Guest Post: Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Toni Mount to History … the Interesting Bits with a fascinating guest article based on her new novel The Colour of Lies.

Silk-women, femmes soles and Ellen Langwith

In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the adventure involves Seb’s wife, Emily, and her fellow silk-women. We meet Dame Ellen Langton once more – she has appeared in most of the novels in The Colour of … series – a character closely based on a real life London silk-woman of the period: Ellen Langwith. In this article, we will look at the lives of Ellen and other silk-women of London, what their work required and how they organised their business.

Silk manufacture has always involved a sequence of skilled processes. Firstly, the silk filaments had to be wound off the cocoons by heating the cocoons in water to loosen the natural glue (sericin) which holds the silk together. Then, as the loosened ends floated free, the raw silk could be unravelled and wound on to spools. The fineness of the silk depended on how many filaments were wound together, a single filament being too fine to work with; four was usual. This part of the process was done at source – southern Spain, the Middle East or even farther afield – because the cocoons were too fragile to transport, so it was traded as these reels of raw silk. During the medieval period, England didn’t weave her own silk textiles: these luxurious cloths always had to be imported, but London did have its own thriving industry run by silk-women. They converted the raw silk into yarn, a process called ‘throwing’, then wove the thrown threads into ribbons, laces and girdles, making up hairnets, decorative fringes and tassels. To learn the craft of silk weaving, a young woman had to serve a long apprenticeship – usually seven years. Some London silk-women ran extensive workshops, taking apprentices from as far away as Yorkshire.

It would seem from the statutes of the City of London for the 1450s that silk working was strictly a woman’s business, unlike embroidery, knitting or even laundering, because the statutes say:

…Many a worshipful woman within the city has lived full honourably and therewith many good households kept, and many gentlewomen and others, more than a thousand, have been apprenticed under them in learning the same craft of silk making.

The language of the statutes implies that this craft was carried out by the most respectable women and was seen as a suitable occupation for ladies of gentility, as well as bringing in sufficient profits that ‘many good households’ depended upon it for their livelihood. Since it was so important, it is surprising the craft never formed its own formal guild, probably because men weren’t involved in the work. Instead, the silk-women regulated and co-operated among themselves, very much as guild members would have done, but unofficially. Having completed her apprenticeship, instead of being admitted to a company of fellow artisans, the young woman would remain with her mistress until she was able to marry and set up her own shop and, maybe, take on apprentices of her own, to pass on her skills.

The London silk-women carried out each skilled process of their craft and trade. As throwsters, they turned raw silk into yarn; as weavers, they produced ribbons, laces, and other small silk goods; as craftworkers, they made up silk laces and other trappings; and as traders in silk, they undertook large and lucrative contracts. This work wasn’t a mere sideline to domestic duties, something a wife pursued in moments free from housework, child care and labour in her husband’s workshop. Wives often continued to work in silk, no matter what the occupations of their husbands. It was a craft with secrets of production and trade passed on from mistress to apprentice. The women ran workshops, invested large amounts of money in purchases of raw materials and trading ventures, often continuing throughout their working lives. They also banded together for mutual aid. On six occasions between 1368 and 1504, the London silk-women sought protection for their craft through petitions (presented to either Parliament or the Lord Mayor of London), and many of their requests were granted.

Most working women were regarded, by law, as being ‘covered’ by their husbands and, therefore, in records of court cases, business contracts and debt collection, the activities of these women are, literally, concealed from view under their husbands’ names. The legal term is femmes couvertes and such women only appear in the records once they are ‘uncovered’ on becoming widows. But some women preferred to run their businesses in their own right, as femmes soles, even when their husbands were still alive, particularly in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – perhaps this has some connection to the advent of the plague, when so many social changes were underway. In this case, the women were responsible for their own debts and could be sued through the courts. On the positive side, any profits made were theirs, not their husbands’, and they could sue others if money was owed to them or a contract was reneged upon to their loss. Silk-women were among those who opted to be femmes soles – with their husbands’ permission, of course. Often their husbands were merchants, especially mercers, who brought in the reels of raw silk for their wives along with other textiles imported from abroad.

Ellen Langwith – we don’t know her maiden name – probably came from Beckenham in Kent to London, to serve an apprenticeship as a silk-woman, sometime in the early fifteenth century. Her first husband, Philip Waltham, was a cutler who also owned a brewhouse: ‘Le Hertishorne’, just outside Newgate. But Ellen was already a successful silk-woman. In his will of 1425, Philip named his three apprentices: Agnes Walshale, Agnes Sampson and Alice Dunnowe, leaving them 6s 8d each on the condition that they behaved courteously, in both word and deed, towards his wife Ellen, their mistress, at whose discretion the money was to be given. From the wording of the will, it is impossible to say whether the three girls were apprenticed as cutlers or silk-women. Perhaps they were making high fashion silk scabbards for the knives Philip manufactured. Ellen was a widow by May 1426, the main executor of her husband’s will, sole owner of all his movable goods and the Hartshorn brewery.

By 1437, she had married again. Her second husband was John Langwith, a well-established London tailor who had become a freeman of the city in 1418 and took on his first apprentices in 1425. Since masters were required to have wives to care for the apprentices, it seems probable that John had been married previously, before he wed Ellen since, at this date, she was still Philip Waltham’s wife. John was elected Master of the Tailors’ Company in 1444 and, in the summer of 1445, he led the company in the elaborate processions to welcome Margaret of Anjou to London as the bride of Henry VI. The tailors spent £3 on blue livery gowns for the Master and Wardens to look their impressive best for the occasion. Did Ellen supply any silken trimmings for the robes? We don’t know, but that year she was admitted, free of charge, to the Tailors’ Fraternity of St John the Baptist. It was in the chapel of St John the Baptist, in their parish church of St Mary Abcurch, that both John and, later, Ellen would be buried. The Langwiths lived in a tenement on the north side of Candlewick Street, one of a group of properties, owned by John, which shared a courtyard.

After marrying John, in 1439, Ellen was one of a group of London silk-women who bought £30 worth of silk from Venetian merchants visiting the capital. In February 1443, she purchased a fardell (a bundle) of silk for herself at the incredible cost of £60 11s 8d, showing how her business had grown. Ellen certainly had apprentices but may also have distributed work to others, to do at home. At this time, another silk-woman, Katherine Dore, was putting out work to women living in Soper Lane. While John was training lads as apprentice tailors, one indenture for a girl survives: Elizabeth Eland was taken on in July 1454 by both John and Ellen, to train as a silk-woman. She may have joined other girls under Ellen’s tutelage; if so, their indentures haven’t survived. We don’t know whether Elizabeth completed her apprenticeship or what happened to her. She isn’t mentioned in Ellen’s will but that’s not surprising since it wasn’t drawn up until 1481, twenty-one years after Elizabeth should have finished her training.

In 1465, Ellen gained royal patronage when she was commissioned to supply silk banners and trappings for the saddle and pillion for Edward IV’s queen, for her coronation. Ellen had to deliver the goods ‘into the hands of Thomas Vaughn one of the esquires of our [the king’s] body to the use of our most dear and entirely beloved Queen…’ and was paid £27 10s. John Langwith died in July 1467 and, like Philip Waltham before him, made Ellen his executrix, leaving her responsible for an ‘estate of lands’ at Beckenham in Kent which may have been her own inheritance. Ellen was now a very wealthy widow without an heir so she too drew up a will, though she would outlive John by over thirteen years. Her will was artfully worded: she left much of her property to the Tailors’ Company with the proviso that if they failed in its adequate administration, all would be forfeit to the Cutlers. In this way, she was well favoured by both companies, invited to their feasts on special occasions and sent gifts of food and wine to keep them in mind. In 1476, the tailors spent 2s on a pike and wine for Mistress Ellen Langwith, while the less wealthy cutlers sent her a rabbit and a hen costing 8d.

In her will, Ellen left 10s to pay for her funeral in St Mary Abchurch which included money to the parish clerk to ring the bells. There were alms to the poor and the Tailors’ Company was to use money from the rents paid to them from the Langwith properties, to buy 26 quarters of coal for thirteen poor men and women of the parish, on the anniversary of Ellen’s death. Before she died – sometime between January and June 1481 – she left an additional, modest will, leaving most of her household goods to her current apprentice, John Brown (presumably an apprentice tailor). She leaves a bequest of 40s to Richard Wiott, the son of a shearman, when he should come of age, and money and goods to her servants, John England and Emmott Bynchester. Otherwise, all her bequests are made to women: Margaret, wife of John Wareng, one of her two executors, is to have a gold ring set with a diamond and an image of Our Lady from Ellen’s chamber; Mary, wife of John Jakes the draper, the second executor, is to have her blue silk girdle with silver gilt decorations. Katherine, wife of Hugh Pemberton, the overseer of Ellen’s will, is to receive a gold ring set with turquoise. A gown of black medley (a wool mixture?), trimmed with white lamb, was left to her cousin Mistress Bowyer of Northampton, and her best blue gown, trimmed with marten fur, was bequeathed to another cousin, Mistress Bounesley of Nottingham. Her personal belongings and considerable household goods and furnishings, mentioned in her will, suggest Ellen was a prosperous and dignified elderly woman who had had a very successful career, whether as the wife of a cutler and a tailor, or as a craftswoman in her own right.

In my new novel, The Colour of Lies, Emily and the other silk-women set up a profitable stall at St Bartholomew’s Fair and Dame Ellen Langton is going to name one of them as her successor in taking on her business. All is going well for them until an accident occurs… It’s down to Emily’s husband, Seb, to solve the mystery and get the silk-women out of trouble.

If readers would like to know more about silk-women and many other craftsmen, traders and life in medieval England in general, there is a series of online courses available from medievalcourses.com which includes The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women and Everyday Lives of Medieval Folk. There are also my books, both published by Amberley, Everyday Life in Medieval London, which was chosen as ‘the best factual history book of 2014’ by GoodReads, and A Year in the Life of Medieval England, among other titles. All are available from Amazon as both Kindle, hardback and paperback editions.

About the Author

Toni Mount MA

Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.

Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.

Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.

After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.

Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.

Toni is married with two grown up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.

Her websites include: http://www.ToniMount.com http://www.SebastianFoxley.com http://www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at: http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/ http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland/ http://www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount

Book Corner: Storm of steel by Matthew Harffy

Today I am delighted to be a part of the book tour for Matthew Harffy‘s latest addition to his Bernicia Chronicles, Storm of Steel, with a review of this fabulous new novel.

AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles.

Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl. Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity.

But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence.

As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?

I have had the distinct pleasure of following the adventures of Beobrand and his band of warriors from the very first to book to this one, the sixth in the series. In a feat that few authors ever manage to achieve, each book has been better than the last and, indeed, when I read the last one, Warrior of Woden, I sincerely doubted that Matthew Harffy could top it. But top it he has! And in spectacular style.

In Storm of Steel Beobrand has gone off in a new direction, on a  personal mission, rather than one dictated by kings, and by sea rather than land. This has given scope for a fabulous new adventure and gives a new edge to the battles, both on land and sea – and against the elements. It also means new experiences, as Beobrand journeys along the south coast and into Frankia. The locations are stunning, Matthew Harffy’s descriptions of dramatic coastlines, stormy weather and the different brands of people he encounters, from lowly peasants, to pirates and warlords, all serve to transport the reader back to the 7th century, recreating the Anglo-Saxon world in the mind of the reader.

‘Go Cynan,’ Beobrand whispered.

Cynan stepped away from the sailors and scrambled over the side of the ship, back into Háligsteorra. Beobrand followed him and quickly joined Bassus and the others where they stood before a pile of bloody corpses.

The pirates clambered off the ship even more quickly than they had boarded. Their leader was last, and he shuffled towards the wale still clutching Dalston to him, with the sharp seax blade digging into the skin beneath the monk’s chin.

When he reached the side, he stepped over, steadied by the welcoming hands of his men. He lifted Dalston bodily and carried him over with him.

‘Take the treasure the boy carries,’ shouted Beobrand. Send the boy back.’

The dull thuds of axe blows signalled the ropes that had held the ships together being cut. Using their oars, the pirates shoved the two ships apart. the gap between the vessels widened quickly, soon it would be too far even for an unarmoured man to jump.

‘Send the boy back!’ yelled Beobrand again, but as he said the words, he tasted the bitterness of defeat and deceit in his throat.

Storm of Steel is Beobrand’s 6th adventure; the stunning imagery and constant action leads the reader into Beobrand’s world in magnificent style. The action, as ever, is constant and leads the reader on a roller-coaster of a ride from the first page to the last, never quite certain that Beobrand will win through, nor even that he will survive the encounter with one of the greatest warlords of Frankia and rescue the kidnapped girl…. I’m not telling….

Matthew Harffy is an author whose writing goes from strength to strength with each book. I feel I’m repeating myself when I say ‘this is the best one yet’, but it truly is. I defy anyone to be able to put it down without wanting to read through to the end in one sitting. I certainly read late into the night, but the lack of sleep was well worth the experience of another adventure with the now-famous Beobrand and his band of warriors.

Storm of Steel  is a masterpiece of a novel, the visually imagery recreated by the words evoke a world so long in the past that little remains but archaeology, and yet the reader can imagine themselves there, and fighting at the side of Beobrand, Cynan, Bassus and the rest. But there is more to fighting in all of Matthew Harffy’s books. The intricate and engrossing plot weaves its way between the battles – against man and the elements – to tell a story that is at once intriguing and gripping.

Beobrand and the Bernicia Chronicles are a phenomenon!

I cannot recommend the stories of Beobrand, told in the Bernicia Chronicles, highly enough. And Storm of Steel stands out as one of the best books I have read so far, this year.

About the author

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy, Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor, Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2INuSlg; Kobo: https://bit.ly/2IQsFWo; Google Play: ttps://bit.ly/2GEC8i9; iBooks: https://apple.co/2UQcr6Y

Follow Aria

Website: www.ariafiction.com; Twitter: @aria_fiction; Facebook: @ariafiction; Instagram: @ariafiction

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Guest Post: Killer of Kings by Matthew Harffy

kJeeRIA8Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?

It is a pleasure to welcome Matthew Harffy  to the blog today. Matthew’s Bernicia Chronicles are some of the best stories of the Dark Ages that you will ever read. To celebrate the paperback release of  Killer of Kings, Matthew has stopped by History … the Interesting Bits with a taster of this fabulous story….

PROLOGUE

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FRANKIA, AD 635

“Be careful there, you two!”

The cry came from old Halig. He worried like a maid.

Wuscfrea ignored him, leaping up to the next branch of the gnarled oak. The bark was damp and cold, but the sun was warm on his face as he looked for the next handhold. They had been enclosed in the hall for endless days of storms. Great gusts of wind had made the hall creak and moan as if it would collapse and when they had peered through the windows, the world had been hidden beneath the sheeting rain.

After so long inside it felt wonderful to be able to run free in the open air.

A crow cawed angrily at Wuscfrea from a perch high in the canopy of the trees. The boy laughed, echoing the bird’s call.

“Away with you,” Wuscfrea shouted at the creature. “You have wings, so use them. The sun is shining and the world is warm.” The crow gazed at him with its beady eyes, but did not leave its branch. Wuscfrea looked down. Fair-haired Yffi was some way below, but was grinning up at him.

“Wait for me,” Yffi shouted, his voice high and excited.

“Wait for me, uncle,” Wuscfrea corrected him, smiling. He knew how it angered Yffi to be reminded that Wuscfrea was the son of Edwin, the king, while he was only the son of the atheling, Osfrid. The son of the king’s son.

“I’ll get you,” yelled Yffi and renewed his exertions, reaching for a thick branch and pulling himself up.

Wuscfrea saw a perfect path between the next few branches that would take him to the uppermost limbs of the oak. Beyond that he was not sure the branches would hold his weight. He scrambled up, his seven-year-old muscles strong and his body lithe.

The crow croaked again and lazily flapped into the sky. It seemed to observe him with a cold fury at being disturbed, but Wuscfrea merely spat at the bird. Today was a day to enjoy the fresh air and the warmth of the sun, not to worry about silly birds. For a moment, he frowned. He hoped Yffi had not seen the crow. Crows were the birds of war. Whenever he saw them Yffi recalled the tales of the battle of Elmet, and how the corpse-strewn bog had been covered by great clouds of the birds. The boys had frightened themselves by imagining how the birds had eaten so much man-flesh that they could barely fly. It was a black thought. As black as the wings of the crows. To think of the death of their fathers brought them nothing but grief. Wuscfrea shook the thoughts away. He would not allow himself to be made sad on such a bright day.

Glancing down, he saw that Yffi was struggling to reach a branch. He was a year younger than Wuscfrea, and shorter.

“Come on, nephew,” Wuscfrea goaded him. “Are you too small to join me up here? The views are fit for a king.” Wuscfrea laughed at the frustrated roar that came from Yffi. Yet there was no malice in his words. Despite being uncle and nephew, the two boys were more like brothers, and the best of friends. Still, it was good to be the superior climber. Yffi, even though younger, was better at most things. The long storm-riven days had seen the younger boy beat Wuscfrea ceaselessly at tafl and Yffi had joked that someone with turnips for brains would only be good to rule over pigs. The words had stung and Wuscfrea had sulked for a while until Yffi had brought him some of Berit’s cheese as an offering of truce. Wuscfrea loved the salty tang of the cheese and the insult was quickly put aside.

Now, as he pulled his head and shoulders above the thick leaves of the oak, Wuscfrea wondered whether he would ever be king of anything. Certainly not of this land, rich and lush as it was. This was Uncle Dagobert’s kingdom. Far to the south of Bernicia and Deira, the kingdoms his father had forged into the single realm of Northumbria. Far away and over the sea. A safe distance from the new king.

Wuscfrea breathed in deeply of the cool, crisp air. The treetops on the rolling hills all around swayed in the gentle breeze. The leaves sparkled and glistened in the sunlight. High in the sky to the north, wisps of white clouds floated like half-remembered dreams.

One day, he would travel north with a great warband, with Yffi at his side. They would have ships built from the wood of this great forest and they would ride the Whale Road to Northumbria. They would avenge their fathers’ slaying and take back the kingdom that should have been theirs. Wuscfrea’s chest swelled at the thought.

“Vengeance is a potent brew,” Halig had said to him when they had spoken of the battle of Elmet one night over a year before. “Drink of it and let it ferment in your belly. And one day you will wreak your revenge on the usurper, Oswald,” the old warrior had touched the iron cross at his neck. Wuscfrea had thought of how Jesu told his followers to turn the other cheek when struck and wondered what the Christ would think of the lust for revenge that burnt and bubbled inside him. But then Wuscfrea was the son of a great king, descended from the old gods themselves so they said, so why should he care what one god thought?

Glancing to the south, a smear of smoke told of the cooking fires of the great hall. They had walked far and would need to return soon. Suddenly hungry, Wuscfrea’s stomach grumbled. Several woodpigeons flew into the bright sunshine. Where was Yffi?

Wuscfrea peered down into the dappled darkness beneath him, but there was no sign of his younger nephew now. Had he gone too far with the jibes? He sighed. He would ask for Yffi’s pardon and let him beat him at a running race. He did not want the day spoilt by Yffi’s pouting.

“Yffi!” he called. “Come on. I’ll help you up so that you too can see the kingly view.” He couldn’t help himself from continuing the jest. “Yffi!”

No answer came. The crow flew close and cawed. The pigeons circled in the air above the wood, but did not settle.

“Yffi!” he shouted again. Silence.

Letting out a long sigh, Wuscfrea began to climb down. It seemed Yffi was not in a forgiving mood. Perhaps they should return to the hall and find something to eat. When hungry, Yffi was impossible.

Carefully picking his way back down from branch to branch, Wuscfrea shivered at the shift in temperature. It was much cooler in the shade of the trees and he would have liked to have spent a while longer basking in the warm sun-glow.

Dropping down to the leaf mould of the forest floor, Wuscfrea scanned around for signs of Yffi. Surely he had not run back to the hall without him. Halig would not have allowed him even if he had wanted to. The grizzled warrior was as protective of them as a she-wolf of her cubs. But where was Halig? All Wuscfrea could see were the boles of oak and elm.

“Come on, Yffi,” he said in a loud voice that he hoped veiled the beginning whispers of unease he felt. “I’m sorry. Let’s go back and get some of Berit’s honey-cakes.”

No answer came and Wuscfrea strained to hear any indication of movement. But there was no sound save for the wind-rustle of the trees.

Cold fingers of dread clawed at his back.

“Yffi! Halig!” He didn’t care now if they heard the fear in his voice.

What was that noise? Relief rushed through him. He had heard a stifled sound, choked off as one of them tried to remain silent. Perhaps Yffi suppressed his giggles from where he hid with Halig to teach Wuscfrea a lesson in humility.

He had them now.

Wuscfrea ran in the direction of the sound. Did they seek to make a fool of him? He would show them. His soft leather shoes slipped in the loamy soil as he skidded around the gnarly oak trunk. His face was flushed with excitement.

He passed the massive tree, laughter ready to burst forth from his lips. But the laughter never came. Instead, a whimpering moan issued from him. He skidded to a halt, his feet throwing up leaves and twigs. He lost his footing and landed on his behind. Hard.

Yffi and Halig were both there, but there were others behind the tree too. Strangers. Wuscfrea’s gaze first fell on a giant of a man, with a great, flame-red beard and hard eyes. In the man’s meaty grip was a huge axe, the head dripping with fresh blood. The corpse of old Halig lay propped against the tree, sword un-blooded in his hand, a great gash in his chest. The old warrior’s lifeless eyes stared up at the light shining down from the warm sun above the trees.

Some movement pulled his attention to another man. He was broad-shouldered, dark and scowling, his black hair in stark contrast to his fine blue warrior-jacket with its rich woven hem of yellow and red. In his left hand, this second stranger held the small figure of Yffi by the hair. Wuscfrea’s eyes met those of his nephew. He saw his own terror reflected there a hundredfold. The stranger’s right hand was moving. There was a knife in his hand. With a hideous sucking sound the knife sawed across Yffi’s throat and bit deeply. Yffi’s eyes widened and a gurgled scream keened from him. Hot blood spouted in the forest gloom. The knife cut through flesh and arteries and with each beat of the boy’s heart, his lifeblood gushed out and over Wuscfrea in a crimson arc.

Wuscfrea felt the hot wetness of the slaughter-dew soak him. His nephew’s blood covered his face, his chest, his outstretched legs. Wuscfrea could not move. He wanted to scream. He knew he should bellow his defiance of this dark-haired warrior and the red-bearded giant who had given him more deaths to avenge. A king would leap up from the cold leaf-strewn ground and launch himself at these strangers. He would scoop up the sword from his fallen gesith and slay the man’s murderers.

But Wuscfrea just stared. His breath came in short panting gasps as he watched the dark-haired man casually throw Yffi’s twitching body onto Halig’s corpse. Halig slid to one side, his dead hand finally losing its grip on the sword.

Wuscfrea knew he should do something. Anything. To die lying here was not the death of a great man. Not the death of a king for scops to sing of in mead halls.

Hot tears streamed down his face, smearing and mingling with Yffi’s blood. But he was yet a boy. He was no man. No king.

And, as the death-bringing stranger stepped towards him, an almost apologetic smile on his face and the gore-slick knife held tight in his grip, Wuscfrea knew he would never rule Northumbria.

From the fungus-encrusted trunk of a fallen elm the crow looked on with its cold black eyes as the bloody knife blade fell again and again.

About the author

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Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly