Walking two by two, they wound their way among the oaks, ashes, and pines. Ealdgyth and Leova were in front, followed by Wulfgar and Sunwynn, then Deorlaf and Ludgar.
Deorlaf’s footsteps stopped suddenly. “I hear voices.”
Leova halted and listened.
Ealdgyth whirled, her small eyes gleaming. “Wulfgar, grab her!”
Wulfgar seized Leova’s wrists and twisted her arms behind her. Leova screamed and struggled to pull away. Wulfgar’s meaty fingers tightened their grip, bruising her flesh.
“You are coming with us,” Ealdgyth said coldly.
“Release her,” Deorlaf shouted, drawing his dagger.
Wulfgar looked over his shoulder and laughed. “Puny boy. Ludgar, take his knife.”
Ludgar looked at Deorlaf’s knife and drew his own.
“Stop, you fool!” Ealdgyth screeched. “He’s worth nothing to us dead or crippled.”
“Run!” Leova shrieked.
Ealdgyth snatched the large knife from Leova’s belt and pointed it at Leova’s throat. “Stay here, boy, or your mother dies!”
Sunwynn was rooted to the spot, staring at the large knife. Deorlaf gazed at the blade in his hand—one of his father’s last gifts.
“Do you love your mother, boy?” Wulfgar taunted.
Deorlaf looked up at his mother and dropped the dagger.
“No,” Leova wailed, “run.”
Before Deorlaf or Sunwynn could react, Ludgar grabbed each one by the back of the neck in his massive hands.
“Come,” Ealdgyth said. She tucked Leova’s knife into her own belt and retrieved Deorlaf’s.
“You heard her,” Wulfgar growled in Leova’s ear, releasing one of her arms. “Not too fast or Ludgar will break your brats’ necks.” A moment later, she heard the rasp of a drawn dagger and felt a point in the middle of her back.
“Why?” Leova asked, almost sobbing. “Why are you doing this?”
Ealdgyth frowned. “Not your concern.”
As Leova and her children stumbled along the forest path, the voices grew louder, and they were speaking a foreign tongue. Her throat constricted. She could barely breathe. What was happening? This was worse than losing Leodwulf, Derwine, and the Irminsul. Even if she could break Wulfgar’s grip, she dared not run. She could not lose her babies.