This is the calm before the storm and the perfect place to start setting out the positions of the main players. I begin with the arrival in York of Coenred’s brother huscarls, in particular Sigbert and Hereric. The opening scene introduces all of the warriors, Thrydwulf is a peasant who has made good through his martial prowess. Aethelmaer, Hengist, and Alfrid are younger men, the sons of lords, but true huscarls all the same. I enjoyed writing the banter between the elder and younger men, which continues into the following novels.
The slow walk through Saxon York allowed me to describe in some greater details the world and the life of these people as it was in 1066. The city was vibrant, a hub of trade and commerce, politics, and religion. York was an Anglo-Saxon city from 410 to 1066, with a brief intermission of Viking domination from 866 to 954, however, visitors today will probably come away thinking that the Norsemen were always resident. The modern city focuses far more on the 88 years of the Vikings than the considerably longer Saxon history.
Unlike Coenred, both Sigbert and Hereric have families. Sigbert is properly married and his wife, Hilda, is something of a business woman. Hereric and Eadgyd are married by common-law only, but there is little difference in their status. Society was much more relaxed about such matters then, although the church was making a determined effort to get the aristocracy at least to participate in marriage as a religious ceremony.
Coenred is not present to greet his brother warriors because he is busy receiving their lords, the brothers Eorl Edwin of Mercia and Eorl Morcar of Northumbria. When I was writing Coenred’s backstory I thought it would add tension to his relationship with Edwin and Morcar if their father, Eorl Aelfgar, asked his huscarl to act as a mentor to his two young sons. In Saxon England a boy became a man at age 15. By 1066 Edwin had been an eorl for four years and Morcar for only one. They are still young men but their station is higher than that of a huscarl and they are beginning to resent Coenred’s influence over them. This situation is one of the reasons why Coenred is thinking of retiring to his estate and becoming a theign. His lord would remain Morcar, Holderness is in Northumbria, but his service to the eorl would be different than that of a huscarl.
The discussion between Coenred, Edwin, and Morcar contains the seed that will lead to the approaching disaster that is to befall the Anglo-Saxons at Fulford Gate. Both Edwin and Morcar have an abiding jealousy of the success of the Godwins. They have inherited it from their father who was Eorl Godwin’s greatest rival. Harold, once Eorl of Wessex like his father, now the King of England, has made several vain attempts to foster a friendship with the sons of Aelfgar, even marrying their elder sister, Ealdgyth. Unfortunately, for practically everyone, Edwin and Morcar crave glory. They believe a great victory will put them on an equal standing with the Godwins. Older and wiser men can see the folly in their impetuosity.
This chapter closes with the final appearance of the long awaited High-Theign Aethelwine. He might not have been one of the major players but I enjoyed the mutual respect that he and Coenred share as men and warriors. His friendship to Mildryth allows him to deliver some words of wisdom to the bachelor on the subject of women.
Below is a PDF file of the chapter under discussion. Please, click on the link and enjoy.