I write books set in the 17th century. Sometimes they're fiction. Sometimes they're not. Sometimes I write about the English Civil War, and recently the Restoration. I have a cat who steals the G key from my keyboard.
Lady, in Waiting, the third novel in my Tudor Court series, takes place during the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I. Its main character, Margaery Preston, is a chamberer, one of many levels of waiting-women in the royal privy chambers.
Unlike a court headed by a king, where all public and private duties were carried out by men, a queen’s attendants, other than guards, were all female. This gave them some degree of power at court, as courtiers, court officials, and ambassadors all vied for attention and influence. To be a woman in Elizabeth’s court required connections: many attendants were related on her Boleyn side, but there were also cousins descending from her father’s sisters, Margaret and Mary.
The women were required to amuse the queen, and so had to be well-educated, often speaking several languages…
Nicholaa de la Haye is one of those very rare women in English history. She is renowned for her abilities, rather than her family and connections. In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of its lowest points in history.
The eldest daughter and co-heiress of Richard de la Haye and his wife, Matilda de Venoun, she was probably born in the early 1150s. Richard de la Haye was a minor Lincolnshire lord; in 1166 he was recorded as owing 20 knights’ fees, which had been reduced to 16 by 1172. When he died in 1169, Nicholaa inherited her father’s land in Lincolnshire and his position as castellan of Lincoln Castle, a position she would hold for over 40 years.
My historical novel In the Blink of an Eye was written to illustrate and honour an iconic photographic partnership between two men, D.O. Hill and Robert Adamson, but when it came to writing their story, I found myself focussing on the women who surrounded them. This arose from the writer’s instinct to look for the parts of the story which hadn’t been told, and not surprisingly it was the voices of the sisters, daughters and wives I thought needed to be heard.
Some of these women, like Elizabeth Johnson Hall,a fisherman’s wife, were brought into the limelight only by the images that celebrated them. Others, like Jessie Mann, a photographic assistant, remained until recently clouded in obscurity. Amelia Robertson Hill is a different case, but I’d be surprised if many of my readers have heard of her.
I’ve invited a very special guest to write a post for me this time out.
I first met Helen Hollick through her Arthurian books, and I loved her vision of Dark Age Britain. A Gwenhyfar who was fierce and real and very solid, Arthur who was very much un-shiny and probably smelt of horse a lot. And the two horses he likely smelt of – Hasta and Onager. Who may or may not have influenced Tyburn and Doubting Thomas….
Nearly every historical novel has at least one horse in it somewhere. Unless it’s a nautical novel or set in the Americas pre-Christopher Columbus. Although, even sailors came ashore, where they would, one way or another, meet with a horse.
So, horses are important. You are unlikely to read a contemporary novel that didn’t, somewhere, mention a car or a bus or a ’plane … a mode of transport, which is exactly what horses were. Cart horses, plough horses, riding horses, carriage horses, war horses. All of them in a variety of colours, heights and breeds. Big horses, little horses. Fat ponies, thin ponies. (Oh, and donkeys and mules.)
You would think, then, that authors would take more care about their inclusion of the Noble Equine in their novels. The majority of authors take great care, time and trouble with researching their historical facts, diligently describing within the narrative the accuracy of locations, living conditions, clothing, food, battle tactics. Accuracy adds believability to the characters who move through the text as they love, laugh, squabble – or whatever. But the research and accuracy of fact all too often falls short once a horse trots into a scene.
The thing is, when reading historical novels I can pick up straight away whether the author has, or hasn’t, a clue about horses beyond the fact that they have four feet and can gallop about. Good novels have believable characters doing believable (or sometimes unbelievable in the ‘astonishing heroic adventure’ sense of the word) things. But it is a rare treat to read a novel that has believable horses or horsey scenes. (I might add that TV and movies are even worse for this – including horse-orientated TV dramas or movies!) That luxury carriage, or rough and ready stagecoach, cannot be pulled for miles by a team of horses running at a gallop. Come to that, a single horse carrying a rider cannot gallop for miles without serious consequences. The longest British horserace is the Grand National, which covers a little over four miles … but these horses are athletes, fit, healthy and trained. Oh, and carrying very lightweight jockeys. In North America the Quarter Horse excelled at sprinting short distances of a quarter mile or less. Think sprinter Usain Bolt rather then long distance Sir Mo Farah. Even when used for hunting, horses would not be galloping about all over the place for hours at a time. (Much of hunting is standing around in the rain or cold waiting for hounds to find a scent.)
So there is speed to consider, and distances – how far can horses go in a day? The answer will vary depending on the nature of the terrain, the type of horse, the ability of the rider. A horse can probably travel about 25-35 miles (40 – 56.5 km) without a rest if it is walking at a steady pace. Maybe about 50 miles (80.5 km) if it is fit and healthy, and again the pace is steady, alternating between walk and trot. An endurance competition horse can manage about 100 miles (161 km) in a day. But most horses of the past were not modern, fit, healthy endurance horses!
Then there is the ‘tack’ – bridle and saddle. Saddles have changed a lot from Roman times to present day, especially where a lady’s side-saddle is concerned. Modern side-saddles have only been around since the mid-1800s. Oh, and while I’m on the subject, it is actually more comfortable and safer to ride ‘aside’, providing the rider is seated properly and the saddle fitted correctly. And men also rode aside: grooms would ride a lady’s horse and wounded soldiers returning from war who had lost limbs could continue to ride with a side-saddle.
Breeds. Ponies and horses are very different – one is not just a smaller version of the other! (Give me a pony every day if you want something intelligent and robust. Horses, however, if you want fences to not be knocked down, hedges squeezed through, and to know that of an evening they will be where you left them in the morning. Harry Houdini is not a patch on an escape artist Exmoor pony!) We have lost many breeds over the years: the warhorse Destriers, the lady’s quiet Jennet… Nor is it realised by many an author that in the earlier centuries, up until about the thirteenth, most horses were under fifteen hands high. (A hand = 4 inches and you measure to the withers. If you don’t know what the ‘withers are – look it up!)
If you look at the Bayeux Tapestry all the riders seem to be riding small horses – that’s because they were riding small horses! In one novel I looked at some while ago, set during the fifth century King Arthur was riding a very large horse with lots of hair around its feet: the description of a Shire horse. The story was, apparently written by a history academic. Well he or she needed to go back to the classroom, Shire horses were not around pre-Tudor.
And as for feed… Horses do eat grass and hay, but to be kept fit, for strenuous use – pulling carriages and carts for instance – they need corn. Note to USA readers: no, this does not refer to corn on the cob/maize, which would not have been known in England before the likes of the Conquistadors and Sir Walter Raleigh. A ‘corn fed’ horse means one fed on grain like oats and barley.
On the other side of the coin, to read a novel where the writer clearly knows her horses is a treat. I cite mine host here. Ms Logue and her motley crew of (alas fictional) rogues ride believable horses, doing believable equine things.
Black Beauty became such a classic because Anna Sewell knew her stuff, and any horse person will instantly understand the ‘for want of a nail’ quote:
“For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost, for want of a rider the battle is lost, for want of a battle the kingdom is lost – and all for the want of a nail.”
I’ll leave you to figure out why just one lost horseshoe nail could cause such devastation.
Writing has always been a great hunger for me but for many years, I never wrote a word because I thought I was not capable. And in some ways I wasn’t. Having excelled as a child in school at composition, everyone had high expectations of me becoming a writer or a journalist, and at the tender age of fifteen, I had begun handwriting what I hoped would be an epic historical novel. Unfortunately for me, I became involved with a very controlling man for almost ten years and just like many controlling relationships it stripped me of all my confidence and whilst he paid lip service to encouraging me to write, every spare moment I have had to be spent with him. By the time the relationship had ended, I had lost all my ambitions, aspirations and desires.
I was chatting yesterday with a friend – who is a Very Famous Author, I might add, and I’m not going to tell you who they are but I have known them for some considerable time. I say that so you appreciate that this was a most informed and erudite discussion and did not in any way involve discussions about poo.
Anyway, the purpose of this discourse (yes, of course I’m writing one of the new Russell books: he’s catching, like the mange) was talking about writing style. I was being interviewed for a blog as apparently I’m an extreme pantser. We decided this was a most undignified manner of description as my friend is also a pantser, to a lesser degree, and we much preferred the term discovery writer.
This conversation seems to have uncorked something and it’s ten to nine on a Saturday morning, my house needs cleaning, there’s a cat on my foot but I need to set down a certain relation concerning a shiny new ship called the Fair Thomazine and the blustering shyster who’s allegedly had her on the blocks in the Blackwall Yards these last twelve months. (Henry “Surely Some Relation” Johnson, as it happens.) And it prompted me to think a bit more about how the book currently known as “Kitchen, Or, Russells 0.5” is being written. (Today is the anniversary of King Charles I’s execution, and someone has just passed the title of a 1649 pamphlet across my radar, and the book has quite literally just got a title – A Conscientious Exercise. You read it here first.)
There are bits of it, as I said to my friend, all over the damn’ place. Possibly even over two laptops, and that’s extreme. It had started as a short story that had been written because I wanted to know what happened – partly, as I often joke, because a certain crazy blond lieutenant still needed his Happy Ever After, but partly (and more reasonably) because there was unfinished business at the end of the Civil War series and that troubled me because I don’t like loose ends.
So there was going to be a theme to the series: that, if you like, was going to be the string of the necklace, the series was going to be set around the Russells’ courtship and marriage. And this is where the discovery-writing thing comes in: there was no way either of them were ever written to be conventionally romantic. That was always going to be in the background, but it wasn’t going to be – to continue the necklace metaphor – the pearls.
Sometimes I know what year the book is set – because chronologically it has to be, in their personal timeline: I know they weren’t in London during the Plague, for instance, and only tangentially involved in the Great Fire – and I can work backwards from there. What happened in 1671? Pick anywhere in Europe? And sometimes something will pop up on one of my social media feeds from one of my 17th century academic friends, a snippet of research, a name, a date, and I think – but what if….? And sometimes those things start out as just a couple of hundred words, or a scribble. One notebook per project, no order necessary, just bits and pieces of inspiration as they arrive which may – or may not – find their way into a Word document and be worked up into a scene. Which may – or may not – be then slotted into the working-draft copy, or may end up as the inspiration for a short story, or may end up being a whole new book in their own right, as they feel most fitted.
Thinking about it, I don’t think I am a pantser. I have a map in my head for the beginning and the end, and I’m led by the characters as to how they get there. I’d not like to be the author to dictate to Thomazine Russell that the plot dictates she must have an affair with another man, as an instance – she’d not, and that would be the end of that particular plot device: see you back at the drawing board! I’m not sure I’m entirely a discovery writer either because they’re not discoveries, they’re things I already know. I’m applying how I know my characters will react, to developing situations.
If anything I think I might be an organic writer, or a pearl writer (in my head, the Major does one of his unconvinced sniffs and says nothing, very pointedly, about oyster-snot) but things grow, organically, layer on layer. I can train ’em to grow in the direction I want, and sometimes I have to just let them grow as they see fit and prune them back into shape afterwards. I have a seed of a concept, and it turns into a thing over time, and it’s only once it’s become an actual thing that I can start working with it. I can’t make it coherent until it’s grown up enough to be independent, and I suspect Colonel Hollie would be drawing parallels with breaking in a young horse at this point. He’d get it. Sometimes you get what you get, and you have to stand back and let it grow a bit to see what it will be most fitted to become before you start trying to make it into something it maybe isn’t fitted to be.
All this being diversion, of course. I’m a pearl-writer, but the oyster is currently the Blackwall Yards in 1665 and my hero has an appointment with a coffee-house, an elderly Sicilian salami, and Henry Johnson Junior – in that order of importance.
So astonishingly enough, it seems I’m still alive, still writing, and Hollie’s still stuck in Yorkshire but he’s got an end in sight. Mostly the end of Scarborough Castle, and poor lamb, he has no idea what the New Modell’d Army has got in store for him next year, but – at least he might get to go home for a bit soon.
(He might also have to take the boy Hapless with him, if nothing else because the bloody idiot is hell-bent on spending his off-season lurking around the Rosemary Branch tavern in Islington writing seditious pamphlets. But that, as they say, is a whole other story…)
So I was chatting last night to my friend Paula Lofting, who writes the Sons Of The Wolf series, set in the eleventh century. In civilian life Paula’s a psychiatric nurse – which explains why Wulfhere and the nest of snakes in his head is so sensitively and honestly drawn.
Despite being buff, bellicose, and blond, he’s a thinking, feeling, tormented hot mess. The hero of my series is broken, mildly bemused, and about the only thing Wulfhere and Thankful For His Deliverance Russell have in common on the face of it is hair colour.
Or… is it?
Paula managed to catch up with the man himself recently – I think getting him to open up about the traumas that have made him what he is, has been like nailing jelly to a wall: always difficult to write about a man who tells you nothing – and my boi chipped in to be unhelpful, because it’s what he does best.
Well, Wulfhere, have you had a drink this morning like I told you not to? – your eyes look a bit glazed?
Oh, get off my back – I’m trying, all right?
Wulfhere, you’vebeen trying as long as I’ve known you.
Then you should know how hard it’s been, right?
Yes, and you never used to be like this? Lately it’s been poor me, poor me –
Aye, I know, poor me a drink. Do you have any, by the way? The old devil looks at me with that old glint in his eye, but it still worries me.
Wulfhere! No! Here, somewarmed buttermilk.
I was joking. God I cannot even make anyone laugh anymore.
I haven’t seen you laughing or joking for a long, long time, Wulfhere. I can’t remember that time. Not since Ealdgytha left. And actually, probably long before. Long before Wulfwin too. I know I’ve touched a nerve here; the blue eyes suddenly look grey.
Thanks for the reminders.
I’m sorry, I know it hurts but maybe if you talked about it more, you’d get it off your chest and not have to get drunk every day to manage your emotions.
Well, I’ve never been any good with those. But I’m here now.
So, you want to talk?I mean about stuff? And why you’ve been such a prick lately.
Am I really that bad?
Yes, you are.
Christ’s blood, I never mean to be, I just feel better if I’m angry.
As I said, you never used to be like this. When you were young, you put up with a lot from your father. You said you would never treat your children the way he treated you and your brother, Leofric. What happened?
He seems to be pondering. He sits down on the porch outside the longhall, looking defeated.
Which one? – there are two women you’ve tortured throughout this story!
That’s not fair! They haven’t been exactly easy to get along with.
I can’t help but burst out laughing. And I don’t think those ladies are the only bad thing that’s happened to you, there’s a few people that you can blame the way you are on, Helghi for one. Earl Harold for another.
I can’t lay the blame at Harold’s feet, he was just doing what he thought was right.
I’m inclined to agree with him, however he hasn’t always thought that way and I can’t blame Wulfhere for feeling resentful. Come on Wulfhere, you know he’s made your life difficult and you can’t deny you have felt aggrieved by him.
This is true. I have. I shouldn’t have given in so easily to him. And now I feel guilty. My father wouldn’t have.
Don’t beat yourself up, whilst Harold was only trying to keep the peace in his precious Sussex, he could have listened to your concerns more, after all you were the best of friends once. And another thing, you’re not your father.
I’m not my father, nay. As for Harold, I did think at first perhaps his idea of Freyda wedding the son of my enemy would help solve things between my family and Helghi’s. The earl has always had the knack of making you think he is doing the best for you. But I can’t help think that my father would have stood up to him more.
Wulfhere, that’s not true. None of his men have ever defied the earl as much as you have over this. You married Freyda to Leofnoth’s son instead, if that’s not standing up to him, then I don’t know what is. Then when Harold ordered that Winflaed should marry Helghi’s son, you did all you could to stop that from happening. It wasn’t your fault that in the end Win decided to offer herself as a bride for Edgar.There are tears in his eyes now at the thought of his darling little girl in the hands of Helghi. You did your best.
Ealdgytha didn’t think so. Nor Wulfric. He told me I am a coward. But he doesn’t know how hard I tried to stop her from going to Helghi’s.
So there, you feel guilty. And I can understand that. It’s the job of a father to keep their children safe, and you’ve lost two already because of this feud.
It’s notthebest time for a crazy blond from the 1660s to join the party, but there is never a good time for Russell, really. (Also, he stopped drinking a long while ago, when it stopped agreeing with him. He’s a coffee man, and he doesn’t like the look of mead. Or warm buttermilk.)
Children are precious, no? He looks thoughtful, or terrifying, depending which side of the scar you’re looking at. I have all this to look forward to, you understand. My boys are two and four. Hellions, the pair of them, but too young to be considering such matters. Your father was, I think, a harsh man, but fair? For myself – I was reared by my sister. Who was harsh, and not fair. She told me I was worthless, and wicked, and that I deserved for the Lord to punish me. It was my own fault that she could not love me as a child deserves to be loved, apparently, and she must hurt me for the good of my soul. She said. You are not your father, Wulfhere, any more than I am my sister – but before God they make us what we are, still.
I see my Wulfhere looking very strangely at this weird looking guy from another time as if he’s gone mad, then he smiles, showing off his own horseshoe scar from a sword swipe on his cheek as though it’s a scar competition.
My father was harsh. He is looking at Russell. He took no prisoners and he brooked no fools. And he hated seeing me and my brother in tears over something he considered childish. He once whipped my arse bloody because I lost the first blade I was ever given. I was twelve. I was supposed to be a man, and the seax was to signify my free status. Men don’t shed tears, my father barked at me. After he’d finished, I went to my bed and spent the next moments sobbing. He came into my chamber, dragged me out, and whipped me again, just for crying. After that, I tried not to show my feeling. Then I met Ealdgytha and Aelfgyva.
Very sensibly – and most uncharacteristically – Russell says nothing, shivers as if something has walked over his grave, and lets Paula carry on uninterrupted…
So you grew up thinking you had to be harsh too? You never touched your children. Never. If anyone was punished it was Ealdgytha who did that… until Tovi.
Oh God, Tovi. I didn’t want to do that. But he slapped his mother, and I couldn’t let the boy do a thing like that. Not to his mother.
No, I can see why you felt you needed to belt him. But my point was that no matter what your children did, you never laid a finger on them. You threatened them enough times, but you would never have done that.
There was a time when I would have rather cut my sword hand off than hurt my children. I always said I would not do what my father did to me. But that day I broke my oath because my son hit my wife, and that was unacceptable. Believe me I hated that, but today I know that wasn’t the worst thing I ever did to him.
What was, then?
I sent him away. Took away everything he ever desired in life. So you see, it’s not always the pain that you inflict on flesh that hurts the most, but the harm that words and actions can do.
Russell, leaning up against the longhouse wall, is nodding fiercely in agreement.
Look what I did to Ealdgytha? Time and time again I made promises I couldn’t keep, betraying her for another. Then that thing happened with the child. I led her to believe my own bearn by another woman was a foundling left in a byre. Who does that to their own wife? And Aelfgyva, I let her down. I promised I would never abandon her and I did that twice.
And now you feel sorry for yourself.
Look at me. One son is dead, killed by my enemy. Wulfric hates me. Aelfgyva took our child away from me. I haven’t seen Tovi in three years and may never see him again and I long too. I’ve lost my little bird, Winflaed, to Helghi – I’ll never hear her wittering away at me again. Freyda is married and has a life of her own, and Ealdgytha has gone and taken the smallest one, Gerda, with her and who can blame her. And all of it is my fault.
And that is why you are constantly off your trolley?
Off your face. Out of your skull. Drunk.
Oh. Aye. I have come to that conclusion.
Good, now we’re getting somewhere.
We are? So, getting off my face, so I can forget what an idiot I am, what a bad man I am, is a good idea, right?
Of course not, but at least we understand why you are drinking. After all, drinking to oblivion is generally something people do when they don’t like the way they feel.
I didn’t realise that was why I do it. But I like feeling as though I don’t care. I like it when I am drunk and angry.
Nay, that usually comes before the drinking.
Hmmm, I don’t know. I have seen you maudlin and drunk.
Yes, I have. Look, now that we know why you drink, I want to ask you about Ealdgytha.He looks devastated at the mention of her name.
I thought you would.
How, Wulfhere? How could you be so stupid? You had her in the palm of your hand, and you messed it up again!
You could have started over. She would have come round. But then you had to go and call her bloody Aelfgyva!
It’s hard. I’ve thought about this so many times, and all I can think of is that that woman cast a spell on me! She has cursed me. Even Ealdgytha thought that too.
Now don’t do that, Wulfhere. You know I come from the 21st Century. I’m not going to let you do that. It’s not even right for an 11thc person to blame something that is their fault on witchcraft.He gives me that sullen, ‘you bitch’ look. Don’t do that either, young man.
I’m 38 going on 39.
Ooh! Same age as me! – sorry….
That’s young in my world. Right. You know why you called the woman you were trying to convince to stay with you the name of your lover, don’t you?
Do you think I meant to say it? I tell you she has me in her –
Nope! We are not doing it. Listen, I believe you when you say you didn’t mean it, but come on. You have to face the truth, you loved her. You have always loved her, Aelfgyva, I mean. She is as much a part of you as you are yourself. And when you can’t have someone, you obsess about them.
I loved them both. Is that so wrong?
It is when you have a wife!
Many men have mistresses, and their wives accept it.
Hah! Mine would put my balls between two bricks, were I so foolish as to stray from her bed. Ah. Sorry. I’m not being helpful, am I?
Russell, shut up! I’m frustrated by Wulfhere’s misogyny, but I have to accept that things were different back then.Wulfhere, you are not like them. Those are the sort of marriages where there was no mutual attraction. They marry for convenience or their family. You and Ealdgytha had a beautiful alliance. You were so happy together. She loved you and you loved her. She never looked at anyone else and nor did you. You went everywhere together, you even took her to court. Then your children came along and you had everything. A lovely home, your horses, your place at court. You were doing well. Then Aelfgyva. Why did you turn to her? What went wrong?
Ealdgytha started nagging. She had always been happy… I think it was when she went to visit her sister, to show her the children. Her sister was married to an important thegn, much more important and wealthier than me. She was never the same when she came back. She was different. She started telling me I needed to aim higher at court. Start pushing myself forward. That we had so many children we needed more land, more wealth. I told her that wasn’t me. I knew what went on at court. The more you have, the more they expect of you. And the jealousy and rivalry that went on – I didn’t want to be part of it. I was happy with my lot. My friends were the same. I had all the wealth I needed. I have plenty of wealth and property, just not a lot of land, only five hides, but it’s enough. The money I have will be enough for the children to buy their own land when it comes to it. I just wanted to be left alone.
You toldher, I take it.
Of course. She’d always known this. But her sister had reminded her who her grandfather was. “Tovi the Proud would not have been pleased to see a granddaughter of his living so humbly.”
He was Cnut’s standard-bearer, right? A very wealthy man. And I understand her other side of the family are moneyers?
Yes, and she was often apt to remind me, but just light-heartedly, until then. She started rubbing my nose in it. I was a Sussex thegn, with a mere 5 hides. That made me a ceorl in her eyes.
I put on my mental health hat, And how did that make you feel?
Worthless. Just as my father had.
But you never told her that. Not at first?
Aye. I never said a word. But I told her I was not going to be the man she wanted me to be. I had been good enough for her when we married. Then I should be good enough now.
I understand that. Is that why you went looking for someone else?
He looks at me sharply. You would too, if it were you.
I have to admit, I might have done. Possibly, but I would try to fix it with her first.
I was too hurt by the things she said. I would never have said those things to her.
What sort of things?
That I was stupid, I was only good for fighting and making children. I’d had no education like she’d had. I couldn’t speak French and Latin. I hadn’t gone to a stuck-up nunnery school. I could barely read. And all this she would say in front of people. The worst thing she ever did was speak to me like I was dirt on her shoe, in front of the children. I wanted to kill her for that. I could just about take what she said when it was people I knew around, but not my children. That was sacrilege. Aelfgyva made me feel enough.
I’m shaking my head.I never knew, Wulfhere. I’m sorry…. You have made Ealdgytha suffer too, though. Humiliated her with the whole child in the stables thing, imagine how she felt when Aelfgyva came here to take back the child and Ealdgytha realised who the babe was.
Wait what, you meant to pass off your mistress’s child as a foundling for your wife to take in? Are you out of your mind altogether, man?
I know, I would never have wanted that to happen. Aelfgyva’s servants to bring the bearn to me. She thought she was dying after giving birth to the wee thing. I couldn’t turn the poor little mite away. And then Ealdgytha discovered a child had been left in the stables, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her who she was. We had not long lost our youngest daughter, and Aelfgyva’s child was like a gift from God to Ealdgytha. She was so happy, I couldn’t pour water over her joy by admitting the babe was mine.
Yes, that was a pickle you got yourself into. And it got worse didn’t it? Because Aelfgyva didn’t die. And when she was stronger, she came back for her baby. And Ealdgytha was broken.
It broke me to see her like that.
Imagine how she felt.
I tried to apologise-
Yes, I know, but you have to understand, she has been hurt over again. And for Ealdgytha the pain was a double-edged sword. Aelfgyva was her friend..
He sits there for awhile and I can see that the tears are welling in his eyes. He wipes them away and sniffs, cuffing the snot from his upper lip. I can feel his desperation to not spend the tears. Can you see why she left you? Can you understand why Aelfgyva wants nothing more to do with you?He nods. So, you have to make amends to them both.
How can I?
It’s not for me to say. It’s up to you.
But I will never see either of them again.
Well. you can start by stopping the drunkenness for a start.
It won’t help them.
It won’t help you, either. I tried drink – when first I was hurt – mostly what it got me, was regularly beaten up by my superiors. And a more or less perpetual headache. It is no answer.
Aelfgyva, maybe not, but it’ll help Ealdgytha to know you are acting like a grown up for a change. You’re looking after what’s left of her kids remember.
Wulfric? Well, he looks after himself. Besides, he hates me.
He still needs you. He lost his twin brother, you know.
He has a wife to look after him.
There you go, wanting to abnegate your duties. Stop it! Pull yourself together.
Thanks for the empathy, you’re a great nurse.
Look, you’re damaged. I get it. But most of this is stuff that you brought on yourself. It won’t get better by drinking. I know you feel bad. You hate yourself for the way you treated those women. You loathe yourself because you let your daughter down, so, you’re a bad father. You let Tovi down when he needed you to be strong for him. And ok, you feel guilty because you weren’t able to stop Wulfwin from getting killed. You, my dear Wulfhere, are on one huge guilt trip which becomes bigger every day, because you’re using it as an excuse to get smashed out of your brains-
Aye, I am. I’m a dirty worthless drunk. A useless husband, a bad father who might as well be dead.
If you were, you wouldn’t be able to put things right, now would you?At this point, I want to hit him with a sledge hammer. So, what are you going to do?
You’re right. I’ll stop drinking.
Thank heaven. Just take it a day at a time. Because you are going to have to pull yourself together like nothing on earth! Those children of yours are going to need you at some point soon and you will need to be Wulfhere the Brave again and not Wulfhere the Weakling.
There’s one thing though.
He is smiling. That huge grin that used to light up his handsome old face and crinkle his blue eyes melts me. Oh yeah?
That’s going to be up to you too, you’re the one who writes this bloody thing.
The crazy blond looks at his fingernails.
Book-women, hm? A monstrous regiment of book-women. Well, by God’s grace they may yet write us our respective – what is it? – Happy Ever Afters, so with that we must rest content.
He does not smile. Possibly he thinks he’s freaked Wulfhere out enough already for the one day without that unsettlingly lopsided and toothy grin. He does, however, pat him on the shoulder, carefully.
All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Ah. Sorry. She’s a bit after your time, Dame Julian, but – aye, her. That. And good luck.
Paula Lofting has always had a love of history since she was a little girl and it was her dream to one day write a historical saga set in the medieval period. This dream was eventually realised when she published her first novel in the Sons of the Wolf series and then the second, The Wolf Banner, and is now working on the third, Wolf’s Bane. Paula has also collaborated on a historical fiction ghost anthology, Hauntings, and is also participating in Iain Dale’s latest book on Kings and Queens.
She is also a founding member of the History Writers Forum and has participated in historical discussion panels on zoom, the next one being on January 29th about the identity of the mysterious lady on the Bayeux Tapestry.
By day, Paula is mum to three grown up children, a granddaughter, and little grandson, and also a psychiatric nurse. She hopes that her third novel in the Sons of the Wolf saga will be published later this year. The first two can be found here –
In some papers attached to the archives of Babbitt’s Company of Horse, the following doggerel was discovered. It has been annotated in at least two different hands and appears to have been made into a paper dart at some point judging by the folds.
On A Patched Face (An Homage To General Fairfax)
(Fromage’d be better. I reckon. Least you can eat fromage – H.)
Some plain men say ‘tis out of fashion
Whilst living ‘neath a rustic roof
To have for unmarked skin a passion
And stand out for their beauty’s truth
Yet others say ‘tis finer far
To have a most distinctive flaw
A pimple, say, or else a scar (didn’t know you fancied HIM? – H.)
To bow the neck to Nature’s law
But I say this: tis each man’s choice
To mark a different thing the higher
A well-placed freckle or melting voice
A fine fat bum, or neat attire (JESUS LUCIFER WHAT?? - H.)
For this is true, as my name's Lucey,
Beggars cannot be too choosy.
A different author has attempted to edit this at some later point, presumably during the Interregnum period due to the nature of the comments which reflect a distinctly Puritan perspective, being neither complimentary to poets nor flattering to their morals.
So today’s rebel remount is Blossom – aka, for most of two books, The Stupid Brown Horse. Now, this is the first time any of the sixth (!!!) Uncivil Wars books has seen the light of day, and it’s quite long. But it’s set after Marston Moor, after Hollie’s beloved Tyburn has been invalided out of the Northern Horse, and it’s the first time he’s set eyes on his family in almost a year. (Thomazine is just two, at this point. You can see how this is going to pan out for him.)
Oh God but he was lame, he trotted with the tip of his off fore barely grazing the grass so that he lurched rather than the old smooth flow of water flowing downhill –
But he was still Tib, and his head came up and his ears swivelled towards Hollie with the same fierce joy as if he had four sound legs instead of a great ugly puckered scar torn across his chest and all the muscle under it in rags.
Hollie slid off the brown horse’s back and his black pearl limped those last strides to bury his head in the breast of his master’s coat. (And Hollie wept, not silently and not beautifully, but there was no one here under the shifting underwater golden light of the willow trees to know, save for the ungainly brown horse from the Yorkshire campaign.)
Tib grew bored. Someone – a number of someones, possibly – had made a pet of the black stallion, and after he had lipped Hollie’s hair with the evident satisfaction of someone who had found a thing that had been missing, he turned his back and limped away. It was not a dismissal. It was, if you liked, a confirmation. Here you are, and the world is as it should be.
Tib was steel and shadow, but the stupid brown horse stood apologetically with the tips of its ears almost touching with the earnestness of its concern, looking like a clod of earth. It wasn’t even a proper colour. It was a murky, messy, indeterminate brown.
He whistled Tyburn, and the black horse came about in a great slow circle. He’d have simply pivoted on his quarters, once. Hollie had something in his eye again. He must be touching the beast, patting and smoothing and straightening, he must be reminding his hands of the feel of a solid shoulder and the sleek of muscle and the long cobweb-drift of a mane –
A scream like a mortar-shell overhead, and he automatically stiffened, catching the horse’s head because Tib was a battle-horse, he was made to react with fire and fury to every unexpected thing, and Hollie was suddenly cold as his tiny precious firstborn went thundering under the stallion’s feet.
And that lethal battle-hardened engine of fire and fury jerked a little, but more in a sort of indulgent disapproval, and then shook his head and touched his muzzle to Thomazine’s tangled bright hair.
Exactly as he had done to Hollie. Here you are, too, and the world is as it should be twice over.
There was something stuck in his throat that refused to be swallowed away, looking at his little daughter whose arms barely reached around the stallion’s chest but who was hugging him for all she was worth. (Possibly she should prefer the society of other gently-born children. Possibly she ought to have a cap on decently and not to be covered in grass-stains and horse-slobber. Possibly she would have to be somebody else’s daughter to be any different.) “Daddy, then, does not get a hug?” he said dryly, and she managed to extract one arm and bury her face in the top of his boots, and Tyburn rumbled grumpily and limped sideways so that he was leaning against both of them.
“Who that, daddy?” Thomazine murmured. Typical of Thomazine that she considered the stupid brown horse a who, rather than a what, and he grinned into Tib’s mane for Tib was his dear and his only and the stupid brown horse was –
“Brought me from Yorkshire. Had to make do, lass.”
“What’s his name?”
The stupid brown horse did not have a name. It was too much like admitting the stupid brown horse would be staying. He turned his clumsy head towards Thomazine, stupid ears swivelling with an eagerness to please that was almost painful. “He hasn’t got one, love. He’s not mine.”
“Whose horse, daddy?” – and with a mercurial change of subject that dizzied him, “Where Uncle Lucey, daddy? Apple come home? Daddy bring Zee present?”
He had a forlorn hope that she would cease asking questions, for she barely seemed to pause for breath between them – no, nor did she wait for answers, which was a relief, for then she released both him and Tyburn and flitted over to the brown horse. “Daddy, hot!” she said accusingly over her shoulder, and before he could stop her she started to unbuckle his harness.
Every. Single. Buckle. Of every single strap, so far up as she could reach, presumably having watched Mattie Percey unharness the family’s riding-horses. And once she had dismantled the bridle – left him with his forelock looped up under the cockeyed browband, and the grassy bit pulled through his mouth – and dragged his saddle off sideways by one stirrup, the stupid brown horse stood there as naked as a foal. “You done that, daddy,” Thomazine said, glowering at him with her arms full of loose sweaty leather. “He’s hot.”
The brown horse blinked at them both, his head turning from one to another.
It crossed Hollie’s mind for the first time that the brown horse was, perhaps, not stupid. Not precisely stupid, then. Timid, maybe, and confused, and missing his own place and his own people – that he would never see again, that he had been taken from untimely without knowing for what reason or to what place.
Not bright, obviously. Not like Tyburn. He would never replace Tib. Nobody would ever replace Tib.
Very warily, the brown horse who was possibly not stupid, stretched out his neck and gave himself a little shake. Thomazine grabbed a fistful of grass and held it out.
(Hollie, in nine months with the beast, had never petted it. Never given it titbits, or troubled himself to find the places where it liked to be scratched, or given it any more than the attention he gave to his sword or his carbine or his harness. Something mean in him curled up a little and squirmed at the recognition of his neglect.)
“Nice horse, daddy,” she said happily. “Zee keep him? Please?”
She was attempting, now, to rub a patch of sweat from where the saddle had been, with a twist of wet grass. If she had been one of his troopers he’d have pointed out that she wasn’t trying to get a spot of rust off a blade, and it was only by God’s grace that she had not been kicked from here to Colchester. Tib’s tolerance would not have extended so far. Not even for Thomazine. Most of the horses Hollie knew would have put her on her back by now, had she scrubbed them so.
The brown horse stood like a table, with the tips of his ears pointed together and his brow earnestly furrowed. He was not at his ease. He was stiff and uncomfortable and all four of his ungainly legs were braced for flight, and yet he stood and let this strange small person scour him as if he were the kitchen floor.
The brown horse was worse-made than Russell’s Doubting Thomas. Thomas only looked on the surface as if he had been cobbled together from three other beasts. The brown horse was swaybacked, ewe-necked, over at the knee –
“Job,” he said, for the patience of the beast, and his arm tightened around Tib’s neck I still love you the best –
“No, daddy,” Thomazine said, and the brown horse looked at her out of the tail of his eye. Not menacingly, but shyly – am I done?– and Hollie’s little daughter slapped the horse’s shoulder like an ostler born to have him stand over.
Very carefully, the brown horse walked away from them. Tyburn jerked his head up in a fractional affront, and then dismissed a badly-made gelding as below his entire masculine contempt and ambled off in the opposite direction, nosing the grass. Keeping a wary eye on the brown horse all the while, mind, just in case.
The spring grass was coming in. There were still patches of winter mud between the trees in the orchard.
Hollie wished, briefly and passionately, that Luce Pettitt was with him. (This time tomorrow, likely, after his mother had gone over him with a nit-comb and bewailed the state of his linen.) Russell would ha’ been better than nothing, though he’d have had to explain the joke three times to the marred lad. Slowly and ponderously, the brown horse lowered himself into the darkest, boggiest patch of sloppy mud and squirmed on his back, wallowing in the wan sunlight, the pale flash of his underparts bright as a guinea. Looked like a fat unhorsed officer in a buffcoat, trying to roll himself back to dignity, and God knows they’d seen enough of them throughout Yorkshire. “Goring,” Hollie suggested, thinking of that unprincipled Malignant bastard, last seen flat on the cobbles at Wakefield and cursing in all directions.
“No, daddy! A nice name!” She straightened her thin little shoulders, stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled wetly. (Her mother was going to kill him when she got good at it, he thought wryly. The child hadn’t learned that trick by herself.) The brown horse upended himself, gave himself a thoroughgoing shake, and then came up at a lollop. “Flower,” Thomazine said, “Flower, daddy? Pretty horse.”
“A weed more like, wench. Some great raking thing that grows out of cracks where you don’t want it.”
“Blossom,” Hollie said, with his tongue firmly in his cheek. “The leaves are just on the trees, look, so it will be apple blossom time soon. What do you think to Blossom?”
“Blossom,” she said, testing the word, “Blossom.” And then a great smile spread over her fox-pointed, freckled face, “Zee’s horse, daddy! To keep? Promise?”
“Aye,” Hollie said, and he hefted her up by the waist. First time he had set his hands on the child in more than a year and he had forgot, almost, how fragile she looked and how solid she felt. All arms and legs, like a little harvestman spider.
She sat on the brown horse’s muddy back looking straight ahead of her with her hands clutching his mane and her grubby skirts kilted up around her knees, and neither of them looked as embarrassed as propriety would dictate they ought to.
“You might have to let me borrow him, lass,” he said, and she gave him a stern look.
“Look after him, daddy.”
“I know,” he said meekly, “I’ll try and remember.” He clicked his tongue and the brown horse – Blossom, who was no longer nameless, but who had a name and a place and a little girl who loved him for his kindness when her father had not – ambled into a walk. “Come on, then. Your mother’s waiting on us.”
An excerpt from The Smoke Of Her Burning, in which Hollie thinks he’s doing Russell a favour and if you observe the painting above of the horse Cehero by Johann Georg de Hamilton, you can see why the scarred boy might have taken offence…
“Got a surprise for you, Hapless,” Hollie said smugly.
Percey had groomed the bay horse till its coat gleamed like a dark conker. He’d even acquired some chalk from God knows where and he’d whitened the gelding’s stockings. There were times when you had to wonder about Mattie Percey’s previous career in a stable-yard in Essex. Just how honestly he might have come by certain skills. That lad was a better painter than Lely.
What he hadn’t done was improved the big horse’s temper, and it came out of the line rearing, ears pinned against its skull. Mattie had his hand gripping the bit-ring, trying to keep the horse’s head down, and even so the bay nearly had him off his feet.
It was a bloody fine horse, though. Big-built, not one of your lightweight sprinters like Luce Pettitt’s spindly witless Rosa: backside like a gable end and a proud arch to its thickly-muscled neck that hinted that someone might have been a little behindhand with the shears to its gelding. That was a beast that’d go all day chasing Malignants and come in at the end of it dancing. It was the sort of mount any junior cavalry officer with any dreams of a future career in the Army might covet, provided a man could train some sense into its thick head. Plenty of staying-power, plenty of fire and dash, though possibly a bit light on good humour. Hollie closed one eye and looked at the bay horse consideringly where it ramped and curvetted like some maniac heraldic emblem.
“What d’you reckon to him, then?” he said, and looked at the scarred lieutenant, expecting to see gratitude and pleasure on that cold, half-lovely face.
Instead the lad was white to the lips, the great scar on his cheek standing out a most unlovely purple, and his eyes were as mad as the bay horse’s.
“Is – thish – intended to be meant in humour?” he said stiffly, and his voice had that funny slur it had when the ragged muscle in his cheek had gone stiff as wood, like it did when he was tired or ungovernable. Or drunk. That was still always a clear and present possibility.
Hollie shook his head, thinking he must have misheard, or Russell must have misheard, because –
“All right, ain’t he?” Percey said happily, still being jerked around like a rag doll by the beast’s flinging head, but as cheerfully good-humoured as ever he was even when his arm was being yanked from its socket by an unwanted cavalry remount. “Want to take him out, Hap- uh, Lieutenant Russell? Take a bit of the ginger out of his heels?”
“I. Should. Rather. Be. Dead,” Russell said, through gritted teeth. Flung his own head up, looking not unlike the bay horse, and glared fiercely at Hollie, and Hollie would have sworn to it the lieutenant’s dark eyes were brimming with wholly incomprehensible tears. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
“What?” Hollie said blankly, and Russell snarled at him, actually snarled, baring his teeth like a dog.
“The Book of Proverb. Ss.” He bit off the last consonant with a hissing, furious sibilance, and then hit himself in the temple with the heel of his hand. “Shir.”
And then wheeled about and was gone, shoving Luce rudely out of the way, storming back to the house. “What,” Hollie said again, shook himself, “what the bloody hell was that all about?”
“What on earth did you say to him – oh, sir, that was not well done!”
There were times when Luce didn’t half remind Hollie of Het. Well, Hollie’s wife was his cornet’s father’s little sister, it wasn’t so much of a surprise, but even so. That hurt, shocked, disappointed look was pure Het, an expression she reserved for when he did something completely stupid. What, precisely, he’d done this time, he did not quite know, save that he was still trying to make things all right for a lad who was as tricksy to handle as a barrel of rotten gunpowder, and he didn’t know from day’s end to day’s end what mood he was going to be on the receiving end of. Like walking on eggshells, if eggshells were volatile, suspicious, and prone to soothing their tempers by getting fiercely rat-arsed.
“What wasn’t?” he said warily. “What, seriously, sir? You did not mean to be – um – funny?”
“No, of course I bloody didn’t!”
Luce gave a great sigh. “Ah, God. So you – you know – did you look at the beast? Other than, um, you know – professionally?”
“What -” With one final jerk of the bit, Mattie had the bay horse with all four feet on the ground. It was still a handsome beast. It was just – odd-looking. Three white feet, and a great lopsided white blaze to its face. One blue eye, and one, slightly manic, brown one.
A perfectly sound, sturdy, fine cavalry mount, who just happened to look both ugly and irregular. It was a bloody good horse, sound in wind and limb, beautifully put together, a mount a man could rely on – could be proud of. But now Luce came to mention it, the brute did look a bit like it had been sewn together from bits of at least two other horses. Good ones, but -.
And that had been a coincidence.
“Ah,” said Hollie.