The tree had stood there for hundreds of years, maybe a thousand. In all of his life Lothar had never known another like it. When he was a boy, his father Udo had taken him to this place and swore to the Gods that his son would be a great man. The memory could never leave him as father took his seax from the sheath and drew it across his tiny palm. The sting of it hurt and the scar remained to remind him of that time. This tribe...these people...that is what it represented. Pride. Strength. Honor. The pillars of their society and this tree was that very symbol. It was gnarled at many points from decades of weather and warfare and yet still reached to the heavens. From heaven to earth...here and now...it was revered and so was he.
A high chief...an honored position. They looked to him knowing well that the Franks lived to the south. A King Karl...maybe an Emperor whatever that was. Sanctioned by some man of God from the south. That was no God of his. This was a society, a tribe, that lived with knowledge and fear of what the vengeful Gods might do if you were not honest and true. Kill the enemy and take the land. It had always been done that way. Migrate if you must, but hold what you have until you could not any more. This land was fine. Rich...plains that extended long and rivers to hold off the foe. Grain, good beasts to slay and plenty of wood. A place to raise his family if given the chance. Not just his own, but his tribe. Theoderic wanted it and so did he.
They had been there for years bounded by the rivers that brought them protection. They had set up a home that was to be theirs for as long as they wished if they could keep it. Some holy men had tried to convert them years ago, but that was not their way. What was this new religion? One God? There were many. Those that tended the flock...those that protected...those that bartered the soul. This thing called a Pope? They were not unaware. These followers of Christ had been around long before Lothar was born. Yet that was not their way. You communed with nature and nature with you. Every part of it flowed within the body and to ignore it was to ignore your very own soul. Let these so called Christians lie to themselves. One man is not enough. The heavens were grander than that.
High Chief Lothar looked out on the gathering of his tribe and pulled his own seax to hold it in the air, “We gather to pay tribute! The Gods have been kind and seen me with a child! Look here and see! He is healthy and full!”
The men shouted with cheer as well as many other colorful phrases and Lothar smiled, “It is a male child and my own! My bride stands near to hold him and you can see!”
More cheers rang out as another moved to Lothar’s wife and took the babe into his arms. Holding him up high, Billung of the Leriga tribe allowed the them to grow silent in awe and then brought the child forward. Lothar took him and held him to the tree to take it in as much as the infant might. Then he turned and gestured for others to bring forth the sacrificial deer. Struggling, the beast fought but the tribesmen held it down and the neck was slit. Blood poured forth and Lothar held his seax to it so it might be covered. With the red running down the blade, the chief brought it to his son’s hand just as it had been done to him. A cut, slim but deep pierced the child and he wailed. Blood mixed and Lothar raised the two. A son in one arm and his blade in the other.
“Our forest...our trees. Our rivers and our fields. I promise to protect it and this is the one to hold it! Our prideful history...we shall stand, we shall grow and we shall fight! There is no new God! Only ours...our many! From the heavens to this very ground, we stand before Irminsul to pledge! Our brothers have gone far to make their own home, but this is ours! We will not leave it and this child...this boy...he is our future!”
More cheers rang out as Lothar bent down to rest on his knee and kissed his babe for all to see. He then turned to the tree and followed it up to the heavens with a fierce smile, “Let those that wish us harm find their fury. We shall give it to them for we are sound!”
As the tribe rang out, Billung looked to Margarite with a smirk, “He is very proud.”
Lothar’s wife kept her eyes to her husband, “As he should be. From heaven to earth, a child is born. All stand before the great pillar with pride. We are made whole!”
* * *
Bardengawi, February 769
The closer they moved to the large thatched hall, the louder it became. It was clear that they were in their cups as many of the tribesmen had fallen by the wayside as they walked. Men of the Grand Chief of Saxony...and drunk off their ass. Lothar was already suspicious.
“Looks to be a good time,” Sigbert suggested beside him, “Our Theoderic knows how to throw a fine bacchanalia.”
Lothar grinned as he kept his pace, “Learning your Latin, are you? It may serve you well.”
“He is known to be lustful and greedy,” Sigbert returned the grin, “Best keep your wits.”
As they entered the long hall, the raucous crowd did not even notice. It was only Wichimann that spied them and rushed over with a grin, “You take your time! I have been waiting as have some few girls. Lothar! Fatherhood suits you! I think not to have seen you so hale!”
Wichimann was already drunk but he held himself well. Lothar clapped a hand to his back with good cheer, “An eight days walk, Wick! Fetch me a drink for I am parched!”
“And for you?” Wichimann looked to Sigbert, “What does the hirdman of the chief wish?”
Sigbert grinned through narrow eyes, “I’ll have what he is having.”
As he moved off to fetch them both libation, Lothar leaned in closer, “Pay him no mind, Sig. He thinks himself tall as son of Theoderic. And I like him well enough.”
“You support him, don’t you?” Sigbert asked knowing the answer.
Lothar answered as he saw the Grand Chief come towards them, “I support what is best for the tribes.”
“Lothar!!” Theoderic shouted, deep in his cups, “You took your time! And you Sigbert? It is good to see you both! We celebrate and I would wish my best man here for it.”
As they clasped arms, Lothar grinned, “Your best man that seeks to counsel. When do you choose?”
“I made the choice when I sent you word,” the Grand Chief smiled wide, “The Derve tribe...the Lara tribe...they should be represented when we meet, especially as I have a favor to ask of you.”
Wichimann returned with two great cups filled with mead, “Has he said yes, father?”
“Drink...drink...you will when I put it to you,” Theoderic grinned and waited as Lothar and Sigbert took in their mead.
It went straight to their heads and the sounds of the gathering became almost deafening. Theoderic grinned and put his arm around Lothar’s shoulder, “Let us walk out into the night. These fools could party until the dawn and I plan to join them. Yet not before I have you on my side.”
Sigbert gave nod and stood with Wichimann as the chiefs left the hall and walked on for a time. As the fires dwindled in the distance, the Grand Chief finally stopped and clasped Lothar’s neck, “Sitting our moot may take you away from the Derve at times. Can you trust that man...Billung of Leriga?”
“I move to sway him,” Lothar answered quickly, “Though I will not grant him the girl Suanhilde. She is but sixteen summers. Too young for him.”
Theoderic grinned, “Though she is practiced already at the arts of deception. If you will not give her to Billung, then send her on to me. Unless...”
“She warms my bed at times...” Lothar gave nod, “...when my Margarite is not in the mood.”
“Never a good thing when a woman would not fulfill the bride price,” Theoderic shook his head in mock disappointment, “Yet that is why we remain free and able to seek out our needs elsewhere.”
Lothar skewed an eye, “You said you had wish for a favor. Tell it to me and I will answer.”
“Always to the point, my good friend,” the Grand Chief grinned, “Then you will sit the moot and when you do, you will vote with me when I ask for the chiefs to accept my will.”
“I would need to know your will,” Lothar was quick to suggest.
The Grand Chief grinned once more, “Of course you do. I would expect no thing else. Lothar...we do well here. United, we have these Saxon tribes able to hold our own. East of the Elbe...the Slavic tribes are ripe. To the south...it grows more dangerous. This Karl...I know not when he comes but he will. We must be united for both.”
“I support my tribe,” Lothar replied, “If you treat us with honor then I can support yours.”
“Good,” Theoderic answered, “I need that. These drunken fools...I know not how many may come when we are forced to fight. The shield wall is only effective when all stand together. Lend me your shield...your seax...and we will face our foes as one.”
Lothar was certain, “If they come, I will stand.”
“You will need to,” Theoderic grew serious for a moment but then smiled wide, “Yet for now...let us drink and be merry! Beasts of many to eat...women to plow...and the mead flows! We shall meet again on the morrow and then you will vote with me...yes?”
“If I am not suffering from the drink...” Lothar returned the smile, “...then yes. Best be careful.”
Theoderic slapped him on the shoulder, “Come now, man! We be Saxon! We do not suffer. We thrive! Thanks be to the Gods!!”