The following work was written for the Potteries Museum and Art gallery, in Staffordshire, England, about their celebrated and internationally renowned Saxon find, The Staffordshire Hoard.
This amazing collection of artefacts, martial in content, has some of the most amazing examples of Anglo Saxon artwork ever found, and is thought to date from the reign of king Penda, last Pagan King of Mercia in the 7th century.
But… There is no record of this amazing treasure. No record or even legend makes reference to it, and its origins are lost in the mists of antiquity….
Dark Fantasy Writer Glenn James penned the following story about whom it belonged to, how it came to be buried, and why it was lost all those centuries ago….
Behold, hearken and listen! How bottomless is the wound to tell of an unmatched treasure once lost, and given up to all memory. But what glory to tell of the valour and prudence which vouchsafed it before the all seeing eye of the creator of the world into the safekeeping of the soil, in the bosom of the kingdom.
I tell of the unequalled Wulfcleaver, most glorious treasure of the Kings of Mercia. Of Gargamal, a hero bestriding the world beneath the turning skies undefeated. Of the shadowed blood quenching Fenrir, the cursed spawn of Cain, and pawn of the leader of the Wild Hunt.
Those were elder days, days of glory and majesty, long since lost to the living memory of man, when the souls of our twenty times great grandfathers went to judgement.
It was a time before the English were one people under one king, a time of separate Kingdoms within the realm, when men were loyal to their Lords and their Land, and great amongst these was the Kingdom of Mercia. A great and mysterious place, beautiful and wild, but with a purpose none could guess at, because it held a closely guarded secret.
All will know of the marital strife which beset the kingdoms of England; Of invaders from overseas, of fighting amongst the royal houses and raiding across the borders one kingdom into another, but few if any know of the unseen conflict which went on in those elder days, of the hidden and grim fight of the kings of the realm against the forces of darkness and the descendants of Cain.
Many and diverse were these dark spirits, and all made it their plan to destroy unity amongst the companies of men, to worst them and destroy hope, to prevent the people from uniting in peace and prosperity. Well they tried to spread chaos and fear, and to fill man with unnatural fears and to destroy his confidence in himself, in his strength, and in the depth of his mind and skill.
Yet with strength, and by bonding together, one by one the company of men destroyed these shadows, fighting in the body of heroes, united with the Gods against the coming of the end of the world. This conflict was not spoken of openly, and these great forces were slowly dwindled down, until at last only two remained.
Bitter was the fight of the Kings of Mercia against these foes. Valiant and successful, but bitter indeed, as many brave warriors fell in the field against these dark forces.
Yet there was a great strength to their arm, in the shape of a powerful sword, a weapon of legendary renown called the Wulfcleaver. Bright as the sun this beautiful blade shone in the hand when wielded with skill and understanding, beautiful as anything given to the hand of man by Wieland the Smith. It was a treasured possession of the Mercian Royal House and guarded with care by King Penda, as it was a vanguard against these dark forces who would dearly like to destroy it, and remove one of the great guards of mankind from the world forever.
Yet they did not know the blade on sight. For any that glimpsed it did not return to describe the sword, having been sent to their account in hell by its wielder. And so they sought and quested to destroy it.
The last great foe to seek to destroy the Wulfcleaver was a being called Fenrir, and his sibling Fel, misbegotten twins born maliciously into this world. This brother and sister were of the damned line of Caine, she being a witch and both of them changelings; For they were given a bewitched wolf skin, by the Lord of the Wild Hunt who careers across the skies in the dead of winter, with his pack of wish hounds, trailing the armies of the damned behind him.
This girdle once fastened about the body transformed its wearer into a great beast, a half wolf creature of ferocious strength, enormous height, and insatiable appetite, a man eating monster wild to behold. The two would take turns in wearing the girdle so none could guess which of them was the creature which attacked by stealth at night, and the other would remain human, acting as lookout for the fiend and removing the weapons they sought, as the transformed one could not touch the human arms without inflicting great pain upon themselves.
Transforming in this way the two inflicted great harm and murder. Moving at night, they sought out where the Kings great weapons were stored, and killed many worthy warriors in horrible and gory blood, before spiriting away the hoard of treasure, bit by bit, in their quest to destroy the Wulfcleaver which had dissipated so many of their kindred, proven blade.
The King of Mercia set his mind on a trap to dispatch this last curse to trouble the Kingdom, and a plan was formed.
With great temperance and prudence, rejecting the anger and passions of desmeasure, the king ordered the construction of a great storehouse for his most precious weapons, to be called the Loftdom, which was to be most strategically placed. Within this were to be placed a small selection of his most treasured possessions.
This great and secure house was to be located deep in the heart of Mercia, amongst the rolling hills and the great and spreading marshlands through which few can find their way, on the edges of the deepest Lyme forests beyond the Lyme brook.
It was known that these forest strongholds were the domain of Fenrir and his sister, and this understanding was central to the setting of the trap to send them to their account. It was a lure to call them out.
The marshes were almost impassable and the way through the paths and little streams known to very few, and in this impenetrable place the hall of Loftdom was duly built. Sturdily constructed, built of solid oak and weighty beams it rose proud against the sky, girdled with iron fastenings to wield it together as securely as ingenuity could find a way.
So great and secure a stronghold was never built before in the history of the world, and into this place, Penda did have all his most precious pieces secured and vouchsafed.
It did not take long for the creatures of the night to discover this treasure house.
The lost paths of the marshes were their whale road and highway, and they could find their way through with infinite care, padding like a shadow in the great darkness and hidden from the face of the moon.
Then Fenrir came walking, deep in the dark, and snatched away the warrior who stood the night watches, guarding the hall and protecting the king’s treasure.
This lost man was soon consumed, eaten whole so that hardly even any of his blood remained, and only a hand was deposited by the doors to sneer at mankind that their precautions were pointless. A number of noble arms were gleefully taken then by Fel and tossed into the mire, before she and her brother returned stealthily to their home in the forest.
But they did not find the Wulfcleaver, and they dreaded its bite against their flesh and its cut into their hearts.
Great was the lamentation the following morning when all that remained of the guardian was discovered, and worthily was this humble limb consigned to the earth in his honour.
Now there came Gargamal, a great Captain of the Kings, and a kinsman of the Athelings, to spring the trap. A proven warrior of great repute and deep mind, Gargamal had been away many long months according to report fighting against the Northumbrians. His true mission was much more deeply concealed, as an agent of the kingdom consigned to defeat these great foes, and he had been a powerful and secret force in the undoing of fleets of monsters. He was a lean and fleet man, skilled with weapons, but skilled even more so with the foresight and workings of his mind. This was to have great consequences for himself, for his foes, and for his king.
Gargamal knew of the Wolf skin girdle worn by the fiends, and understood how it was central to their undoing as the seat of their power. As night drew on he commenced to make his preparations. Balancing his boar headed helmet on a frame of sticks with its back to the door, he wound his cloak around it, and constructed a figure as if of a seated warrior silently overlooking the treasure.
The concealing himself within the shadows, he left the door gently open and set himself to wait.
As the white face of the moon rose high above the silent lands the fleeting shape of Fenrir stole out of the forest. Down the hills he came, deep in his sin and cruelty, and followed by his sibling, to pad the marshlands to the hall of Loftdom.
The door was opened stealthily, and in the revealing light of the moon there was the shape of a man, helmed in warriors array, deep in his contemplation watching over the treasure. In his spite and hunger, Fenrir closed the door behind him, shutting out his sister and not seeing the still and silent Gargamal hiding in the shadows, and with a bestial smile he crept towards the sleeping figure.
But before he could get close enough to discover the deception, Gargamal leapt from the darkness, and flung his arms around him, pinning his great and wicked arms to his sides. Fenrir struggled and howled like a thing insane, but before he could realise what was happening he was undone. Expecting the cut of a blade in a fight he was unprepared for the real focus of Gargamal’s attack, and the warrior fast undid the knot, the Staffordshire Knot which since has famously united us, which bound the wolf skin pelt around him and tore it off.
Hell sent was the pain which hit him now, pain grinding and deep in the bones and under the flesh, as with an agony of transformation, Fenrir was switched back into a man instantly.
Mortally wounded by the loss of his enchanted pelt, he staggered screaming for the doors, and fell out again into the unsympathetic light of the moon, where the night could now disown him.
Fel gathered him up and struggling together, holding her kinsman in her arms and vowing revenge, she helped him back across the marshland to their den. But the wound was too grievous a thing to survive for long, and Fenrir fell into the tarn as they struggled through the little paths, and breathed his last amongst the bulrushes and reeds of the bogs.
Giving up the ghost he went to his account, loaded with sin and carrying the mark of Cain, and whence he descended none may know for the company of demons dragged him down amongst them.
Fel returned to their den, and amongst the bones and the rotting remains of the dead who were their meat she walked and cursed throughout the ensuing day, gnawing at her fingers with insatiable hunger for revenge and furious to recover the enchanted pelt. A madness now encompassed this witch which overtook her reason with unshakeable passion and grief, and long she howled and cursed over the death of her brother. Far greater in strength and wrath was she of the two, and even in her human shape was a dark power to be reckoned with. If regaining the pelt, there would be no force now to stop her.
Gargamal was more than aware of the threat now facing him. He did not rest despite his great victory. Knowing that the sister of his foe would return to wreak vengeance upon him for the death of her brother, and to recover their lost pelt, he made his preparations.
During the day, he hung the great and cursed wolf skin on the walls of Loftdom, and doused that thick hide in flammable oils. To secure the treasure, he then took the precaution of carefully packing the Kings treasure into leather bags, stripping the Wulfcleaver of her gleaming ornaments, and after a secret ride by horse to a concealed location, with care and consideration he buried the great hoard of gold.
Keeping the now naked and unidentifiable sword beside him, he donned his helmet and chain linked vestments and waited in hiding as darkness grew on a small hollow he had constructed in the earth near the doors, covered loosely by turf, with his bow and a concealed flame.
As night drew on the revealing moon rode into the heights of the sky, chasing across the clouds and looking beneath for the coming conflict. A great and terrible scream rose up from the depths of the forests, and ranging cold and with barely held fury, Fel hurried off out into the night intent upon murder and revenge.
She was despite her rage an intelligent foe, and stood regarding the open doors of the Loftdom for some while from without, circling like a wild beast.
Her nails glittered like slivers of steel in the light of the moon or broken fragments of glass, and her wild eyes glittered like those of a hunting fox in the darkness.
With speed and surprising caution, she ran into the hall, and immediately jumped into the shadows behind the doors. With frantic fury she began searching the darkness to find where she thought the concealed Gargamal lay waiting in ambush. There was nothing there, and as she searched in rising fury, with gentle and quiet deliberation, Gargamal slipped out of his hiding place, with an arrow with a burning braid at its tip ready in his bow.
Firing the arrow, straight and true, it streaked through the doors of Loftdom and ignited the great Wolf Pelt with a flash of flame. In seconds it was an inferno. The walls of the hall, also bedecked with the oil quickly caught fire, and began burning brightly with a hungry flame.
Furious were the shrieks of Fel as her beloved pelt was destroyed, and great was the pain that she felt with its conflagration.
Gargamal stood watching, having carried out his dangerous task, with the great sword at his side, waiting for the death of his foe. But out she ran, streaked with fury and blazing with anger in her death throes, as the pelt was consumed, and threw herself at Gargamal. The great sword of the Wulfcleaver bit into her heart even as her fangs connected with his neck and the two of them died together at once. There died a great and noble warrior, of tremendous patience and subtle understanding, and the last of the terrible and unclean foes to roam the world in physical form. After their deaths the Kingdom of Mercia was cleansed of dark spirits.
They were found where they had fallen the following morning, as assistance was attracted by the smoke on the wind from the burning remains of Loftdom.
The body of a man in a finely wrought linked shirt and Boar headed helmet, a true warrior, with a plain unadorned sword at his side. Lying next to him was the body of a shewolf, of enormous size and strength, both clearly dead from the battle they had fought against one another.
They were found by simple people who knew nothing of what had transpired. So secret had been the Kings plan to rid the kingdom of its last unworldly foes that no-one had been informed that any treasure was being located in the area, or that any kind of struggle was taking place between great foes. It was all unspoken and the valiant deeds were at this point hidden.
They gathered together the body of Gargamal and his foe, and setting them upon a small boat, with his sword and shield clasped in his hands, they doused their bodies with oil and set them aflame on the waters of the marshes. A great light leapt to heaven when the last great warrior to fight the forces of the night, and his mortal enemy were consumed together. The Wulfcleaver, greatest of swords, unrecognised by the people, sank beneath the waters and disappeared from the world.
And with the death of Gargamal, and his unsung victory, the greatest treasure of King Penda was lost forever.
The valour of the last fight disappeared into the mist of the night, and the gold vanished from the light of day… but not forever…..
So look with your heart upon that great and unexpected treasure, see with more than your eyes. Think of whom it may have belonged to and why it was lost, of lives hundreds of years before your grandfather was born, and remember this lovely and recovered gold was lost for a reason…..
© By Glenn James 2014