An Excerpt from my WIP _Wolf’s Bane_, third book in my Sons of the Wolf series about the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings.

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The curtain was drawn and he peered into the chamber. A woman, clothed in a plain brown woollen robe sat on a bench, sewing. A white wimple framed what he could see of her face, which was not much, since she was looking downwards watching her needle as it undulated through her embroidery. She did not look up, and it appeared she neither heard nor sensed his presence. The room was dark and gloomy, but she had candles that seemed to allow her enough light with which to see. He watched her for some moments, not knowing how to approach her for he was nervous, and did not know if he could stand to be with her again.

Suddenly, he felt the bile rise in his gullet and felt the urge to run. He had come all this way only because his sister had begged him to go make his peace with her.  On the journey, he’d promised himself that he would not think of peace until he had heard what she had to say – and now, he did not want to hear what she had to say. Nonetheless, he fought the urge to run, because when all was said and done, he needed her to hear what had burned in his heart for so long.

Finally, he coughed to get her attention. Her gaze hovered at his feet before slowly drifting to meet his eyes. He saw the alarm in her face. Felt her fear. It gave him a sense of power.

“Mother…” he said with a faint smile.

She stood up, a jerky motion, and lost her embroidery to the floor. “I prayed that you would come to see me,” she said. And the smile she gave him was genuine, unlike the mocking smile that he had given her.

“And I prayed that I would never see you again… And yet… here I am…” The words slipped off his tongue gently, much more gently than he had intended.

“Aye, here we both are.” She took a step forward holding her arms out to him as if she would embrace him. He hoped that she would not. He could not bear for her to touch him. The thought made him flinch and he stiffened, visibly.

Her smile weakened. “You have grown so tall. Now you are taller than I,” she said. She was nervous, he thought.

As she wittered on, making observations of how well he looked, his eyes swept around the room. He did not know why, but it mattered to him how she was living. Apart from the bed against the back wall, a closed wicker basket, a small table, and the bench on which she sat, the furnishings were sparse. It seemed strange to see her without her beloved wall hangings and those other pretty worldly things that had once given her such pleasure.

She stepped closer to him, and he could see her better. She had changed since he’d last seen her. Her face was less sharp around her cheek bones, and her jaw line sagged slightly. In her once vibrant green eyes, he saw the same haunted look that his father had worn in his; the look of the guilty.

“You must be in need of refreshment, come, I have some ale here. Come sit with me and tell me your news.”

She put a hand under his elbow to guide him into the room, a touch that was light enough to shake off. She ignored the rebuff and picked up her sewing to put it on her bed, then poured the ale into two cups and sat down on her bench with her drink in her hand. She patted the space beside her, and he stared at it, thinking to himself that nothing on this earth would make him sit with her. Instead, he moved into the room, cautiously, and leant against the wall by the door. With one leg bent, and the sole of his shoe supporting him on the plaster behind, he folded his arms and stood, impassive.

“Come, my son, get your ale and come sit with me. I can order some food to be brought… if you are hungry…” Her voice was encouraging and light.

“I don’t want any ale… I don’t want any food…” He gave a slight chuckle. “I don’t know why I came.”

She was looking at him with hurt eyes and he couldn’t stand it. He unfolded his arms, dropped his leg and was about to go through the doorway when she called him, “Tovi. Please don’t go, for the good of us both, please stay.”

He felt his heart leap, though why he did not know. “Why, Mother? What good will that do me?”

She was on her feet, cup still in hand. “Why did you come all this way, if you will not speak with me?”

“I came because Freyda asked me to… I promised her… I would…”

“Then please, do not let your sister down, at least.” Her eyes looked hopeful. “Listen to what I have to say, if nothing else.”

“Listen to you? I did nothing but listen to you all my life – I listened to your lies, I kept your secret from Father, and you made me suffer for it! Yes, Mother, don’t look so surprised. What do you think that day in Winflaed’s bower did to me? I begged you not to send me away!”

“I’m sorry,” she said in a low voice. “I thought it best for you – you were becoming unruly, and –”

“You wanted to punish me for your sin! You wanted me to pay because I knew what you had done!”

“No!”

“Aye, Mother! You knew that I never wanted to go to Waltham, but you made me go anyway.”

“All right,” she started, in a whiny voice. “I wanted to punish you – but it was not for that, it was because you nearly killed your sister.” She began to sob.

He took some steps closer to her. “No, Mother! It wasn’t because of Winflaed, was it?”

“No…Yes! I’m telling the truth.”

“It was because of your Francisc lover, wasn’t it?”

“No!” Tears streamed down her face. She struggled to speak as incoherent mumblings spilled out of her mouth.

He was eye to eye with her now, noses almost touching. “You wanted to punish me, because I knew what you had got up to in your bed those nights when Ranulf came with the Francs, and Father was away.”

“No, never – it was because of Winflaed – she could have died.”

He spoke over her as she said the words, feeling such rage. “It was because you lay with another man. Did you think I would be too young to notice? Too stupid, perhaps? Everyone thought I was stupid back then. All of you did! Father, Wulfric, Wulfwin, Freyda… Poor, stupid, stammering Tovi. Well I’m not stammering anymore, Mother, am I?”

He raised his voice over her cries of protestation. “I hope you enjoyed those nights with your lover…”

“All right! Yes… Yes… Yes – it was because of him, Thierry…” She sunk to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably, mucus mixing with her tears.

Tovi fell silent. A tear ran down his cheek. His heart was doing somersaults, and his stomach rolled as he stared down at her, wretched, like Jezebel pleading for her life. She lifted a shaking hand up to him. He wanted to lift her and calm her, fold her in his arms and tell her that he forgave her. He almost put out his hand to take hers, but was stopped by a voice in his head that told him, she despises you… she is a trickster… she wants you to forgive her, but she will never forgive you… he could not bring himself to touch her.

Instead, he said, “I hope he was worth it, Mother, because your sin has been my cross to bear. Ever since that night, I have been torturing myself that I should have done something to stop you, to save you from being unfaithful.”

“Tovi – I –”

“Oh, spare me your excuses, I don’t want to hear them. I don’t want to even look at you –”

“Forgive me, Tovi, I’m sorry… I – You’re right, I have sinned, and I made you suffer, but I –

“It’s too late, Mother. You had your chance to make amends, just now, but you justified everything you had done to me. I was just a boy! A boy, Mother – trying to help you – and Father -but instead you have thrown everything I ever did to save you back in my face.” As his words became harsher, the worse her distress. It made no difference. She had not cared how he’d felt… ever. So why should he care about her pain. “I’m going now, Mother. And I am not coming back. I don’t want to see you again – Ever!”

He turned and went through the to the hearth-room. Some of the nuns he’d encountered earlier came hurrying in, coming to her aid. He ignored their reproving looks and walked past them, listening to the hysterical cries of his mother and the nun’s soft voices as they tried to soothe her. As he walked from the guest apartments and out into the courtyard, he could still hear her cries. It was then that the floodgates opened and his tears burst from them. Tears for his younger self, penned up inside him until the moment when he could at last let them go. With them, went the burden of carrying the sins of his parents and a great weight was lifted from him. And the one thing he would remember the most from that day, was that all through his tirade and haranguing, he never once stammered.

Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry – Introductory Part One

Ælfgifu, or as it was sometimes spelt, Alfgyva, or even Ælfgyva as it is on the Bayeux Tapestry, must have been a popular name and one of some significance, for when Emma of Normandy was espoused to Aethelred, the witan insisted that she be called Ælfgifu, which incidentally had been the name of a couple of Æthelred’s previous partners, though none of those women had been given the title of queen, unlike Emma. Perhaps they had been so used to referring to their king’s women by the same name they thought it more expedient to refer to Emma as Ælfgifu too, lest they forget themselves and mistakenly call Emma by the wrong name. I say this tongue in cheek, but it is unclear as to why the name Emma was objectionable to them, after all, it was not unlike the English,  Ymma. But changing a queen’s name is not an unheard-of phenomenon; later Queen Edith, great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, changed her Saxon name and  to become Queen Mathilda when she wed Henry the first. Ælfgifu, or as it was sometimes spelled, Ælfgyva, must have been a popular name and one of some significance, for when Emma of Normandy was espoused to Æthelred, the witan insisted that she be called Ælfgifu, which incidentally had been the name of a couple of Æthelred’s previous consorts, though none of those women had been given the title of queen, unlike Emma. Perhaps they had been so used to referring to their king’s women by the same name they thought it more expedient to refer to Emma as Aelfgifu too, lest they forget themselves and mistakenly call her  Ælfgifu anyway.   I say this tongue in cheek, but it is unclear as to why the name Emma was objectionable to them, after all, it was not unlike the English version of Ymma. But changing a queen’s name is not an unheard of phenomenon; later Queen Edith, great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, changed her Saxon name to become Queen Mathilda when she wed Henry the first. This might have been a choice she had made, wanting to please her new subjects. The nobles were made up of mostly Normans who  liked to make fun of the English language and names, so it might have not been her choice but one that was coerced from her.

There were so many Ælfgyvas/ Ælfgifus amongst the women of the 11thc that it must have become quite confusing at times. Even Cnut’s consort before Emma, was called Ælfgifu, mother of Cnut’s sons Harold and Sweyn. She was known as Ælfgifu of Northampton, the woman whose father had been killed during Æthelred’s reign. So one can see that if anyone called Emma, Ælfgifu, by mistake, it would not have mattered as they could be referring to either of them! Even Cnut would not have been caught out by this one.
There was a story about Cnut’s Ælfgifu,  that she had been unable to produce her own off-spring and  involved a monk to help her pass off a serving maid’s illigitemate babies as her sons by Cnut. In another version, it was said that the monk himself had fathered them.  Were they a monk’s children fathered on a serving maid so that Ælfgifu could present them as hers and Cnut’s? Or, were they lovers themselves, the monk and Ælfgifu? These are questions that, after reading the evidence, I am pondering upon. However, Emma, it is said, hated Ælfgifu and the two women were at odds with each other for many years until Ælfgifu died. It would not be implausible that these tales, rumours, chinese whispers, if you may, were put about by the Queen to destroy her rival’s reputation.

Which leads me now to the mystery of Aelfgyva on the Bayeux tapestry. Ælfgyva is the same name as Aeflgifu, just a different spelling, much like Edith and Eadgyth. For centuries people must have pondered over this scene, where a slim figure, clad in what would appear to be the clothing of a well-bred woman, stands in a door way, her hands are palm upwards as if she could be explaining something to a monk, apparently behind a doorway.  He is reaching out to touch the side of her face whilst his other hand rests on his hip in a stance of dominance and he looks as if he might be touching her face in a fatherly way, perhaps admonishing her for some misdeed, or perhaps he is slapping her?  On the other hand he could be caressing her face. The text sewn into the tapestry merely states ‘where a priest and Ælfgyva…’ and the onlooker is left with no more than this to dwell on. So just what is the author alluding to? Why did he/she not finish the sentence? Perhaps they were referring to a well known scandal of the time and they had no reason to describe the events in detail, because everyone would have known about it anyway. Who knows what the truth is? It seems the answer to the question of the lady’s identity and the relevance the scene has to the story of Harold Godwinsons downfall, died with the creators of the tapestry long ago. Those who presented it to the owner must have given a satisfactory explanation to him about the scene. One can only wonder as to what it might have been and was it a truthful explanation, or did it have a hidden story?
This brings me to my burning question. Was this scene depicting the scandal of Aelfgifu of Northampton and the monk and if so why and what did it have to do with the tapestry? What was its creator  alluding to? Or had someone woven them into the tapestry, mistakenly confusing Cnut’s Aelfgifu/Aelfgyva with a similar story that did have some legitimacy with the story of the conquest? I have an interpretation, but it is just that, and most likely the fanciful ramblings of my imagination, although it could perhaps be close. I will attempt to explain my idea further sometime in part two soon. Watch this space as the mystery unfolds!

This blog post can also be read here: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2017/11/lfgyva-mystery-woman-of-bayeux-tapestry.html