Friday, 20 January 2012
One of the obsessions of the soothsayers in this lovely Northumbrian Kingdom is the increasing activity of groups of unruly thugs. This is a ubiquitous problem; the issue has increased in the public consciousness, and seldom does a day pass by without some calamitous report of antisocial behaviour, assault, robbery, burglary and similar expressions of human virtue from some quarter or other.
I went on an ear-fishing trip - a fact-finding mission of my own around the streets of Streonaeshalch; I wandered by the homes of the fishermen and the traders, artisans and other tradespeople of the town, sauntering past the gossiping elderly ladies and their old warrior menfolk in the mead and ale houses, keeping a feline ear cocked for any reports of incidents of such reprehensible behaviour. Occasional greetings from cat-lovers made the mission most enjoyable - and the gratuitous scraps of fish donated to a hungry moggy. I must do this again..
Of course, much of the conversation I overheard was completely irrelevant, and like unwanted fish from the net, I mentally threw it back; the price of haddock, Sigbert's new bakery, Aethelstan's latest building project and Egbert's latest floozy doesn't really matter in the overall scheme of things. However, my ears did manage to catch some relevant information.
There's an enormous gang of criminals at large in this beautiful Realm, and from all accounts, they're very well-organised and sophisticated in their methods. Some men were quietly complaining around flagons of ale that they were being systematically robbed by such a coterie of reprobates. It seems that they have to pay them a weekly donation to protect them and hold them at bay until the next weekly call. Those who refuse to cooperate are hastily kidnapped and are seldom seen again.
I heard tales of the selfsame gang compelling other men under pain of death by Morris dancing to join them in taking up arms and fighting rival gangs. The same group raids other places, setting out in longboats, putting natives to the sword, looting their goods and setting up their malign control over their captives.
I became increasingly intrigued by this. Who was organising them, masterminding their activities and profiting from their unlawful activities? There had to be a brain behind it - even if there wasn't a synapse between the gang's rank-and-file.. Then I suddenly realised.
Time to pay King Alhfrith a visit, I think. Or should it be His Holiness Emperor Jose Borracho of the Holy Roman Empire (which is neither holy, Roman nor an empire)?