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Review of Sigurd’s Swords – Olaf’s Saga book2

Book Title: Sigurd’s Swords

Series: Olaf’s Saga, Book 2

Author: Eric Schumacher

Publication Date: June 28, 2021

Publisher: Bodn Books

Page Length: 300 Pages (print)

Genre: Historical Fiction

From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.

AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd. 

It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron

REVIEW

Sigurd’s Swords is a fabulous story of warrior life in tenth century.

I didn’t know too much about the history of the Rus and the Slavs so I was keen to get to grips with this book.

The story is told through the eyes of Torgil, the noble lad charged with keeping an eye on his younger childhood friend, Olaf, the son of a Norse king, driven from his land into exile. The subtitle of the book gave me the impression that the main character would be Olaf but that was not the case of course as this turns out to be very much more Torgil’s saga rather than Olaf’s.

The two youths couldn’t be more unalike, Olaf being the likeable but selfish, slightly narcissistic trouble maker and Torgil the more sensitive, sensible and deeply passionate one. Schumacher’s portrayal of two young warriors finding their way in the world they should never have been thrown into is well done. Their destiny would have been much different had it not been for the betrayal of Harald Eriksson.

With them is the girl, Turid, for whom Torgil’s love goes unrequited – or perhaps it doesn’t, and Turid just does’t realise it. Her rejection of his love has more to do with the fact that she wants to be a warrior than it has to do with her not being attracted to him – but throughout their adventures the sexual tension between them is palpable and ads an interesting, if not steamy, romantic layer to Schumacher’s tale.

I don’t know much about the places he is depicting, but Schumacher builds his world confidently and convincingly, giving you a snapshot of everyday life in the Rus world adding in the visceral sights and smells of that time. His portrayal of Olaf’s uncle Sigurd’s warrior band and their lives, gives you that feeling that he knows his subject. His ability to create a believable environment is credit to him and the battle scenes are well written showing his extensive knowledge of Viking Age combat.

In this riveting sequel to Forged in Iron, we see intrigue, sieges, battles on the ground, and combat at sea. Also story of camaraderie and friendship, and a dash of fatal attraction. Schumacher carefully crafts his story telling with his pleasantly drawn characters, making this an engrossing, enthralling read.

Not having read the first book had put me somewhat at a disadvantage, however it was still an enjoyable historical romp and did not hinder the plot for me in anyway. Of course it would have been better to read them in order and I do think potential readers should consider reading book one first. That aside, I recommend anyone who enjoys adventures of Dark Age warriors and the Viking sagas read this.

Author Bio

Eric Schumacher

Eric Schumacher (1968 – ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.

Social Media Links:

Website: 

http://www.ericschumacher.net

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Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/eric.schumacher.71/

LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/eric-schumacher-91b80b

BookBub:

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/eric-schumacher

Amazon Author Page:

https://www.amazon.com/Eric-Schumacher/e/B00K8G4YW

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/399517.Eric_Schumacher

Book link – mybook.to/sigurdsswords

Check out the previous blog stops

Historical Writers Blog Hop: Swegn Godwinson, an 11th Century Scandal

The story of the Godwinson brothers is a well-known one but there is one brother that is often overlooked as he doesn’t figure in the story of 1066 as Harold and Tostig do. Swegn. I have to confess that despite his shortcomings, I have a soft spot for this, the most colourful son of the House of Godwin, as I’m sure that had he been paid more attention to, or perhaps given the thing that was missing in his upbringing, whatever that was that made him the way he was, his life might have been as successful, if not more so than that of his brothers.

It was not surprising that in a family so prolific for producing male species, that there would be at least one who, if he was alive today, would have been up for an ASBOs, would have had several illegitimate children by the time he was nineteen, been involved with drugs and alcohol problems, and likely to have served time in prison. And the very fact that Swegn, the eldest, of the brood, was convinced he was not a Godwinson from an early age, would suggest that this lad would definitely have been diagnosed with an anti-social personality disorder at some point in his life.

Godwin, the father of this large gaggle of children, was in the service of the athelings, Aethelstan and Edmund Ironside, and went on to serve Cnut after Edmund’s untimely death. Godwin’s career went from landholding thegn to much greater things once he’d got his foot in Cnut’s royal door and his relatively low, but noble status, grew into an Earldom, with Cnut awarding him the lands of Wessex and Cnut’s brother-in-law’s sister, Gytha thrown into the package.

With his newfound status, a no-doubt puffed up Godwin must have strutted around with a spring in his step after his wife, Gytha, whose noble pedigree could not be denied, (she was the daughter of the chieftain Thorkil Sprakalegg and granddaughter of Harold Bluetooth) gave birth to their first son, Swegn. Little did the young couple realise that this charming little bundle of joy would turn out to be the bane of their lives.

I don’t know under which ill omen this black sheep, latter-day wild boy was born, but scandal would thence follow him throughout his life. How his parents, who obviously loved him, coped with the embarrassment of a son who continuously behaved badly one cannot imagine. But just as today, childhood experiences formulate a person’s character and I wonder what encounters in his early life Swegn might have had that shaped his personality the way it did.

Following him, were several other offspring, Edith, Harold, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwin, Gunnhild, and Wulfnoth. There have been claims of another female and male, but I think that they have been made in error. Another male who joined the family for awhile was Beorn Estridson, who was the nephew of Cnut and son of Gytha’s brother, Ulf, who was married to Cnut’s sister Estrid. He may have been fostered into the family judging by the closeness between Harold and Beorn.

As one might expect there must have been a lot of chaos in the House of Godwin and there is a little story where Tostig and Harold were once chastised as boys, for fighting at the dinner table in front of the king. Tostig was said to have grabbed Harold by the hair. I wonder if Swegn is represented in this picture as the boy trying to break them up – perhaps after stirring up trouble!

Tostig and Harold brawling before the king.

Why it was Swegn that was to become the bad boy of the family is not recorded, and was possibly unusual for the first-born child. We know from events in the autumn of 1065 that Tostig, the fourth born child if we are to accept that their sister Edith was one of the top three, grew up resentful of his older brother Harold. But what were the aspects of Swegn’s upbringing that could have affected the eldest and heir of the Godwin household so badly that it created such a monster?

Maybe, to get a better picture of the man’s chatacter, we don’t need to look much further than where Swegn saw himself within the Godwin household. Possibly one of the most hurtful shameful things that Swegn could have done to Mama and Papa Godwin was to publicly accuse his mother of lying about his paternity. Sometime probably before 1047, he took it into his head to declare himself the son of Cnut which would have meant a few scandalous things. 1) That Gytha had been having an affair with Cnut whilst he had his other two wives, Emma and Ælfgifu on the go. 2) That she was married to Godwin at the time when Cnut fathered Swegn, and Godwin was not aware of this. 3) That she was given to Godwin by Cnut after the Danish king thought two women already were enough to handle. And 4) That Swegn hated his parents so much that he would do anything to embarrass them in public because he felt different from the others in his family.

Did his parents expect too much of him as the older son and then chastise him for his failings? Often we see this has been the case with many children growing up who had a sense of being outside the nucleus of their biological family. Could this have been the issue with Swegn? Or was it simply that he was the result of a well-kept secret that somehow wreaked havoc once it came to light by whatever means.

Of course Swegn may have convinced himself that his own suspicions that he was not a Godwinson were true, but his mother was not having it. She adamantly denied this on oath at an assembly of Wessex noble women she convened as Hemming’s Cartulary testifies.

One wonders about the breach that this must have caused within the family. Its interesting though that Godwin himself did not come out publicly to challenge this himself, though in no way should this be seen as the great earl acknowledging any truth in the claim. The old man might have felt he had enough to deal with without getting embroiled in an errant son’s lies against his own family. Behind the scenes though, it might have been quite different. Mercedes Rochelle in her novel The Sons of Godwin gives an excellent portrayal of the family dynamics in the household and treats Swegn’s character most sympathetically that one can really empathise with him and understand what shaped his sense of self and his outsider syndrome.

Whatever Swegn had hoped to gain, it obviously did not help his familial relations. I rather like to think that his mother gave him a right old slap around the face the next time she saw him. Nor did he evoke any loyalty with sister Edith, the queen, who failed to name him in her biography (the Vita Edwardi ) of the family, though she does allude to the rot within the family and this could plainly be him. Having said that, nor does she name her mother. I wonder why.

 In 1047 Swegn had hardly settled down in his office as Earl of lands in Mercia and Wessex, when he decided to forge an alliance with another like-minded soul, Gruffudd of Llewellyn of Gwynedd and Powis. Perhaps jealousy of his brother Harold and their cousin Beorn’s closeness or better treatment, was the reason, who knows. But he had made up his mind that he was going his own way. This Welsh man was a rival of Earl Leofric of Mercia whose family’s enmity with Gruffudd may have stemmed further back than the slaughter of Leofric’s brother Eadwin. This could point to some conflict between Swegn and Leofric’s family which prompted Swegn to join with Gruffudd to help him win a campaign in the south of Wales. Nonetheless it was indeed a goading that would not have been taken well by the House of Mercia.

But that was nothing. The most scandalous of Swegns doings were about to come and this next anecdote would be the one that would kickstart the beginning of Swegn’s demise.

On the way back from his trip, Swegn decided to stop by the Abbey of Leominster. He seems to have already known the Abbess and had taken a fancy to her. He ordered Lady Eadgifu be brought to him and he rode off with her, knowing full well that this was not going to go down well with not only the church but society in general. To kidnap a noble woman, and an abbess at that was not something that could just be brushed under the rush-mats. Although it is not clear in what capacity Swegn knew her, it is unlikely it was a random stop where he thought he’d take a look at the nuns and see which one took his fancy. Most agree he already knew her, that there may have been something between them once. Perhaps that was why Eadgifu was put in a nunnery well away from the rogue son of Godwin! One can imagine the look of horror on the faces of the girl’s kin when they knew their little darling and Swegn were hooking up.

Whatever the case, he went on to keep her for a year until the threat of excommunication issued by the archbishop of Canterbury forced him to give her up, although some sources indicate that he’d already had enough of her by that time anyway after she had given birth to his son, Hakon. Of course he was outlawed for such a deed and he went off to Bruges then Denmark to catch up with his Danish relatives whom he might have felt more at home with, seeing as he believed himself to be the son of Cnut.

But it seems that Swegn couldn’t behave himself in Denmark either and despite helping out his cousin, namesake King Swein, in his campaigns to keep Denmark from invasion by Norway, he seems to have caused some ‘crimes against the Danes’. One can imagine what he might have done there, but it’s a shame the records aren’t more specific.

So, by 1048 Swegn had forged quite a reputation for himself. The wanna be Dane is kicked out of Denmark, but with a crew of seven to eight ships, he sails into his home port of Bosham. You can imagine the hue and cry!
“Quick! Swegn is here! Lock up the women!”
“And the nuns!”
Godwin must have held his head in his hands and Gytha, resigned to the fact that there was going to be trouble, must have done what most mothers did in these times and put the equivalent of the eleventh century kettle on.

Swegn, knowing he’d burned his bridges in Denmark decided to see if he could enlist the support of his brothers. Beorn and Harold had been given a share of the renegade’s lands. He appeals to them to support him in his plea to the king to be reinstated. Beorn might have agreed at first but then Harold comes along and outright refuses, causing Beorn to abandon the idea. Harold must have been disgusted at his brother’s behaviour. If he’d been able to forgive his brother his transgressions, he might have agreed to give them back but there was clearly a dislike of his brother, and who could blame him?

Edward wasn’t very keen either. He orders him out of the country with four days to leave but Swegn is not for giving up and he sought out his cousin once again, perhaps relieved to find him without Harold breathing down his neck at Pevensey. This time Beorn agrees.

Here I want to rewind and shout at Beorn. “No! Stop! Don’t!” But who am I to get in the way of a good soap opera storyline? And let’s face it, it is a fabulous tale!

So silly Beorn, who never had a gut feeling in his life, takes just three men with him and agrees to go with Swegn to Bosham where he had left his ships. There must have been an argument between he and Swegn and perhaps Beorn then felt he could no longer agree to support him. The temperamental outlaw then had Beorn bound and dragged on to his ship. They sailed west to Dartmouth where Beorn was murdered and dumped/buried on shore.

Harold and Beorn must have been close as he made sure that Beorn’s body was rescued and taken to rest in the Old Minster in Winchester next to his uncle Cnut. When the king found out he was not happy as one can imagine. He and the whole army declared Swegn a nithing –basically a nefarious fellow and an outlaw which meant he could be killed on the spot. Even Swegn’s own men deserted him leaving him with no more than two ships. Fearing that he had completely stitched himself up, he decided to sail to Bruges where he was welcomed by Count Baldwin who, by his actions must have liked him for some reason.

So how does one come back from this? Surely now he will never be forgiven.

Dad Godwin, seems to have kept well out of Swegn’s affairs. I doubt he didn’t have an opinion on his eldest son’s deeds but whatever they were, no one has made any mention of them. At this stage, when Swegn made the accusation against his mother is not clear. It is not certain if it was before he went off the rails or during? I would imagine that this idea he was not Godwin’s son, but the son of that famous Danish king, Cnut, was a seed planted in the young Swegn’s mind, perhaps by someone who knew/suspected an affair between Cnut and the sister (Gytha) of his one time friend, Ulf. Whether or not Godwin was party to the rumour, or knew nothing about it until Swegn brought it to light many years later, it is not known. But I would imagine with or without the knowledge, this would have been a terrible hurtful blow for Godwin. But he seems to have forgiven his son all the same.

Ian Walker states that Godwin put pressure on Edward to return him to power although doesn’t name his source, but in 1050, the Bishop of Worcester met with him in Flanders, heard his confession and gave him absolution. He brings him back to England and supports Swegn to plead of the king his mercy and forgiveness. It does not seem unreasonable that this time Godwin, who was getting on a bit now, might well have also gone to Edward and begged for his son to be brought back. With this pressure put upon him from all sides, Edward caved in and I’m certain it was against his chagrin that Swegn is given his office and his lands back.

The bad boy of Wessex doesn’t appear to have learned his lesson. It was not long before he was building up resentment against the king’s nephew Ralph de Mantes and his Norman colony in Herefordshire where they were building castles in the manner of the French on the continent. He might also have been resentful toward Harold who was on good terms with Ralph. Harold was said to have been a Godfather to Ralph’s son, also named Harold.

Then the final nail in Swegn’s coffin was banged in.

In the Summer of 1051, the whole Godwin family were to come under scrutiny after they rebelled against King Edward. The incident in Dover that set king and earl against each other seems to have been engineered by the king’s French household members at least one of whom was Godwin’s nemesis and arch rival for the king’s counsel.

The king called upon Godwin to punish the town of Dover severely after his brother-in-law, Eustace of Boulogne was supposedly attacked by the townsmen on his way back home to France. Godwin refused and he, Harold and Swegn were called to account when they refused to harm the town. Swegn and Godwin had to give up hostages on the 8th of September and on the 21st of that same month, they were to meet with the king in London. Word came through that if Swegn turned up on the 21st, he would be in serious trouble because he had been outlawed again without even having seen the king. The whole family were worried as men began to desert them, not keen to be part of a civil war. None of them went to London on the 21st and the whole family were given just days to get out of England or be killed on site.

They split. Swegn offered Harold his ships that were waiting in Bristol and Harold took Leofwin with him and went off to Ireland to recruit mercenaries in Dublin. The rest of the family fled to Bruges in Flanders, Swegn going with them.

Swegn knew he had no more cards to play. No more lives to throw away and no more bridges to burn. The only way out of the mess he had made was to go on a pilgrimage – yes in medieval times, this is what the bad boys did – and he was said to have walked all the way to Jerusalem barefoot, only to die of the cold somewhere in Constantinople or thereabouts as he was returning home only ten days or so after the rest of his family had returned to power from their exile in a blaze of glory. Malmesbury though, has him attacked by Saracens.

Whatever the circumstances, he must have cut a sad figure, alone, barefoot, wearing the clothing of a pauper, shivering on a hill top with only a thin blanket for comfort as the freezing rain soaks him, completely stripped of his hubris and his arrogance. Of course this is my imagining, however it cannot be hard to visualise this sad reckoning and its hard not to feel a pang of regret for the once colourful, but self destructive son who came into this world with such promise, and left it completely bereft of his integrity.

He left behind one son, Hakon, who was still, at his death, a hostage in Normandy and who was said to have died at Hastings as a teenager not long after setting foot in his home with his uncle Harold in 1064.

The Danish King’s Enemy by MJ Porter

(A Coffee Pot Book Club Promotional)

Book #2 in the Earls of Mercia series

Today I am hosting a book blast for this superb novel, check out the blurb here!

The Danish King’s Enemy is only 0.99 for a Limited Time Only!

Every story has a beginning.

Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.

With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.

In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.

With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?

The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen

Get your copy for only 99p/c for a limited time!

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Author Bio:

M J Porter 

I’m an author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066. 

I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!

Connect with me on : WebsiteTwitterInstagram

Historical Writers Jolablokaflod

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS GIVEAWAY IS NO LONGER VALID

So the blog hoppers from the Historical Writers Forum have come together this December joined by the spirit of the Icelandic tradition of giving books away. So now its my turn and here is a little about me and my books.

You can see the past and future blog posts if you follow this link

I am Paula Lofting and by day I am a psyche nurse and in my spare time I like to write and blog about a particular century that totally fascinates and intrigues me. I love all things historical but my period of interest is the eleventh century, in particular the epoch that saw the tide turn for the early pre-Norman Conquest English. I am also a re-enactor of what is notably referred to the Dark Ages which although a delightful hobby, I take as seriously as I can! My one biggest insistence that I carry into my books and writings is that I aim to be as accurate as I possibly can both in facts and the world in which my characters inhabit and whilst I make it my mission to ensure the narrative of the period is as factual as possible, I want my readers to feel as immersed in eleventh century England as they can be from a thousand years away.

Some years ago, but later in my life, I decided, at a time when I had gone through a lot of difficulties, that I could sit back on my laurels and wallow in my misery, or I could pick myself up and make a life for myself that was far less ordinary. I would not wait for fortune to find me, I would make of my life what I could and I went to college, then to university to study mental health nursing, and it was at this time that I rekindled my love of reading and writing, which had always been my biggest love.

To cut a long story short, and not to be boring you with drawn out details, I became inspired by a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings and two books. One was written by Ms Helen Hollick called Harold the King, the other was by famous historian, David Howarth. Hollick’s book gave ne the impetus to write about this period, though not solely about Harold Godwinson, but more focussed of the period as a whole and through the eyes of a semi-fictional character named Wulfhere for whom I have created a narrative of what might have happened to a family caught up in the turmoil of the times. The idea was for the reader to get to know them, invest themselves in them emotionally and then hit them with the barbaric conquest that comes to tear their lives apart so they can experience the devastation of what happened to the English people after the invasion.

And so the first book, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the help of Silverwoods Assisted publishers in 2012, and then I decided I wanted to go it on my own and revised the cover and the contents using my own imprint, Longship Publishing, in 2016 and that was when I published the second book in the series which has since recently been also been revised and streamlined to a less drawn out tome. I did this without changing the structure of the book I might add, The Wolf Banner is still, and will always remain, the same story.

A bit about Sons of the Wolf (book 1) – which is also the name of the series.

The story begins in 1054 as Wulfhere a king’s thegn, ambles home from warring in the north with his righthand man, Esegar. King Edward sits on the throne, content to leave the running of his kingdom in the capable hands of Harold Godwinson,the Earl of Wessex, whilst he enjoys more pleasurable pursuits such as hunting, story-telling, music, and praying.
When Wulfhere’s daughter strikes up an illicit love affair with Edgar, the son of her father’s arch enemy, Helghi, it rekindles an old bloodfeud that threatens to spill over the county. In order to dispel the feud, the Earl of Wessex, orders that Wulfhere’s daughter, Freyda and her lover, Edgar, be betrothed to bring peace between the two families.
But Wulfhere, although he reluctantly agrees, fears that Freyda will suffer at the hands of his enemy and has to find away to extricate himself from the bargain without compromising his honour and loyalty to his Lord Harold.

And so, Wulfhere has to navigate the machinations and intrigues of the court and the hell of the battlefield as well as look out for the enemy at home.

Here is an excerpt from Sons of the Wolf

Wulfhere is alerted to a fire over at the steading of his enemy Helghi and reluctantly takes his men to help them put it out.

Despite his loss of vigour, Wulfhere saw that Helghi fought like a mad boar for his home that night. Everyone in the village capable of hauling a bucket full of water was there, both young and old. Wulfhere suspected, with humour, that the prospect of having their lord as a house guest was enough to inspire the villagers to do their best to save the hall. Helghi was a surly man at the best of times. At his best, even, he was a cruel drunk with a head full of resentment for anyone and anything. He would not make a pleasant guest.

Wulfhere move towards him nervously. In front of him, flames lit up the early morning sky. He paused with some distance between them. He was unsure about the response his presence would provoke, or from any of the others for that matter. So far, there had been a lot of mixed reactions. Some were stunned to see the men of Horstede there; some silently accepted their presence unquestioningly; a few others asked what had alerted them, but none had made any objections. Most likely all were relieved and too busy with the task in hand to concern themselves with their mysterious arrival.

For a moment he stood almost enthralled, as Helghi fought like a mad bull to save his hall from the fire. He summoned up the nerve to approach. Around him was chaos. Men were yelling as they ran from burning houses, salvaging what they could whilst their women chased the livestock here and there to safety. As Wulfhere edged tentatively closer to his neighbour, he was suddenly aware of a woman screaming, somewhere near to the far end of the hall. It was bloodcurdling; he had heard the like before in Dunsinane.

A dishevelled middle-aged woman, her hair uncovered, ran toward him. She grabbed him desperately. “Come help us, good sir,” she cried and then exclaimed, “Oh Lord, save us! What are you doing here, Lord Wulfhere?”

“I and my men have come to aid you,” he reassured her gently.

“Then help my lady save her child!” the woman gasped.

He followed her as she ran around the side of the hall to where a group of women were restraining a younger woman he knew to be Mildrith, wife of Helghi. She was on her knees in the grass, screaming as her women prevented her from running into the burning hut.

“My baby!” she screeched, her hands clawing her face and hair. Every time she made to break free, they held on to her fast, sobbing and begging her to cease struggling. Looking at the hut, Wulfhere assumed that some embers from the byre, fuelled by the wind, had fallen onto the roof of the building and set it aflame.

“Why did I think it would be safe to leave her in there?” Mildrith was crying. Her shoulder-length hair was matted, her face tear-streaked and dusty. “I should have known that the hut was too close to the hall.”

Wulfhere shook his head and looked at the distraught women. He knew instantly that he had to do something. If he walked away and did nothing, he would never forgive himself for leaving a child to burn. “Get me a blanket or something doused in water,” he shouted at the woman who had brought him there. “Your cloak will do!”

The woman nodded and dashed off to do his bidding. The other women looked at him, their mouths dropped open in surprise as they recognised him. Wulfhere reassured Helghi’s hysterical wife that he would get her baby for her. He grabbed her shoulders, put his face close to hers and spoke earnestly to her. She seemed to look right through him and Wulfhere realised there was great fear for her child. He glanced round at the hut and saw why. The fire had taken hold with a firm grip, and the chances of the building collapsing in on him were ominously high. Just then, the woman returned with the cloak doused in water, and he threw it over his head ready to enter the burning hut. For a moment, he marvelled that only two nights ago, he’d returned home after surviving a bloody battle with the Scots; now, here he was, risking his life to save the child of a man whose hatred for him rivalled any enemy he had ever met on the battlefield.

He said a quick Paternoster, and gazing upwards, added, “I hope you reserve a nice comfortable seat for me up there, oh Lord!” Then he kicked the door of the hut, which came away easily, and entered, gingerly.

The intensity of the heat was overpowering. His eyes streamed and stung with the smoke. He was coughing and spluttering and smoke-blind, fearing he could not go in but when he heard a baby’s whimpering, he knew he could not give up.

Flames burned on the front right side of the hut. This was the area of the little building that was nearest the hall. As he tried his best to focus, he heard the child choking from a corner of the hut somewhere behind the flames. He had to get there quickly, for the flames were growing and if she wasn’t burned to death, the smoke would fill her lungs and kill her. As he peered tentatively from underneath the protection of the cloak, he could just about see her outline; the baby was bouncing in fear, and his heart lurched. She was a little thing of no more than a year or so, same age as his Drusilda. She was pressing herself against the wall. Her piercing wails broke his heart as she cried out frantically in her cot. Within seconds, the flames had moved closer to her. Through the smoke, he tried to see another way round. Above was a loft, the floor of which had just started to burn. He hoped that the timbered base would hold out until he could get to her, for he knew they would be done for if it came down. He thought about running back out for water, but the thatch on the roof in the middle was beginning to burn and he knew there was no time.

“Stay with me, God, and help me,” he prayed. “Lord, if you let me live today, I promise to do more good deeds.” He crossed himself, kissed the little iron crucifix that hung about his neck, and lunged forward.

His outstretched hands felt for her, but he could barely see because of the flames and the smoke. Behind him, he heard something crackle and collapse, and he tried not to think of it. What mattered most at that moment was what was before him. He managed to grab the screaming infant and tucked her under his right arm. With his free hand, he drew the cloak closely over them both. When he turned to get out, he saw that the way was now blocked by the blazing thatched roof which had collapsed into the interior. He felt the heat searing toward them and the smell of burning oak was almost suffocating.  The little girl clung to him, smothered against his heart, whimpering with terror. He had to find a way to get her out.

And here are some reviews to wet your appetite!!

5.0 out of 5 stars Sons of the Wolf Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 20 June 2013Verified Purchase

Paula Lofting transports us back to 1054 England, to a time of political upheavel and warrior kings, religious interference and hero’s. We are introduced to the family of Wulfere, Thegn of Harold Godwineson and father of six. Through this inperfect but loyal subject, we are shown a colourful and vivid picture of life in medieval England, from struggling family life at Horstede to the clash of the political heavyweights of ancient europe. We find wonderfully real characters and family members who feel like our own, to the giants of european history both woven into a rich and vibrant story. With a deep knowledge of the time, Paula leaves no stone unturned, you can feel the atmosphere and smell the changing seasons. Clever sub plots intwined with historical knowledge and a perfectly timed splash of old English help to paint a picture thats trully believable. Having already enjoyed this book twice i find myself drawn to a third adventure whilst writing this, if only to catch up with Wulfere,s twins. i cant wait for the second installment in the series to check what mischief and mayhem Wulfric and Wulfwin will cause, bravo Paula a real gem and the nicest feeling cover i’ve ever held.

5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read…

Showing a comprehensive knowledge of pre conquest Britain, Paula Lofting has taken historical fiction to a whole new level, skilfully interweaving factual and well recorded events with the fictitious lives and loves the thegn Wulfhere and his family, neighbours and affinity. Wulfhere and his neighbour Helghi were real people who appeared in the records. Although the lives they led is unknown, Ms Lofting’s accounts of the family relationships – the marital problems, the bickering between the children, the tantrums of a teenager in love – are all so clearly described as to show a true understanding of human nature throughout the years. The book is carried smoothly by vividly realistic conversations and wonderfully picturesque descriptions which add greatly to the sense of time and place. The reader feels inside the book with the characters, living and breathing and seeing what they experienced. Ms Lofting’s knowledge of the history of the era is as comprehensive as her knowledge of the early language, yet never does the reader feel as if they are reading a lecture. I liked the personal nature of the story and its focus on Wulfhere and his family and their struggles amidst war and personal feuds. Wulfhere also takes part in actual historical events whilst in service to the King.The characters feel like real people, with complex human emotions.

The book itself is beautifully presented with a wonderfully designed eye catching cover and helpfully includes pronunciation and place names guides, as well as a glossary of unfamiliar terms, which is very helpful.

Sons of the Wolf is the first in a series of novels about the Norman conquest of England. I enjoyed this book very much and found it a delightful read. The wealth of historical detail keeps it from being a lightweight. I look forward to reading the next in the series!”

4.0 out of 5 stars A good read – and real life beats fiction. Reviewed in the United States on 3 August 2013Verified Purchase

“Set in the 11th century, a decade or so before the battle of Hastings, the Sons of the Wolf tells the story of Wulfhere, thegn of Horstede and his family. That Horstede had a thegn named Wulfhere is established fact as per the Domesday Book (a very nice touch in my opinion), but the author makes it very clear that apart from the name and the location, her Wulfhere is a fictional hero, however involved he is in the actual events of his time.

The novel has a substantial amount of cameo characters, most of them based on real people. Harold Godwinson, Edward the Confessor, Gruffyd of Wales – they all make an appearance in Ms Loftings novel, and in general I think the author does a very good job in breathing life into these long dead people. In particular, Ms Lofting has done an excellent job depicting the Godwinson brothers – and their sister, Queen Edith. The historical context is rich and well-described, and I was particularly impressed by the description of the Battle of Hereford – Ms Lofting succeeds in conveying the grime, the blood, the sheer terror of fighting hand to hand.”

 5.0 out of 5 stars Trouble at home and on the battlefieldReviewed in the United States on 11 November 2014Verified Purchase

Sons of the Wolf brings us into the turbulent eleventh century where violence is just a breath away and can come from any direction. Wulfhere, our protagonist and thegn of Harold Godwinson, has recently come back from the Battle of Dunsinane in Scotland when he faces his own battles at home. In a Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance, his daughter Freyda has reawakened a generations-old feud between Wulfhere and his despicable neighbor Helghi. In an attempt to keep the peace, Earl Harold insists that the wayward lovers should marry in order to put the feud to rest. Alas, it is not so easy for Wulfhere and matters go from bad to worse as he watches his family fall apart.

At the same time, we are drawn into the troublesome quarrels between Harold and his siblings, and a new conflict arises with Earl Aelfgar, whose resentment of the Godwinson clan boils over. Aelfgar oversteps himself and is outlawed, which drives him to join forces with Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, King of Wales. Together, these new allies descend on the important border town of Hereford. Once again Wulfhere must fight for Harold, and we see the dreadful battle at Hereford where England’s first attempt at cavalry fighting comes to an inglorious end.

Paula Lofting’s historical narrative is gripping, and she effortlessly pulls the reader into the midst of the action. Her characters are well-defined and compelling, and we come out of the novel with an enhanced understanding of just how destructive a bitter feud can be.

So I hope you will avail yourself of a free download of Sons of the Wolf book 1 I can guarantee that you will be in for a real historical ride! And if you are hooked, I am giving away a paperback edition of The Wolf Banner anywhere in the UK all you have to do is leave a comment here on the blog or on the post on our Facebook Blog hopper’s page

And if you enjoy both books, coming soon, the third in the series is coming soon in the new year!

The Mallory Saga Books 1-3

Paul Bennett, author of the Mallory Books tells us about his American story

I’ve know Paul for quite some time now, firstly as a reviewer of books and then later as an author in his own right. I’m ashamed to say I have not yet picked up his books yet and thought it was about time to find out more about them, especially as I have always had an interest to know more about this exciting, harrowing, and dramatic time in history.

So without further ado, I give you Mr Paul Bennett!

The inspiration to write was, in the beginning, merely to see if I could do it.  I had written short pieces over the years but to tackle a full blown novel was a daunting prospect.  Once the seed was planted I came up with a rough idea of telling the story of three siblings living somewhere in colonial America.  Choosing that general locale was a natural fit for me as I’ve been a lifelong student of American history and I felt that if I was going to write a historical fiction novel, it might be prudent to choose a subject I knew a little about. I picked The French and Indian War as the starting point for what was now becoming a possible series of books that would follow the Mallory clan through the years.  That war intrigued me and I saw a chance to tell the story through the eyes of the Mallory family.  It also provided me with the opportunity to tell the plight of the Native Americans caught up in this conflict.  The French and Indian War paved the way for the colonies to push further west into the Ohio River area.  It also set the stage for the events of the 1770’s.  Britain incurred a huge debt winning that war and looked to the colonies for reimbursement in the form of new taxes and tariffs.  Well, we all know how those ungrateful colonists responded. 

As to the name Mallory – I have a photo hanging on my living room wall of my great grandfather, Harry Mallory.  I got to know him when I was a young boy and was always glad when we visited him.  He lived a good portion of his life in western Pennsylvania which is where much of Clash of Empires takes place.  So, as a gesture to my forebears, Mallory became the name of the family. 

Clash of Empires

In 1756, Britain and France are on a collision course for control of the North American continent that will turn into what can be described as the 1st world war, known as The Seven Year’s War in Europe and The French and Indian War in the colonies.  The Mallory family uproots from eastern PA and moves to the western frontier and find themselves in the middle of the war. It is a tale of the three Mallory siblings, Daniel. Liza and Liam and their involvement in the conflict; the emotional trauma of lost loved ones, the bravery they exhibit in battle situations.  The story focuses on historical events, such as, the two expeditions to seize Fort Duquesne from the French and the fighting around Forts Carillon and William Henry and includes the historical characters George Washington, Generals Braddock, Forbes and Amherst.  The book also includes the event known as Pontiac’s Rebellion in which the protagonists play important roles.  Clash of Empires is an exciting look at the precursor to the events of July 1776; events that will be chronicled in the second book, Paths to Freedom, as I follow the exploits and fate of the Mallory clan.

Paths to Freedom

In Paths to Freedom the children of the three Mallory siblings begin to make their presence known, especially Thomas, the oldest child of Liza and Henry Clarke (see right there, already another family line to follow), but Jack and Caleb, the twin sons of Liam and Rebecca along with Bowie, the son of Daniel and Deborah are beginning to get involved as well. The French and Indian War, the historical setting for book 1, was over, and the Mallory/Clarke clan is looking forward to settling and expanding their trading post village, Mallory Town, now that the frontier is at peace. And for a time they had peace, but the increasing discontent in the East, not so much toward the increasing rise in taxes, but the fact that Parliament was making these decisions without any input from the colonies, slowly made its way west to the frontier. Once again the Mallory/Clarke clan would be embroiled in another conflict.

Another facet of my saga is that the main characters are not always together in the same place or even the same event. In Paths my characters are spread out; some have gone East, some have gone West, some are sticking close to Mallory Town, so in effect there are three stories being told, and that means more plots, subplots, twists and surprises.

One of the aspects of the lead up to The Revolutionary War was the attempt by the British to ensure cooperation with the Native Americans, especially the Iroquois Confederation. The British had proclaimed that they would keep the colonies from encroaching on tribal lands, a strong inducement indeed. However, some tribes, like The Oneida, had established a good relationship with the colonists. I knew right away when I started book 2 that the relationship between the Mallory’s and the tribes would be part of it. Among the historical Native Americans who take part in Paths are the Shawnee Chiefs; Catecahassa (Black Hoof), Hokoleskwa (Cornstalk), Pucksinwah (father of Tecumseh), and the Mingo leader Soyechtowa (Logan).

I also realized that I needed to get someone to Boston, and the Sons of Liberty. Thomas Clarke, the eighteen year old son of Liza and Henry, was the perfect choice for the assignment (mainly because he was the only child old enough at the time). J Through him we meet the luminaries of the Boston contingent of rebels, Paul Revere, Dr. Joseph Warren, John Hancock, and the firebrand of the bunch, Sam Adams. Plenty of history fodder to be had…British raid in Salem…Tea Party…the famous midnight rides…culminating with the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Oh yes, plenty of opportunities for Thomas.

An untenable situation arises in Mallory Town resulting in Liam and his two companions, Wahta and Mulhern, finding themselves on a journey to the shores of Lake Michigan and beyond. Driven by his restless buffalo spirit, Liam has his share of adventures; encountering a duplicitous British commander, meeting many new native tribes, some friendly, some not so much. A spiritual journey in a land not seen by many white men.

I ended Paths with the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first shots of The Revolutionary War. The flint has been struck; the tinder has taken the spark. Soon the flames of war will engulf the land, and the Mallory clan will feel the heat in the third book, Crucible of Rebellion.

Crucible of Rebellion

The timeline for Crucible is 1775 – 1778. I decided to split the Revolutionary War into two books, mainly because there is so much more action as opposed to The French & Indian War…and because as I was writing, my characters insisted on some scenes I hadn’t previously thought of. Book 4 of the saga is in the planning stages. Tentative title – A Nation Born.

The three Mallory siblings, Daniel, Liza, and Liam play important parts in CoR, but it is their children who begin to make their marks on the saga. Their youngest son, Ethan, and their daughter Abigail, of Daniel and Deborah travel with their parents to Boonesborough, and reside there with Daniel Boone. The war reaches even this remote frontier, prompting Daniel and Deborah to move further west in search of peace. However, the banks of The Wabash River prove not to be immune to conflict.

Their eldest son, Bo accompanies Liam’s twins, Jack and Cal, first to Fort Ticonderoga, then to Boston with a load of cannon for General Washington’s siege of Boston (the Noble Train of Artillery with Colonel/General Henry Knox). In Boston they meet up with Liza and Henry’s son Thomas, who is no longer a prisoner (can’t say more than that) J, Marguerite, and Samuel Webb.

General Washington has plans for the Mallory boys…plans which see some of them in a few of the more important battles of the war… the escape from Long Island, the surprise attack at Trenton, the turning point battles at Saratoga NY, as well as taking part in numerous guerilla type skirmishes.

A long ways away from the conflict Liam, with Wahta, are living with the Crow along the Bighorn River. Liza and Henry made the trip to Boonesborough with Daniel and Deborah, but do not go with them to The Wabash….they have their own adventures.

Although I write fiction tales, the historical aspect of the saga provides the backdrop. History is often overlooked, or is taught with a certain amount of nationalistic pride, whitewashing controversial events, much to the detriment of humankind. So I hope that what I write might help broaden the reader’s horizon a bit, that what they learned in school isn’t necessarily the whole story. Two main historical topics in the story of America that frequent The Mallory Saga are slavery, and the plight of the indigenous people who have lived here since before the founding of Rome; two historical topics that linger still in America’s story. Entertainment and elucidation; lofty goals for a humble scribe telling a tale.

The Humble Scribe

I am a retired (recently) data center professional. Not that I started out thinking I would spend nearly 50 years working in mainframe computer environments. My major interests, scholastically, in high school, and college were history, and anthropology. The Cuban missile crisis, Bay of Pigs, assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, etc., were some of the events that shaped me, forming the basis for my cynical view of government. One of the results of this “hippie attitude” was that I quit school, and my job, taking a year and a half off to travel a bit, and enjoy life. During that period I began composing the odd poem or song lyric, but I knew in my heart, and from experience writing school term papers, final exams, and the like, that I was a prose writer. My favorite fantasy for my future at the time was to become a forest ranger sitting in some fire watch tower writing the great American novel. Life intervened, however, and I put that dream aside to marry, and raise a family, which meant I needed to be employed, thus decades of staring at computer screens ensued. As time went on, I began writing about the golf trips I took with my buddies. At first they were humor laced travelogues, but now they are fictional tales of my friends; the golf becoming a vehicle for creating a story. Then in 2013, I started writing book reviews, and communicating with authors about the process of writing a novel. My dream to write the great American novel returned.

Well I hope I’ve piqued your interest in American historical fiction, and in particular The Mallory Saga. If so moved, the buy links are below. Crucible of Rebellion will be out soon. Follow the progress of The Mallory Saga here:

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