. Uhtred is now a part of Alfred’s army, but there is much resentment from some among Alfred’s inner circle about this decision. Uhtred holds title of Ealdorman of Northumbria, but that is far to north and in Dane control. His title is in name only and holds little value to those in the south. Uhtred needs land holding in the south to be considered of importance by the Ealdormen there. Alfred also needs to bind Uhtred to him by some deeper hold… so he “rewards” Uhtred with marriage and a landholding… Uhtred accepts the bride and the land, sight unseen because he needs the land and it’s wealth in order to accomplish his one goal of reclaiming Bebbanburg someday in the future, and his goal to one day rejoin Ragnar and avenge their family’s deaths. He claims to Leofrich that his bride’s appearance is of no consequence, makes little difference because this is a marriage for title, land and wealth nothing more…
The wife chosen for Uhtred is God daughter of Odda the Elder and in the very beginning of episode, we see Odda the younger’s resentment of Uhtred and of this proposed marriage. We also see, by the way, a very clear view of Uhtred and some of his finer assets…
I readily admit here that I enjoyed and appreciated the view even though it could be considered in some sense as gratuitous and pandering to the female viewers. There was a conversation between Uhtred and Odda that made attempt to connect our view and make it relevant… that conversation also served to irritate Odda even more so I will accept that this was the supposed purpose of our view! Uhtred’s response to Odda’s disparaging remarks were, “Have you been watching me, Odda the boy? Should I be marrying you?” Odda is disgusted and offers to pay Uhtred to not go through with the marriage. Uhtred’s final response to this nonsense is to ask Odda if his Father knows or approves of this offer… Odda the younger rides off in more disgust.
I will also admit here that I have never read of any sort of custom that requires a young woman of some noble standing to go to her marriage in such complete masking or coverage as Uhtred’s bride arrived. One might assume that she was contagious or possibly an obsessed beekeeper. That is my rather minor complaint with this portion of the episode. I would have thought that heavy cloak and hood would suffice in keeping her under wraps… I think they went a bit overboard in this aspect!
None the less, we did discover that rather than being a carrier of some dread disease, the young Mildrith was instead a true prize… or as Alfred would mention, a consolation prize for Uhtred.
Uhtred is quite happy with his bride and wonders why she has not been already given to someone else… Mildrith is rather evasive about this and chooses to direct the conversation elsewhere. Uhtred is so happy that he fails to question what she might be avoiding. He takes his bride and his new best friend, Leofrich and heads off to his new home, never once questioning why he has received such a prize…
Along their way, they find Guthrum’s warriors scouting deep within the boundaries of Wessex. Meanwhile back in Wessex, Alfred and Odda the Elder are discussing Mildrith’s plight and Uhtred’s test. “He will not like being beholden to God and King, but if he is to become a true Ealdorman he must accept his burden. That is the test… Mildrith is his beautiful consolation.”
Uhtred does quickly discover that Alfred has set him up by marrying Mildrith to him and now he will owe the church a 2000 shilling debt that increases yearly. Needless to say, Uhtred is not amused with the news! Damn Alfred, Damn his church, Damn everything he stands for! His added response to Mildrith… By all means, Call me Earsling for not seeing this sooner! Ummm probably not the best way to start a marriage. This is one situation that I really can not quite settle with in regards to Alfred’s many actions to maintain control of Uhtred. Many of his other retributions and controls, I could always come to some understanding on but this one was one of the most underhanded and manipulative of his deeds. It set Uhtred up so that in some essence or way, he might never be free or clear of this overhanging debt. And, the debt is not to Alfred, but to the church- which Alfred knows Uhtred has no regard for. The church feels the same way about Uhtred and would love to see him fail on this debt- not only so as to be free of him, but to gain the land involved. I think too, this is one instance where Odda the Elder does not agree with Alfred’s actions concerning using Mildrith and her property in this plot to tie Uhtred even more tightly to him in both loyalty and debt. This action does not teach Uhtred any lesson really, other than to trust Alfred even less. It’s certainly not one which would encourage or inspire undying loyalty.
Uhtred arrives at his new landholding to discover that is not quite what he was expecting either. No large hall, not much of anything but a worn and ragged rather rundown farmstead with an overseer who seems too well fed and dressed to be altogether honest no matter what trusting and naïve Mildrith might think. His best bud Leofrich abandons him and reminds him that it’s his wedding night, then he finds out that not only has he been robbed, but his wife Mildrith has been as well- of half of her bride price. To top it all off, the ale is not even worth drinking… so much for this Wedding night! He does however, manage to contain his anger- which is a rather huge accomplishment for him. He wakes up the next morning in a somewhat better frame of mind sets about making amends to Mildrith because as he tells her, none of this was her fault and she has a good heart. Mildrith does have a good heart, she is pleasant natured (for now) and she’s good to look upon as well. God is Good, an admit from Uhtred himself! Well, perhaps there is some hope for this relationship after all… then again perhaps not?
They have a lovely honeymoon period with some peace and seem to be living happily ever after on the farm… there is even the prospect of a new addition to the family. God is Good, Life is Good… until the sisters of fate intervene!
The Peace is over and the Danes are marching through Wessex… By the time word reaches Alfred, it will be too late!
The peace is over within Alfred’s sanctuary, his home, his church and his inner circle as well. Arguments and accusations begin as Wessex attempts to prepare for the Heathen invasion and a battle at Wareham. Odda the Elder is made aware of his son’s dubious honor and Eilswith shows her more vindictive, spiteful nature…along with her ability to reproduce. Her less than Christian behavior includes welcoming Mildrith to pray with her and then wishing Uhtred a quick death upon the battlefield. Mildrith is still happy, optimistic and in love with her husband so she cares not what Eilswith thinks, she prays God will protect him even if he is a heathen!
The conflicts between Alfred and Uhtred come to the surface as they debate the Hand of God and whether God is speaking to the Danes as well. Alfred considers it God’s doing that Ivar has died across the sea in Ireland and Ubba will abandon this fight to go avenge his brother. Uhtred confronts Alfred on the debt owed to the church and Alfred responds that Sacrifice and Penance are what separate us from the Heathens… I have my broth to suffer, you have your debt. Alfred later admits to Father Beocca, “He can not be tamed” Father Beocca’s answer is that he can be trusted and Alfred assures Beocca that he will not abandon Uhtred because he may still be of some use.
Guthrum and his Danes, including Ragnar take Wareham and the Saxon army prepares for battle. Guthrum however, knows and understands that Alfred can easily win this siege by waiting them out. Guthrum spends time within the quietness of the Christian Church contemplating his situation and is confronted by Ragnar who wants to fight, “I did not march my men all the way across this country to sit here and starve!” Guthrum points out that Ubba has abandoned them and put all their lives at risk so now is not the time for war…. until Ubba returns, we must make peace. Doubts are setting in on the Dane side as well, doubts about each other and doubts about personal beliefs. Guthrum feels them but manages to keep them at bay for the time being, mainly because when he calls out to the Christian God and asks for a sign, he gets nothing- “So, if you are there God of Rome, Strike me down… ahhh I thought naught!” It is becoming apparent though that Guthrum is having some thoughts about this God again and his peace of mind is shaken.
Alfred and Guthrum meet on the field at Wareham but both realize the futility of battle right now… neither side would truly win such a battle attempt and the result would be a weakening of their forces. There is negotiation over Guthrum leaving, and when… it is in Guthrum’s best interest to remain as long as possible in hopes that Ubba will return while it is in Alfred’s best interest to be rid of them as quickly as possible. They’re at a stalemate but come to some agreement that results in more loss of that inner personal peace of mind for a few people. Alfred has a plan to create more doubt in Guthrum’s mind. He has heard rumors of Guthrum’s questions about the Christian God so he decides to send a Priest to sway Guthrum and work towards converting him- a challenge that obviously plays havoc with Father Selbix’s peace of mind! Alfred also uses Uhtred once again and once more puts him in the middle of the Danes, and his family. Alfred’s decision to use Uhtred as a hostage casts yet another shadow on Uhtred’s heart and tears again at his loyalties.
Father Selbix must try to make peace with Guthrum and show him the way to the Christian God…
While we might assume that Father Selbix failed in his mission, did he really? Yes, he met his death much as he expected he might at the hands of Guthrum and the Danes, but he met it quickly and mercifully as Guthrum sent him on his way to meet his God. There was no lengthy dragged out torture here. In fact, the torture seemed to be more on Guthrum’s face and possibly in his mind or heart as he did what he felt he needed to do in the killing of the hostages that included Father Selbix.
Uhtred and Ragnar battled their own inner wars as they faced each other again and had to work through guilt, feelings of betrayal and the heart ache of being a family divided by this coming war. Brida’s thoughts were and always will be more black and white, cut and dried on the issues. You are either a Dane and with them, or you are not, in her mind it will ever come down to that feeling. Ragnar is filled with frustration and rage at Uhtred’s oath and loyalty to Alfred but he does understand Uhtred’s need now to return to his family, his wife and the son that he has been given news of. In Ragnar’s mind and heart, they will ever be brothers, family- and that will come before anything else. Uhtred admitted to Ragnar that he must try to escape if Ubba returned and although Ragnar is outraged at Uhtred’s disloyalty to the Danes, in his heart he knows that Uhtred is now doing what he feels he must to protect his own family. Ragnar and Uhtred will always have that certain deeper bond that even Brida does not have with Uhtred.
In the end, Ragnar can not stand by and allow Uhtred to be killed. He stands against Guthrum to protect Uhtred. Guthrum makes some attempt to reason with Ragnar but then once more he shows some compassion, some mercy… some charity.
The Peace is over. War will tear hearts and loved ones apart but compassion, mercy and family will forever be a tie that binds people together.
Some additional history about people events during this time:
In the Last Kingdoms books and on the show, we see Odda the Elder and Odda the younger… Odda the Elder is a historical figure connected to Alfred and to the Great Heathen Wars. We will see more of both of them in episode 5 along with the events at the Battle of Cynwit.
Odda, also known as Oddune, was a ninth-century ealdorman of Devon. He is known for his victory at the Battle of Cynwit in 878, where his West Saxon forces defeated a Viking army led by Ubba, brother of the Viking chiefs Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson. Throughout the 870s Odda’s liege, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, was engaged in constant war with the Vikings. They had begun their invasion of England in 865, and by Alfred’s accession in 871 the Kingdom of Wessex was the only Anglo-Saxon realm opposing them. By 878 the conflict was going poorly for Alfred. In January of that year, the Danes made a sudden attack on Chippenham, a royal stronghold in which Alfred had been staying over Christmas, “and most of the people they killed, except the King Alfred, and he with a little band made his way by wood and swamp, and after Easter he made a fort at Athelney in the marshes of Somerset, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe”.
Guthrum and his men were holding Wareham…
Archaeological evidence exists of a small Roman settlement, though the current town was founded by the Saxons. The Roman name is unknown, but the town is referred to as Werham in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry of 784, from Old English wer (meaning ‘fish trap, a weir’) and hām (‘homestead’) or hamm (‘enclosure hemmed in by water’).
The town’s oldest features are the town walls, ancient earth ramparts surrounding the town, likely built by Alfred the Great in the 9th century to defend the town from the Danes as part of his system of burh towns. The Danes had invaded Wareham in 876, only leaving after the payment of a ransom. In 998 they attacked again, and in 1015 an invasion led by King Canute left the town in ruins. The town was a Saxon royal burial place, notably that of King Beorhtric (800 CE). Also in the town at the ancient minster church of Lady St. Mary is the coffin said to be that of Edward the Martyr, dating from 978. His remains had been hastily buried there and were later taken from Wareham to Shaftesbury Abbey in north Dorset (and now lie in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey).
In 876 under their new leader, Guthrum, the Danes slipped past the Saxon army and attacked and occupied Wareham in Dorset. Alfred blockaded them but was unable to take Wareham by assault. Accordingly, he negotiated a peace which involved an exchange of hostages and oaths, which the Danes swore on a “holy ring” associated with the worship of Thor The Danes, however, broke their word and, after killing all the hostages, slipped away under cover of night to Exeter in Devon.
Alfred blockaded the Viking ships in Devon, and with a relief fleet having been scattered by a storm, the Danes were forced to submit. The Danes withdrew to Mercia.