Publication Date: August 26th 2020 / Second Edition
Publisher: Longship Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction
WAR AND BLOODFEUD
"Best battle description ever!"
1056...England lurches towards war as the rebellious Lord Alfgar plots against the indolent King Edward. Sussex thegn, Wulfhere, must defy both his lord, Harold Godwinson, and his bitter enemy, Helghi, to protect his beloved daughter.
As the shadow of war stretches across the land, a more personal battle rages at home, and when it follows him into battle, he knows he must keep his wits about him more than ever, and COURAGE AND FEAR MUST BECOME HIS ARMOUR…
On his return around late morning, Wulfhere crept quietly into the antechamber. Lifting the latch, he pulled the interior door open no more than a finger’s width, and resting there, listened. His heart raced. He’d not made it home last night, and Ealdgytha would be curious to know where he’d been. What should he say to her?
From inside the hall echoed the sound of chatter and laughter. He heard children’s voices, trestle boards and benches being scraped over the floor in preparation for the coming feasting. He heard a baby crying and broke out in a sweat. He couldn’t push the door, he just couldn’t.
Then the door flew open, “Ugh!” Wulfhere exclaimed.
In the frame, stood Sigfrith.
The maid’s expression transitioned from surprise to a cynical smile. “Lord Wulfhere! There you are at last. The mistress has been wondering where you were!” She pulled him inside and shut the door.
“Sigfrith, does the mistress…”
“Lady Ealdgytha thinks she’s a child from God, so taken with the little mite, she is.”
Wulfhere looked across the hall. People were milling about, setting up the boards for the feasting, and in the middle of it all stood Ealdgytha, wearing her best tunic and wimple, his child in her arms.
Wulfhere trembled, feeling all eyes on him. Ealdgytha, swaying with the babe, looked up, saw him, and smiled, her face radiant and beaming. “Wulfhere, where have you been? Well no matter, you’re here now. Come see the child. She must have been sent to us. A gift from God.”
Wulfhere glanced at Leofnoth. His friend merely shrugged.
Approaching his wife slowly Wulfhere realised that Sigfrith had been right when she said Ealdgytha was taken with the bearn. Gone were the dark circles and lines around her face. She was young again.
Wulfhere was contrite. “I’m s-sorry, I - there was a problem with one of the horses last night… and I fell asleep in the barn.” He knew it was a bad lie when he saw Leofnoth’s eyebrows rise.
Ealdgytha said, “Leofnoth told me you had been to look for the parents,” she gave a little chuckle, “there’s no need to make such a story up…”
Wulfhere gave Leofnoth a look of annoyance and said “I - had gone…to look for them, but it was no use, there didn’t seem to be anyone… Then one of the horse’s was ill and I –”
“Oh well, ’tis no need for me not to know, I think we can safely say that we have been truly blessed, Wulfhere. God has sent us this little thing to replace the children we have lost. Why you could you not tell me last night I’ll never know – but no mind. We are calling her Godfrida.”
He’d intended to tell her the truth, but not until a plausible story had been thought of. How could he tell her the child she was so charmed with was Ælfgyva’s and his, and that her real name was Wulfhild. And that he’d ridden over to Waldron last night to be at his dying lover’s bedside and promised Ælfgyva that he would love and care for their daughter without even thinking how he was going to explain it to Ealdgytha. But now the solution had been given him and he need not, it appeared. The happiness in Ealdgytha’s eyes was fair consolation for the guilt added to his pile of mounting sins.
Ælfgyva lay deathly pale as Wulfhere arrived. The stink of blood pervaded the room and a pile of dirty linen in a corner sat in blotched clots of scarlet. Her lips were chapped and had lost their colour; cheeks pinched and hollow.
The tears had crept into his eyes, thinking she was already gone.
He was weeping when she woke, his head bowed, a hand to his forehead. He’d looked up to find her eyes glazed and upon him.
“Wulfhere…” she whispered almost inaudibly.
“I’m here, min luflic.” He kissed her forehead, her frozen, bloodless hand in his. At times her eyes closed, then she would open them again, sharply, as though startled.
His voice choked as he said the words he should have said long before this. “I have always loved you, please know that…. I… will always love you. Please forgive me for leaving you.”
Her nod of acknowledgement was almost imperceptible. Wheezing, speaking in barely a whisper, she said, halting, “I will forgive you, Wulfhere, but… if you abandon her too… I will haunt you for the rest of your days, and…”
He kissed her hand, “You will always haunt me my…”
Her smile was weak and feeble. “No, Wulfhere, you do not get off so easily…”
He shook his head, “I will not abandon her, I promise.”
Reluctantly, Wulfhere dragged himself away from her in the early hours of that morning. Ælfgyva had not wanted him to see her die and had beseeched him to go.
He rode back to Horstede, slowly, knowing he would never see her again. This time it was not because he did not wish to, or Ealdgytha had forbidden it, but because she would be gone for ever.
Paula Lofting is the author of 2 volumes in the Sons of the Wolf series of which she is working on her third instalment. She has been a prolific reader all her life, inspired by authors like Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mary Stewart, and Sharon Penman. She is a psychiatric nurse by day and writes in her spare time whenever she can. Mother of three grown up children and 2 grandchildren, she lives in Sussex and is also a re-enactor of the late Dark Age period.
As a reenactor of the period I can actually say that I have fought and died at the Battle of Hastings at least three times.
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