First to shine a light on proceedings is Paula Lofting, who writes books set in the eleventh century. Her stories revolve around Wulfhere, a Sussex thegn who is a warrior, a husband, and a father. Warfare, family strife, and an enemy close to home - Wulfhere has to summon courage and wisdom if he is to win his battles.
The first in the series is called Sons of the Wolf
Paula says, I love the air of mystique that seems to follow Alfgyva whenever she appears in the book, her persona seems to write the scene itself.
Also, it shows the turmoil that Tovi is suffering as keeper of his family's darkest secrets. Poor Tovi is trying to be useful so that his father will acknowledge him, so he runs off eagerly to get help with his father's favourite mare who is struggling to give birth and could lose its life, then he is confronted by the 'witch', his father's lover, whom he had once discovered in bed with his father. Being so young, he does not really know what her connections to his parent's discord is exactly, then when she turns up unexpectedly, demanding the child, he starts piecing things together in his mind and all he can think of is that his whole world is about to come crashing around their ears and he must prevent his mother from seeing her. What eventually happens is that both his aims in those moments are not achieved and although none of what happens is his fault, he feels as though the whole thing is his doing. A heavy thing for a boy of 12 to have to bear.
Excerpt from Chapter 9 of
The Wolf Banner
Father shook his head. The mare’s front legs gave way and she sank slowly to her knees, despite their efforts to hold her. Father pulled his arm from her as she went. It was covered in blood. There was nothing any of them could do. The foal was stuck, probably dead, and all they could do was get it out to save the mother.
Father sat near her head stroking her forelock with loving care, whispering endearments to her. Tovi felt his own eyes moisten at the sight of the tears pooling in his father’s eyes.
“We will need help if we are going to do this,” Father said, his voice so choked with emotion that Tovi thought his father would break down any minute. But he did not. He carried on.
“We will also need rope to harness the foal. Yrmenlaf, go and –”
“I will go, Father!” Tovi shouted.
Father looked up at Tovi, his hair matted and stuck to his forehead, sweat running in rivulets down the side of his temples. He nodded to him and said, “Go then, Tovi, but be quick. She is losing blood, fast. Get the twins and Herewulf, and anyone else who might be able to make themselves useful. And rope! Don’t forget the rope!”
Tovi’s heart lifted and he ran swiftly out of the stables.
Out in the courtyard, the morning sunshine was losing its glow. Instead, dark storm-filled clouds were gathering, moving swiftly in the wind, like a blanket of shadows, pulled across the greying sky. Tovi shivered as a great hand of wind forced him backwards. He put his head down, wrapped his arms around himself, and charged against the ethereal wind-giant, as it forbade him to go forward. He’d left his cloak in the stables and thought about running back to get it as an army of ice-cold showers began to slash down from the heavens. But his father’s voice echoed inside his head, and he thought better of it.
He struggled to open the gates against the unruly elements, then, as abruptly as the wind and rain had started, it subsided. The atmosphere brightened, and he glanced up as he trudged across the waterlogged ford. It was then he saw her, waiting, like a dark wælcyrie astride her black horse. He knew her immediately. Her stillness was haunting. In a moment, the shadows passed over the sun again, but the wind and the rain held off, keeping his vision clear.
He noticed the others that were with her, three young men, all on foot. Another older, whom he recognised as the woodsman, Welan, holding her horse’s reins. For a moment Tovi’s eyes were fixed upon her and hers, in turn, were fixed upon his. Whisperings of her wiccecræeft were aplenty in these parts and as he felt his eyes drawn to her, he was convinced it must be true. He recalled her name and remembered how his mother had once uttered it with blistering contempt; Alfgyva. The woman in whose bed he had caught his father. The woman, who through guile and enchantment, had stolen Father’s heart, and had twice brought chaos into their lives.
She looked at him from beneath the shadow of her hood; fiercely proud features, both beautiful and harsh. His heart, pounding in his chest as her demeanour spoke of trouble.
“Boy!” she called to him, in a voice that was rich and throaty. “Tell your father, Wulfhere, that I would speak with him.”
“He-he is tending the birth of one of our foals. It is not g-g-going w-w-ell,” Tovi stammered, as he often did when nervous. Thoughts to run and complete his task had been thrown into a whirlwind of confusion. He knew what he must do, but he was transfixed by her presence, and her obstruction of his path.
She looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Get him! It will not take long to say what I must say. I shall not go until he comes.”
Tovi stared at her, unable to move.
“Well?” she glared.
“H-he c-c… cannot come. I was g-going to get help – f-for him...”
“Then fetch your mother.”
“M-my m-mother? N-no!”
She manoeuvred her mount closer to stand alongside him. He wanted to run, but his legs were quivering. He knew he had to get the help his father so badly needed, but his mind spun with a multitude of whispering thoughts.
“Go and fetch her.” The huskiness in her voice was almost menacing. “If you don’t it will be you who must face the consequences.”
Tovi was not sure if it was rain or sweat that clung to his skin. All sense of duty had been lost, as if a spell had been cast to stop him from fulfilling his mission. She’d appeared like a phantom in the mist, as had the great hand of wind and rain.
“W-what do you w-w-want w-with my m-m-mother?”
He recoiled as he saw her dark eyes narrow, like a cat’s. She was terrifyingly beautiful, her eyes pinning him to the spot.
“Tell her I want my child back,” she hissed and the corners of her mouth lifted slightly, as if to smile. When he hesitated, she said ominously, “Do you want me to come in there and rip the child from her arms, boy?”
All he could think of then, was that this woman should not go anywhere near his mother. He took a few steps away from her, holding out his hands to pacify her. “Stay, m-my lady, I will get your child,” he said. And he thought it better that he did the deed, than his mother suffer the indignity of the woman’s confrontation.
Tovi would not remember later how it all happened, but he rushed through the rain into the hall, and with relief he noticed Godfrida lying unattended in her wicker basket, peacefully sleeping whilst life carried on around her. He picked her up out of her basket and stole her away out of the hall. As he ran across the courtyard, shielding the little bundle from the splattering rain, he heard his mother calling after him in a desperate voice.
“Tovi!” He heard her gasping as the wind began to rage again.
He ignored her and hurried to the gate. He was just feet away from the opening when Ealdgytha caught him and wrestled the screaming child from his arms, causing him to slip over. Tovi, now perched on his heels, watched the woman enter the palisade. He was shaking with fear, knowing that it was all about to come to an explosive head.
The two women faced each other. Mother shouted for her maid. “Take her, Sigfrith! Take her inside!”
He needed to protect Mother. He leapt up, lunged toward her and grabbed her wrist, but she shook him off as if he were no more than a pup making a nuisance of itself. She looked at him with cold eyes, then looked back at the witch. The wind squalled in the air around them, and the sky threw down rain in short sharp rods.
“So, at last we meet again, Alfgyva,” Mother said. She was very calm.
“I’ve come for my daughter,” Alfgyva replied matter-of-factly.
“She belongs here now. You left her, and now you want her back?” Mother’s voice was steady and controlled.
“I was ill unto death and no one believed I would live, let alone myself. I wanted her to be with her father and the rest of her family, but now I am well again, she should be with me. I thank you for your care of her, Ealdgytha. I am truly grateful.”
“I should have known...” His mother looked away from her adversary.
“So, he didn’t tell you?” Alfgyva tilted her head.
Instantly, Ealdgytha swung her head back to look the other woman. “Do not mock me, for I know well how he has deceived me, you may rest assured, madam. You, on the other hand, are the biggest deceiver here.”
Back in 2015, Paula was one of my first ever guests on the blog, and you can read that interview HERE
Paula is currently working on the third in the series, which will be called Wolf's Bane.
Paula is writing a series of guest posts for us over on EHFA at the moment, where she's exploring the myths surrounding a mystery figure on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Read Part I HERE
Read Part II HERE
Read Part III HERE
Read Part IV HERE