Northman Chapter 1 – ebook releasing 1st August 2014

Chapter 1 – Midwinter 1006 – Northman
He pulled his cloak tighter to his shaking body, in an effort to ward off the chill air and streaming rain that was hitting him directly in the face and pooling down his frozen cheekbones. His eyes were steely and fixed in place, the only thought in his mind that he must reach his father as soon as possible.
His mother had come to him and told him that they were to leave the house in Lichfield with all haste, and that he’d need to assist her in getting his brothers and sister ready for the journey. He hadn’t questioned her words, completely out of character for him, but then, he’d never heard such seriousness in his mother’s voice. It was the first time in his ten years that he’d heard fear in her shaky voice.
He wondered if he’d have leapt to his duties quite as promptly if he’d not overheard the Archbishop’s message delivered by one of his household troops. He shrugged the thought aside. It was irrelevant. He had heard the message and he knew of his father’s, if not disgrace, then dressing down. Rage burned within him, bright and true. His father was a good man. The best. Even he knew that. He was respected and feared in equal measure. He was fair and honest, always taking the time to discuss issues with both sides of the party. Men vied to have his support at the shire courts, and quaked in fear when he refused to give it.
To know what the King had done to his father filled his heart with hatred. He knew he shouldn’t think so, but whilst the thoughts were his own, they could bubble happily through his mind, in time to the pounding of his horse’s hooves on the hard frozen ground they traversed.
Besides him Leofric sat miserable atop his own horse. He was a little more forthcoming with his anger, his slender shoulders rigid where they held the reins of his horse and every so often, he muttered something foul that he’d learnt from a member of his father’s household troop. Northman wanted to chastise him but as he agreed with his every word, he was letting him alone. Time would come soon enough when they’d be forced to guard against everything they thought, let alone said. This time alone, in the sheeting rain was theirs and theirs alone.
For now, all he wanted was to see his father, and the same determination had coloured his mother’s every move that day. Brisk and to the point, she’d ruthlessly rushed through their home packing, scrupulously only what was theirs to take, her face white and set with suppressed anger.
And then there’d been old Wulfstan. His hair all but white, he’d trembled at the news, as he had when Eadric had made his unexpected visit earlier in the year demanding that he foster Northman. That time his father had miraculously appeared and headed the situation off. This time, he’d not, despite Wulfstan’s longing glances at the doorway that Northman had watched with sadness. Northman had felt pity for the man, as close to his grandfather as he’d ever had, and he’d gone to him, and helped him pack his own possessions, mindful to keep him out of the way of his mother’s bustling and efficient servants. His slow movements would have occasioned much muttering and frustration, for all that they’d not have meant it. There was no one in their household who did not respect the aging man. No one.
With the help of Leofric, they’d taken the old man outside, almost speechless with shock, and they’d saddled his just as old but sturdier horse, and wrapping him in two thick wolf pelts and cloaks, had assisted him into the saddle. Only then had Northman run back inside what had once been his home, and gathered his own small collections of possessions and stuffed them into a handy sack that he wore strapped across his back. An old and much loved wooden sword, a board and wooden pieces and most importantly, a tiny shield Wulfstan had gifted to him when he could barely walk.
He now purposefully rode besides Wulfstan, and whilst the old man didn’t speak, his more sociable horse was clearly pleased to have the company. Between the mutterings of Leofric, and the silence from Wulfstan, Northman sat hunched and miserable, but braver than he’d ever felt before. His mother had, by her acceptance of his actions, made him responsible for his brother and his father’s closest confidant on the way back to Deerhurst. It filled him with pride.
Irritably he wiped the bitter tears that fled down his face. His responsibility came as a bitter tonic when it was thrust upon him at such a time of crisis. Besides him, Wulfstan glanced at him and coughed drily,
“Come lad, no need for that. Your father will be hale no matter what the King does to him. He’s a wise man, more than aware of the King’s sometimes contrary nature.”
Northman glanced at the steadiness in the man’s voice in shock. The state of him earlier, he’d not expected such stoicism.
“But, none of it makes sense.”
“Nothing about Court politics will make sense to a ten year old.” Wulfstan chuckled, not unkindly. He wiped angrily at the rain that drizzled into his face. “The King has his favourites and he has his men who he can rely on to do what needs to be done. Sadly, on occasion, he confuses the two. He’ll come to his senses soon enough, or he won’t and your father will recover his position anyway. In the eyes of all who know him, he loses nothing. If anything, the King loses more because he shows how little regard he has for those who are his genuine loyal followers. The respect most men and women hold your father in should be obvious to you. The hasty actions of the King will not devalue him in anyone’s eyes. And certainly should not in yours.”
Northman looked away to consider the words, and realised with a start that Wulfstan too was according him more respect than before. He was speaking to him as if he was a man grown.
“Thank you for your words,” Northman uttered, incredulity colouring his voice, “I’ll think on them further.”
“I know you will, lad, and that’s why I’ve spoken them to you. And you have my deepest thanks for your assistance earlier. You’ll be as wise and just as your father with a few more years under your belt.”
Northman felt his cheek flush with embarrassment at the compliment from the man who he’d always held in high regard.
“And just remember who taught you everything you know,” Leofric interjected into the conversation, his voice boyishly high with delight at undermining Wulfstan’s words of endorsement. Northman cast him a barely veiled look of annoyance, but was greeted with a huge cheeky grin on Leofric’s face, and he heard Wulfstan chuckle. Huffing quietly to himself, he turned back to his thoughts. Younger brothers were well and good, most of the time.
At his horse’s feet, his hound ran swiftly besides him and he peered into the slowly descending gloom. Mid-winter; not a time to be on the road. He was looking frantically for the abbey where they’d find shelter for the night but he feared they wouldn’t reach it before full dark fell. With a quiet word to Leofric to stay besides Wulfstan, he rode to his mother’s side.
Her face was white and pinched; blue tinged with cold and a shot of fear pierced Northman’s heart. She’d not long since had his baby brother, and this rushed journey was the last thing she needed in the black of winter. A smile touched her face as she saw her oldest son.
“Mother, are we far from the abbey? Only it’s growing dark. Should we light brands?”
She peered into the gloom as she considered his question.
“It shouldn’t be far now, but perhaps you should check with Lyfing. He’ll know better where we are.”
With a tight smile for his mother and a poke of his tongue at his younger sister who sat beside her and had been doing the same to him throughout their conversation, he turned his horse and cantered back towards the front of their tightly formed line. Sisters, or at least his only sister, never seemed to see the severity in any situation. She even seemed to be enjoying this furtive canter through the winter landscape.
The majority of his father’s men had travelled with him first to the Witan in Shropshire, and then to do battle with Swein, but enough remained that they were adequately protected as they cantered through the cold day. In total ten men rode with the small party of children and servants and the veritable herd of hounds who, only by the intervention of God, managed to avoid the horse’s hooves.
Lyfing was taking his duties seriously and when Northman called to the man, he pulled his horse up short and waited for his Lord’s youngest son to catch him.
“What is it Northman?” he queried, “Does your mother have some new command for me?”
“No, just my question Lyfing. Should we light brands or are we nearly at the abbey.”
Lyfing, as Northman had done moments before, peered into the gloom and then gave a cry of delight.
“Over there my young Lord. I can see lights, as I was expecting. Now come, I need a warm fire and some food in my belly.”
Lyfing, calling attention to the faintly glowing lights of welcome, and the occasional waft of smoky air, directed their party to the abbey.
Northman felt himself relax a little at the news. Not home yet, but more home than not home. He’d see his father, soon, and then he could assess the value of Wulfstan’s words for himself.
They found a warm welcome within the abbey where concerned monks assisted his mother and sister and old Wulfstan, settling them around the huge roaring fire and feeding them a warming soup. There had been exclamations of surprise when they’d first arrived but in no time at all, everyone had been settled, the horses stabled out of the rain, and a strange calmness had settled around the great hall. Northman, counting himself amongst the men, had slept within the hall, wrapped in his cloak, exhaustion and outrage warring with each other only briefly before he’d fallen asleep.
When he woke in the morning it was to a day dark and gloomy, the sun still some time away from fully rising. He’d glanced around in confusion, before recognising the men who milled around the hall. His father’s men. Jumping to his feet, he’d wound his way to Oscetel, talking quietly to an alert looking Lyfing.
“Your father’s not here Northman, but I’ve come with another ten men to escort you all home.”
Nodding to show he understood, he turned away to rouse his mother and sister. He liked Oscetel; he was always to the point and didn’t hold with the view that it was acceptable to keep young boy’s waiting for answers. But, he wasn’t his father and he couldn’t help wishing that he’d come too. Turning back abruptly he thought to ask,
“Is father well?”
A grimace fleetingly crossed Oscetel’s face.
“He’s well. A little sick of heart when I left him, but he’s not injured. We had a fine time with Swein. Now hurry, and then you can see for yourself.”
Relieved his father wasn’t missing due to an injury, he quickly set about rousing his mother, and then went to find Wulfstan. The old man slept deeply, and for a moment he worried that his stillness alluded to something a little more sinister, but with a few shakes and nudges, Wulfstan woke. Confusion creased his face as he looked from his young Lord to his surroundings, but it cleared quickly enough.
“Oscetel is here with more men to escort us home.”
“Good, I’ll let my guard down a little today then,” Wulfstan, quipped, and Northman smiled at the attempted humour.
“Perhaps I will too,” he retorted, hunting around for Wulfstan’s boots and cloaks.
Wulfstan laughed drily at him and once dressed, rubbed his hair affectionately as he walked from the small cubicle he’d slept within.
“You’re a good lad, don’t forget that.”
A hasty breakfast of hardened bread and cheese saw them mounted and on their way. The day was clearer than the day before, but the dampness chilled even inside huge cloaks, and it was a miserable day of perseverance. Even having Oscetel and the other men recounting tales of their newest encounter with Swein and his men couldn’t lift Northman’s spirits, and he almost cried when the familiar sight of his birth home came into view, smoke puffing in welcome through the thatch.
This was his home, his birthright, so different to the house in Lichfield. Here, he could be himself, let his guard down a little, play with his brothers and sister without fear of who might see or comment on what he was doing.
Sitting straighter on his horse, he wiped his listing hair from his eyes, setting his face in a bright smile whilst besides him Leofric kicked his horse to a tired gallop, desperate to see their father. His attempts at acting the young Lord abandoned, he too kicked his horse onwards, the beast as eager as him to be near home. He just wanted to see his father. Nothing else mattered.
The wind rushing around his clammy face, his eyes focused on the door of his house, he shouted with joy when his father ambled through the front door, his hand shielding his eye so that he could see who approached his house.
All attempts at maturity beyond his years evaporated as he flung himself into his father’s waiting arms, and he sobbed with relief. His father. He was here, as immovable as stone, as unchanging as Heaven.

Windy day in the 9th century

Bamburgh Research Project's Blog

Sometimes the most fascinating aspects of archaeology are those rare moments when you get to connect to a past event through a discrete little discovery. Whether it is the finger prints of a potter on an ancient pot or a personal object lost by an individual, it is all part of a rich tapestry of reconstructing the past.

A thin wind-blown sand lens lies just beneath the dark deposit that the leaf blade is lying on A thin wind-blown sand lens lies just beneath the dark deposit that the leaf blade is lying on

We have been cleaning the south west corner of Trench 3 in order to record it a final time before we cover it to prevent its slow erosion. We made one of those small discoveries in the process. Bamburgh lies close to the beach and can be pretty windy. Its particularly annoying when the wind blows sand over our cleaned surfaces, adding a thin layer that has to be removed. It was amusing then…

View original post 46 more words

King Aethelred II of England

Aethelred II, to put it mildly, gets a bad press, the writer’s of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle have nothing good to say about him, blaming him for the ills that befall the country at the hands of the Scandinavian raiders, and there is an inevitability about the events that unfold from 1009 onwards that culminate in Swein of Denmark claiming the English throne, and following his untimely death, the actions of his younger son, Cnut, to achieve the same honour a few years later.
And, don’t get me wrong, the list of places attacked by the Vikings is long, their demands for payment appear huge and their willingness to kill even those who should have been protected, for instance the Archbishop of Canterbury, callously presented.
Yet, his by-name, Unready is a misinterpretation and also a play on words, his name meaning wise-counsel, and Unraed meaning no-counsel and being changed to ‘the Unready’ a word nothing like no-counsel.
So if we accept that his by-name should be no-counsel and not ‘the unready’ does that make it any more appropriate?
Most assuredly not. Aethelred had his fair share of ealdormen (later the title was changed to earls from jarls under the Scandinavian kings) and the detailed work done by historians has attempted to uncover who they were and what they did. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle appears to have hidden much from today’s reader, so intent in its desire to paint Aethelred in as unflattering colours as possible, and mentions only some of the Ealdormen. My particular favourite, Ealdorman Leofwine of the Hwicce is not mentioned once and yet charter evidence shows that he held his post for many years from 994-c1023, quite a long time to be ignored by the main source for the period.
Other details show just how powerful the King was; he recalled his coinage about every seven years and reissued it with new images, he collected the gelds used to pay the raiders, he built and provisioned a vast ship army and he had laws proclaimed in his name. And all of this he must have done with the consent of the Witan, for England although ruled by a King was also ruled through the consensus of the greatest men in the land. England, not long united, was just too big for one man to rule alone, and it was broken down almost into its constituent pre-united kingdoms, Mercia, Northumbria, the East Angles, Kent, Wessex and the Western provinces, sometimes each area having an ealdorman and at other times, ruled by the King’s High Reeve. He was surely King over a well organised and rich country, and no matter what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle implies, the men of the land were prepared to fight for their King, and they didn’t attempt to dislodge him from his kingship although by about 1000 onwards he had a host of sons old enough and probably strong enough, to govern in his stead.
I think even his usual by-name of Unraed is unwarranted, and certainly his unreadiness is unwarranted. History plays tricks on how our past King’s are viewed, and more often than not, they’re too harsh, too conciliatory, or in the case of many, they’re totally forgotten about. Perhaps being a King was not all it was cracked up to be!

Anglo-Saxon Royal Charters from 1006-1013

There are only 8 charters for this period in history as witnessed by the King’s ealdormen. And they only appear in 1007, 1009, 1012 and 1013. It’s said that the missing years are due to interruptions caused by invasions of ‘Viking raiders’. This certainly applies to 1010-11, and 1006 when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recounts tales of Viking incursions.
As is so often the case, this lack is frustrating because something monumental seems to happen at the King’s court between 1009-1012. For a start the number of ealdormen begins to increase and second of all, the, until then, rigidly enforced precedence of the ealdormen crumbles away, and one ealdorman, Eadric of Mercia, seems to come out on top and Aelfric of Hampshire (who I imagine as a little doddery by now – but I may be doing him a disservice) seems to fall down the rankings, as does Leofwine of Mercia.
By this stage it’s assumed that both Eadric and Uhtred of Northumbria (the other ealdorman who rises in precedence during this period) are related to Aethelred as they’ve both married one of his daughters.
But there seems an inherent contradiction in this because whilst the King may be seen to be rewarding his ealdormen with marriage into his family, his own sons, from his first marriage, don’t seem to be getting any additional authority. This is slightly speculation on my part, but it seems clear to me that Aethelred preferred his sons-in-law to his own sons. Obviously he now had two sons by his new wife, Emma of Normandy, and although they were only very young, he may have been trying to ensure their inheritance of the throne over and above their older half-brothers.
I appreciate that this is all speculation from only a handful of charters, but it provides a fascinating insight into the character of Aethelred if he really was so unprepared to give his sons any formal authority. Surely in his times of troubles, when the Vikings attacked relentlessly, and he was growing steadily older, it would have been an acceptable use of his older sons to use them as battle commanders? Certainly, later in the 1010’s the sons seem to come into their own, and must have had command and fighting experience somewhere. The King proved to be very resistant to leading his own men into battle (apart from the Battle of Chester in 1000) so I wonder why he wouldn’t chose his elder sons who he hoped would never inherit?
But that’s just my ponderings, and something I’m going to explore in my work of historical fiction, Northman Part 1 (The Earls of Mercia Book 3) and goodness me, it’s only going to get more confusing as I work my way past 1013!

The Vikings anyone?

Is anyone else out there watching the Vikings? Silly question, cause I know it’s really popular. And wow, isn’t it just fantastic. I think I love almost everything about it, well, apart from one or two niggles, and I’m going to attempt to discuss without giving anything away. So hopefully, I don’t need to give a spoiler alert!

I’m up to episode three in Season 2 and well, the thing that’s bothering me most, is the portrayal of ye old Anglo-Saxon Kings. The Vikings are essentially all quite, and apologies here for not being the next word, ‘cool’. They’re simple men, with simple needs and wishes and their women are strong and loyal. What I love most is the characters – even though they’re supposed to be characters from over 1000 years ago, I think that they’re very easy to relate to. They’re not all bloody thirsty (insert your own expletive here).

The scenery is stunning, the dialogue is simple and effective, the storyline is ambling along at a lovely pace, just enough to keep you intrigued but not in a huge rush. The battle scenes are far more realistic than anything in Game of Thrones, and reveal just how lethal and brutal and strong they were, but until last night, they didn’t come across as too obsessed with a bit of torture.

But the Anglo-Saxon Kings, they’re being portrayed as arrogant and dumb, all at the same time. Now, before everyone jumps up and down, I appreciate that they’re the ‘enemies’ of the Vikings. I get that, but, having them strut their stuff in an ancient Roman bath house and make it all into a bit of a c*** fight is doing them a little bit of a disservice. (It also makes me want to know where they are? Where is this bath house? I know that much of the structure of Roman Britain remained in place when they hoped off back to Rome, but, after four hundred years I’m not sure it would have been in quite such good condition!)

I admit that I didn’t pay too much attention to the Northumbrian King’s portrayal (although I might have to go back and watch it again) and maybe his character was the same (only without the Roman bath). And I also know it’s really easy to see the whole Christianity thing as a bit of a joke and show the priests as zealots but to do the time period any justice I feel that both the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons need to be treated with the same respect. Everyone (I hope) likes the Vikings so why can’t we like the Anglo-Saxons as well. It bugs me a little.

The joy of other shows that I’ve enjoyed in (almost) recent years is that the writers make you engage with the characters even when they’re nasty pieces of work (Prison Break is the best example I can think of, although Game of Thrones has its far share of nasties who the audience end up finding appealing), and I want The Vikings to do the same. Please!!!

Is my rant over? Not too sure really (cause the scene with the lovely Agatha annoyed me as well but I don’t, as I said, want to spoil anything). So maybe for now, I’ll go back to my hermits shell, and my copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and get on with some writing. But hey, writers of the Vikings, give us a few Anglo-Saxon characters to engage with (other than the monk – is he called Athelstan, I can’t remember?).

And now, I really must do some writing. Brunanburh continues over on Wattpad, and I’d love some feedback on how you think it’s developing.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/15294409…Brunanburh