The life of Eadwulf, ten-year old son of the Mercian king, is changed forever when his family is betrayed to the Danes by his treacherous uncle. In a devastating Danish raid, his father is killed, his mother raped, and along with his tutor and childhood friend, Eadwulf is captured and taken to the Danish lands to be sold as a slave.
As a slave in Jarl Ragnar’s village, Eadwulf’s life is hard, his days unbearably long. But on the return of Ragnar’s eldest son, Bjorn, from his summer raids, his life begins to change. Eadwulf spends the next few years aboard Bjorn’s beloved dragonship, sailing to places he’d never dreamed of, trading and raiding. And although still a slave, he becomes a well-respected member of Bjorn’s closely knit crew. Yet through it all, the smouldering desire for revenge on those who destroyed his family refuses to abate.
Eadwulf’s story plays out against the backdrop of events unfolding in Wessex in the face of increasing Danish raids. Alfred, the youngest son of the Wessex king, faces family tragedies from an early age, losing first his mother, then his beloved sister when she is married to the new Mercian king: Eadwulf’s treacherous uncle. At his father’s court and the successive courts of his elder brothers, he learns the weighty art of kingship. And, like Eadwulf, he learns the harshest lesson of all … that a trusted kinsman can so easily turn traitor.
The snorting and stomping of the horses was the first indication that anything was amiss, then the panicked shouts; the reek of smoke assailing their nostrils only moments later. They hurtled to the stable door, aware that it could take barely minutes for wood and thatch to burn to a crisp, and reeled in horror. Searing waves of heat smacked into them. The hall was ablaze, its heavy thatch ready to collapse; angry red flames lashed at the wood-planked walls. People collided with each other, precious water slopping from their pails as they raced to quell the towering flames. Yapping, terrified dogs added to the pandemonium.
Sigehelm crossed himself, uttering a prayer for anyone trapped inside the blazing hall. ‘Eadwulf; Aethelnoth; stay close to me,’ he ordered, grabbing Aethelnoth’s arm as the boy turned to lead the horses to safety. ‘The stables are far enough away to be safe for now. If need be, I’ll loose the horses when you’re both safe with Morwenna. But may the Lord help these other buildings. The kitchens will probably soon be ablaze. We must hurry. I must help to fetch water.’
It was then that the Danes struck.
Yowling men stampeded through the palisade’s main gate, their entrance unchallenged as people fought to control the blaze. Yet they had needed neither to burn down nor scale the palisade wall. The gates must have already been open – despite Thrydwulf’s insistence that they be kept locked and guarded.
Frenzied screams escalated. Sigehelm yanked Eadwulf and Aethelnoth behind the kitchens and, stooping low, they headed for the women’s bower. Suddenly Eadwulf froze. Burgred stood outside the bower’s door – and something about that was so very wrong.
‘Eadwulf, in God’s name, child, we cannot stand and stare. We must reach your mother and try to flee from the manor.’
‘Burgred’s a traitor, Sigehelm! He was meeting them in the woods. And he must have started the fire: the hall was ablaze before the Danes came through the gate. He must have opened that for them too. . .’
The ninth century story of King Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia continues to unfold against the ever increasing threat of Danish raids. After years as a slave to the Danes, Eadwulf has returned to his Mercian homeland and settles to a life of calm domesticity, marred only by his incessant desire for revenge. His frequent absences from his new home, connected to his past life, threaten to destroy the relationships he has fostered and alienate the family he has come to love.
In Wessex, Alfred, now a young man, has spent his childhood at the successive courts of his father and four older brothers, learning the skills of diplomacy and leadership. Before too long those skills will be put to the test…
The Danish invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms is merciless and relentless. Every year more Norse ships come to join their comrades in a quest to plunder for wealth and gain control over the people. The Danes take kingdom after kingdom and Alfred and his brother Aethelred wait with baited breath for them to set their sights on Wessex. By 869, their worst fear is realised.
And Eadwulf follows vital leads to the objects of his revenge.
Preparing to do battle…
Alfred moved along his own front line, noting that most of the fyrd carried spears, though the pitchforks and staffs amongst them would not fare well against the heavy swords and battle axes of the foe. Body armour was light. Some wore leather jerkins, others thinly quilted gambesons, and most heads were protected by a leather helmet. Better than nothing, he thought grimly, acutely aware of the protective qualities of his own mailshirt and helm.
‘On my order, the front line becomes an impenetrable wall of tightly locked shields,’ he shouted above the clamour for the benefit of the new recruits. ‘Shields overlap, left over right.’ His arm swung round to the sides. ‘You five men at each end of the lines – and those at the back – will do likewise if need be. And should a man in the line in front of you fall, you step over his body and take his place…
‘You’ll be fighting for your lives, not mourning the dead!’ he snapped at the appalled faces, ‘as well as the lives of the men around you. Thrust and stab through the gaps between the shields with your weapons. Aim for exposed flesh – face, legs, even spaces between armour covering chest, belly, or groin. Your purpose is to kill or maim.’ He swept the men with a commanding stare. ‘We fight as an ordered unit, and no one leaves that formation unless the wall becomes irrevocably destroyed. Only then do we resort to individual combat. Is all of that clear?’
Alfred took his position at the centre of the front line, between two experienced warriors, Ealdormen Wybert and Unwine.
The racket abruptly ceased. Warriors stood rigid, muscles flexed for the opening strike, the onslaught of spears and javelins. But no missiles flew. Instead, the two men Alfred had identified as ‘kings’ stepped forward a pace.
‘So, great king, we meet at last,’ the less burly of the two yelled, his eyes scanning the Saxon forces to locate the Saxon king. ‘We were not introduced at Nottingham. Pity, I like to know the face of my enemy. Wherever you’re hiding in the midst of your piss-poor army, I urge you to look closely at what you confront. We are double your number and hold the higher ground. Surrender – or by nightfall your carcasses will feed the scavengers!’
Millie is a former geography and history teacher with a degree in Geology and a passion for the Anglo Saxon period. Since retiring a few years ago, she has been indulging this passion by writing her historical fiction trilogy, Sons of Kings, of which she is currently writing Book 3. Millie has also become very fond of writing flash fiction, something that developed from joining in with various challenges on WordPress. As a consequence, she has also recently published a book of 85 flash fiction pieces of 100 to 1,000 words, entitled A Dash of Flash.
Millie is the mother of six grown up children, and after living in a number of places in England, she and her husband now live in a small village in Nottinghamshire. When not writing, Millie enjoys long walks in the countryside and visiting historic sites and re-enactments. She is also an avid traveller, swimmer and baker of cakes! Originally from the seaside town of Southport in Lancashire, she still misses the smell of the sea.