And the final release of the year is … Cnut: The Conqueror, an Earls of Mercia side story

It’s been a busy year and only quite recently, I realized that next year is the millennial anniversary of Cnut’s accession to the English kingdom. This occasioned some quick rethinking as to my writing for the end of the year and, unsurprisingly, it’s not been quite as smooth a ride as I’d hoped. Originally planned as a mere 50000 word novella and side story to the Earls of Mercia story, he’s blossomed to a monumental 105000, the second longest in the Earls of Mercia series.

Not that I’m complaining. Too much story is always far better than too little, and it’s given me the perfect opportunity to turn the focus away from the Ealdorman of the Hwicce’s family and look at the wider events taking place. I’m not entirely convinced that this will be the last time I write about the events from 1014-1016 but for now it is, and it’s time to move on. Only not for my lucky readers, they still have the chance to enjoy Cnut and so, prior to the release on 24th December, I’m attaching a little snippet below.

Chapter 1 – Cnut – February 1014

Outside it was as black as night could get. No lights showed anywhere along the coast. It was a night to be alone with his thoughts, and Cnut didn’t want that. He tried to shake the worries away, but there was little point in even that small movement.

It was cold and chill, frozen more than likely further inland, and nothing would detract from the knowledge that his father was dead and with it the family’s hopes of bringing England within their sphere of power.

He was angry and lonely and unsure, and not one of the emotions did he like to feel. He glared up at the overcast sky, thick with heavy black clouds, and he wondered what the weather had in store for him now. He almost taunted the heavens but he knew better.

His God had forsaken him in his time of need, quickly followed by the English men of the Witan, or so they called it. The only supporters he had slept now on their ships rocking in the gentle current, and on board his own ship, his father’s heavy coffin making the ship ride low in the sea.

It was a doleful night and one that seemed to hold no hope for the next day, the next week, or even the next year. Everything he’d had was lost to him now.

For now.

He had his men, and they’d proclaimed him as the king of their fleet of forty-five ships, but even he wasn’t foolish enough to think that he’d keep that position when he returned to Denmark. It would be his brother who succeeded his father in Denmark, just as his father had always wanted. That was why he’d attacked England in the end for so long and with such determination, both for his own gain and also to give his younger son the kingdom he deserved to rule, one that would have hopefully, and with time, proved easier to rule than any of the small states of Norway and Sweden.

Pity he’d died doing just that.

The movement of the sea caused gurgling sounds to surround his ship, but it was nothing he wasn’t used to. He sometimes wondered if he’d been born on a ship. He had few memories of any long spells on land. There had been the time he’d been a hostage for the king of England, Aethelred for Thorkell’s good behavior when he’d claimed Oxford, and the time Thorkell and he had attacked the English in East Anglia, but little more than that.

It was a pity that Swein had failed to kill the King Aethelred, settling instead for his exile in Normandy, the home of his second, and much younger wife. If was a pity more that he still lived and would be recalled by his ealdormen. A great pity indeed.

If he wanted what his father had gained, he was going to have to fight for it, and fight hard. He knew it with certainty and it tired him and filled him with a firm resolve doubly. To win England he much fight for it, and he’d only just finished doing so.

It was almost as though the last few years of his life had come to mean nothing, standing for nothing.

If his father had only killed Aethelred instead of negotiating his banishment from England, and then killed his sons as well, then perhaps the English would have been happier to see Cnut as their king. It would have been a great many deaths to get what he wanted but Cnut knew that if he resolved to retake England, as his father wished him to, he would need to kill those same men. The thought didn’t fill him with revulsion. He was a practical man. He knew that in another’s death, his success would be guaranteed.

He sighed deeply. His thoughts were dark, his men leaving him to stew and work out a way to fulfill his father’s wishes. He knew they expected him to bury his father at Gainsborough, reunite with his wife, and then somehow, and this was the part he found the most difficult to fathom out, reclaim England for himself.

Aelfgifu would be disappointed with him and he suddenly thought he dreaded seeing her face most of all. When he’d left her to ride with his father, her expression had been one of tolerance and love. She’d wanted him and his father to succeed, her hatred for King Aethelred a mighty thing. Her detestation of Eadric so immense that Cnut thrilled to watch the play of emotions over her face whenever she spoke of him.

He must remember to never incite the hatred of a vengeful woman. They were more cunning and deceitful than men.

His thoughts turned to her now and her wishes that she be married to king of England, or at least the king of England’s acknowledged heir, as he had been whilst his father had lived. How could he accomplish what she wanted now?

He could kill his brother and take Denmark and rule there instead; only he loved his brother and thought he had just as much right to rule in their father’s stead as he did. Alternatively he could kill the English king, Aethelred, and all of his sons, and there were almost as many of them as he had sisters.

He sighed once more. He was tired, bereft and lonely. All his years he’d been surrounded by strong men, his father, Thorkell and even the English king when he’d been in exile at Aethelred’s court, but now he was alone with his future. His for the taking if he could only decide what he wanted to take.

No, he reconsidered. He knew what he wanted. He wanted England.

 

Intrigued? Preorder now, or remember to buy it over the Christmas holidays.

Here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cnut-Conqueror-Earls-Mercia-Book-ebook/dp/B015R35BUI/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1450013387&sr=8-8&keywords=M+J+Porter

And look out for many events celebrating Cnut next year.

 

 

 

 

On this day in 991 (or possibly yesterday!) – The Battle of Maldon

I thought I’d share my own reenactment of it from Wulfstan: An Anglo Saxon Thegn.

Prologue – Wulfstan at the Battle of Maldon – 991

From his place atop the minor rise, he watched the battle play itself out before him. More than anything he wanted to run back into the foray, his sword raised and ready, his shield in place. The impulse was instinctive.

He’d trained for this. It was his place to be, not out here, away from the heat of the battle feeling useless and unskilled.

Beneath his legs, his horse shuffled from side to side. The animal, Heard, was keen to be away from the smell of the sea and the tang of shed blood. If only he could turn away, but he knew he couldn’t. He needed to watch what was about to happen so that at the least he could tell his Lord’s son all about his final moments. He hoped he had a good death, a warrior’s death, not pissing himself with fear when the moment came.

They’d never spoken about the final moments. They’d never been the need to before. They’d always known that they were going to emerge as the victors.

Not this time though.

He gazed out to the vast expanse of sea, scanning the vast Viking fleet that had come to their lands, unbidden and without warning. Years it had been since the last concerted attack by the raiders. They’d come in dribs and drabs, a stray Norseman and his warriors just testing their luck and more often than not going away empty handed or with little apart from their lives, or not at all. But not in their masses. Not ninety-three ships full of bristled warriors, and rumour had it, would be kings.

He sighed deeply at the most composed attack his land had faced from across the sea throughout his adult life. He should have known that it was all too good to be true. That the small attacks would eventually coalesce into something more menacing. He fervently wished they hadn’t.

These men from the north seemed less honourable than the English warriors; either that or they just saw an opportunity and exploited it. He wondered if he’d ever decipher why Ealdorman Brythnoth had decided to let the attackers cross the marshy land instead of hemming them in with the rising tide. He could accept that it was the English thing to do, to give the men a fighting chance, but it had allowed them to win the battle, or would allow them to win the battle, and he couldn’t help thinking that it had been a foolish mistake. A life-ending mistake.

An honourable mistake but a mistake all the same.

The gentle smash of shields on wood touched his ears becoming muted as it travelled the great distance between him and the battle. He noted that tears were falling freely down his face. He raised his hand and wiped them angrily away. It wasn’t that he felt he shouldn’t cry, more that if he did cry he’d not be able to see the battle before him.

Around him the press of the other retreating men had faded away. Now only he, and a priest from Ealdorman Brythnoth’s household stayed and watched, a silent vigil for dead men who yet lived.

The priest was praying quietly and Wulfstan appreciated the soft words and the exhortations to their God that he was making. It made a strange contrast, the words of the priest, the almost silent but deadly battle before him, and the view of the gently bobbing fleet of raider ships. A beautiful tableaux and one he would have given anything not to see and not to witness.

The sails on the raiding ships were half cast down, but on the ones that still stood he could discern patterns in the weaves and wondered if they depicted who owned the vessels. If they did, he detected three separate designs, or colour schemes. Did that mean that there were three individual war leaders facing his Lord?

He thought he might quite like his own ship but then he reconsidered, perhaps not. The sea was calm today and still they swayed haphazardly in the water, just watching them was making him feel a little ill at ease. He had no stomach for ships. He never had.

The rising voice of the priest recalled him to his gruesome task.

He squinted into the sunlight and saw what the priest saw. The defenders were slowly thinning, the attackers coming ever closer to the back of the shield wall, and when they broke through there would be no one else to stop them. Their victory would be complete. There was no one other than him and an old priest to offer any further resistance.

His Lord still stood, but barely. Somehow out of all the men, he could pinpoint where he stood without any effort. The familiar slicing action as he fought, the familiar stance as he placed his weight behind the shield.

His mouth dry, his breath rasping he watched in horror as a mighty warrior, blond and bulky, cleaved his way to where Aelfwine stood. The other warriors seemed to fall away to either side of them as he focused on them.

A crash of shields, he imagined the noise although it did not reach him, and the figures were fiercely engaged in battle. He couldn’t see the individual sword strokes, the rise of the war-axe; instead he saw only the impact that the weapons had on the two men. First Aelfwine staggered and then the mighty warrior, and then once more it was Aelfwine’s turn and then the other warrior’s, but even from such a distance he could tell that Aelfwine was the weaker of the men, his years going against him. He was an old man, although not as old as others he knew, still, at their age their movements were slower, and it was clear to see who’d be the victor.

And now he did turn away, slowly and with sorrow, for after all, he didn’t want to watch his Lord fall in battle. It was enough to know that he would.

His horse, keen to finally be away from the carnage, stepped lively when it was turned to face inland. It was Aelfwine’s own horse and he knew it would guide him home whether he wanted to face his son, Leofwine or not.

His son, a lad no more. His son, a Lord from now on and sure to be recognized by the King for his father’s ultimate sacrifice.

An orphan at the hand of the raiders.

Read on in Wulfstan: An Anglo Saxon Thegn

OR start at the beginning of the Earls of Mercia seriesWulfstan cover with ship with Ealdorman

1016 and all that!

Now, I might be the only person who hasn’t quite realised the significance of next year in terms of the history I write about – but well, it’s better to be late than miss it all together.

2016 is the millennial anniversary of a fair few major events that take place at the end of King Aethelred II’s reign. The much maligned Aethelred meets his death on 23rd April, Cnut is busy causing ‘bother’ throughout, well almost everywhere if you believe the Anglo Saxon Chronicle – in Mercia, around London, there are battles at Penselwood and Sheraton, the great battle of Assandun takes place on 16th October, ‘another’ battle possibly takes place quite soon afterwards, and after all that there’s the Ola’s Island Accord/Peace of Olney which splits England between Edmund (Aethelred’s second oldest son) and Cnut with Cnut taking Mercia and more than likely Northumbria, and Edmund keeping hold of the family lands in Wessex, and that’s just from a brief read through of my own timeline that I’ve been constructing as I research.

People more astute than I am have been arranging a number of historical conferences up and down the country in the UK. To date I know of one in London, one in Cambridge (in fact a series in Cambridge where one has taken place, one is due in September and then another next year), one in Nottingham and now one in Edinburgh as well (and I know of at least one other, but I’ve mislaid the details). The only real problem I can foresee is that at some point I might need to go to work in 2016!!

10th March – 13th March http://www.nmmc.co.uk/index.php?/what…

June 9th-10th
http://www.anglosaxons2016.net/about….

June 27th- July 2nd
https://nottingham.ac.uk/research/gro…

6th-9th July https://www.ucl.ac.uk/cnut-conference

As I find more links I’ll share them, but if you know of any please let me know. I also know from a quick ‘google’ that it’s not only conferences in the UK that are planned so never fear if you live elsewhere.

And for historical fiction fans there’s also the Historical Novel Society conference taking place in Oxford at the beginning of September.

It’s going to be a busy year!

Northumberlandia – a short story

I couldn’t resist entering the competition to devise a new legend for the Northumberlandia structure when someone pointed it out to me, and now I’m able to share it with you. Enjoy and let me know what you think. And if you don’t know what Northumberlandia is, I’ve added a link to the bottom.

I am a thing of stillness, silence, peace. Above my eyes clouds scud by and I wish I could turn my head and see them when they dissipate over the coast, fade into nothingness, a little like myself.

But as I say, I am thing of motionlessness, muteness, carved into this landscape. I’m a part of it now, nothing more with no power to sway what happens to my land, to my people, to my animals.

I wasn’t always like this. Once I was a giant of this land, it’s protector and also on occasion, its enemy. I can admit that. In my anger I did some terrible things.

But then from the land in the south came a beast of fire and light, smoke and death and I thought to turn it to my will. I little guessed it’s true intentions, to sneak it’s way across my own land and trap me here, not dead as I’m immortal and immortal things can not die, but neither alive. Not now.

I once walked across my land in steps that numbered only in the hundreds, east to west and south to north, not even mountains or rivers standing in my way but now I can do nothing but call to the small animals of my land, ensure it’s safety through their deeds and actions.

That dragon. I thought it was my inferior, all fragile wings and gleaming teeth; a thing that looked deadly but nothing more.

I summoned it to me, in my palace of nature amongst the hills, from where I could keep my eyes firmly fixed on all four borders of my land; keep the enemy from breaching the defenses. It came, deferentially and with honeyed words that slipped from it’s forked tongue and made me feel as though I was a being of beauty and light, love and desire.

It charmed me with stories of my renown, undermined my resolve to possess it and then, when I was at my weakest, it opened it’s mouth and let loose steam so hot it aburnt my hands, my face and my feet, caused me to depart from my palace with all haste to get away from the stinging agony of its touch.

Not even the frigid sea off my coast line could deaden the pain and my fury grew to be something magnificent to see and I vowed my revenge on the creature, making myself small and invisible whilst I plotted my revenge.

I turned my back on my land and my people, tending only to my burning anger and slowly but surely, the enemy over ran my land, their ships descending on my shores as the people forgot who I was and worshipped another instead.

I could feel the rumbling laughter of the dragon from my old lair in the mountains and with each rumble my fury grew and grew, and only the dragon’s inability to find me resolved me to stay small and alone.

One day I knew I’d have the opportunity to have my revenge, but I never guessed how my land suffered. I didn’t see the burning fields, or smell the flesh of my people. I was blinded by my fury and my grief.

Then one day, the depravations that the dragon allowed to happen became so severe that even I knew of them, my loyal animals and birds rushing to me to tell me of men in shining metal, on horses not from my land, who planned great destruction on us all.

My rage knew no bounds, and I called on all the power I’d hoarded to myself over the long centuries of my hiding and I stepped from my sanctuary, massive once more, and with only a few steps I was once more at my palace in the mountains, and the dragon, grown massive and bloated in my absence, cackled to see me in my fury, my face marked by his flames, my hands covered in bloody welts that had never healed. I screamed at him, called on my animals and my birds, and even tried to call on those few people who remembered me from half a millennia before, but we were too few.

The creature took to the air. It’s massive wings spanning the whole land, from the east to the west, the south to the north and I knew fear as I never had before and my fear made me foolish.

I lashed out with my secret weapon, a massive sword forged from the heat of the earth and the chill of the sea, tempered with salt, and bloated with precious gems from the soil and the unimaginable happened.

I missed.

The dragon roared with delight and it slowly settled over me, it’s great weight forcing me first to bow low, and then to my knees and finally, to prostrate myself backwards on the ground before it.

It’s joy at my capture rippled through me and I screamed and fought with all I had but it was to no avail, none at all. It let forth a below of smoke and fire and it burnt my entire body, melding me to the ground, my hands outstretched before me, my feet dangling uselessly below me, a captive to the earth and the soil.

I wanted to beg, plead for my life, but the beast’s eyes flashed red and hollow and I knew then that it was more terrifying that I, more malignant and far more devious.

Around me the ground shook and slowly, my eyes wide open in disbelief, the only part of me that could still move, the earth around me tumbled to cover me from head to foot, nothing but my eyes still visible and my body weighed down by the very power of the earth I had once controlled.

I was nothing.

I was but eyes to watch my land crumble and recover, atrophy and renew.

Until now.

Now I am uncovered and I will win my freedom.

Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North.