Wulfhere approached the strong wooden palisade that surrounded his longhall. He reached for the blowing horn that hung on a leather thong around his neck. Putting it to his lips he blew a couple of short notes, then a long shrill high one to sound his approach. Wulfhere was answered by the appearance of his blacksmith’s nephew, Yrmenlaf. The sandy-haired lad shouted a hearty greeting as his red-cheeked face peered above the rampart before swiftly disappearing to run down the steps to open the gates.
The horse’s weary hooves trudged across the wooden planks of the ford, clattering as they crossed the defensive ditch. Wulfhere looked up proudly at the familiar sight of his formidable twin-towered lookout structure, made by his own hands from the strongest timber. He passed through the gate, opened eagerly by the boy and gave a contented whisper of thanks to the Lord for his safe arrival. The sight of his longhall was welcoming, standing as a symbol of safety from the outside world. It was surrounded by smaller out buildings that served as sleeping bowers, work sheds, animal byres and storage huts.
The little wooden chapel comforted Wulfhere as he passed it. He crossed himself piously, grateful to be home and safe at last. The stallion’s ears pricked at the clanking of Aelfstan’s smithy hammer as they passed the forge and Wulfhere breathed in the familiar aroma that wafted from the stables nearby. As he approached the house he imagined that Ealdgytha might be tending her garden to the rear where she grew herbs and vegetables; or perhaps she was in the orchard where the sweet succulent apples grew abundantly. He heard the recognisable laughter of children at play and knew he was finally home in the place he thought he would never see again.