Today as we look back on the events of the year 1066, author Paula Lofting shares with us an excerpt from her novel Sons of the Wolf, set in the years leading up to the one that would change so much. I first read this novel several years ago and recently re-read and updated my review, which can be found here. I have always seen this particular passage as one of utmost importance, for various reasons having to do with events in the future of Wulfhere, his family and his country.
See following the excerpt how you can claim your chance to win a copy of Paula Lofting’s magnificent story, Sons of the Wolf.
Gunnhild was a good organiser and set about preparing the hall for the feast, delegating the work to the helpers in a precise and orderly manner. Winflaed had to agree that she did this with aplomb, unlike her mother whose anxieties about the outcome sent everyone into a state of confusion. Winflaed observed, with secret admiration, how her aunt seemed to facilitate the task with confidence and without disorder, seeming to know exactly what to do and how to do it.
When it came to the wall hanging, she commandeered some men to help them lift it and hook it onto the iron poles that projected from the walls. As she and Winflaed helped to straighten and buffet the dust off it, she told her about the Wulfcynn, who were the followers of, Aelle, leader of the Súþseaxa. More than five hundred and fifty years ago, they had followed him to these shores across the sea from the continent. Their own chieftain had been a man called Wulfgar, who was the forefather of many of the families that now lived in those parts, hence the name prefix Wulf that had traditionally remained prevalent thereabouts. Winflaed forgot her fear of her aunt and found herself entranced by the story. There was something quite exciting about hearing tales of one’s ancestors.
Once the hanging had been positioned to her aunt’s satisfaction, they stood back from the wall to study it in its entirety. Winflaed marvelled at the magnificence of the work. It stretched along most of one side of the wall. It was a little tattered in places, but nothing that could not be repaired. Winflaed’s eyes rolled over it from one side to another before they alighted on the scenes near the end.
“Look, Aunt Gunnhild, there is a scene here with a bishop and a church … and people instead of the wolves.”
“Aye, it seems that those scenes were added later, to depict the baptism of the wolf people,” Gunnhild informed her, joining her at the end.
“What is this?” Winflaed turned and saw it was her father who had come to admire the new wall hanging. “Have we acquired new décor for the hall?”
“It came from Grandmother’s treasure chest, Father,” Winflaed replied proudly.
“Yes indeed. I am surprised it has not seen the light of day for so long,” Gunnhild agreed haughtily. “Your daughter and I have saved it from your wife’s clutches. She wanted to burn it.”
Wulfhere studied it intently. “I can see why, wolves howling at the moon. Not the sort of thing that should be hanging in a Christian household.” He observed it closer. “I remember this from when I was a small child,” he said animatedly. “It once hung here in the very same place it is hung now. But Grandmother Gerda did not like it. She tried to make it seem more Christian by adding that scene at the end, but she always said it did nothing to dispel the pagan magic from it and brought them nothing but bad fortune whilst it hung there, so she made my father take it down. He did it for her, though, in truth, I believe he loved it.”
“I remember as children your father used to tell us stories of wolves and the coming of the end of days when there would be the Vargold, the Age of the Wolf. How I loved to listen to him,” Gunnhild said. There was a wistful look in her eye and momentarily, Gunnhild was once more that young girl again, recalling happier times from her past.
Wulfhere nodded. “When chaos would come to this earth, and brothers would battle to the very end, and there would be betrayal and confusion in the lands,” he reminisced. He smiled and shook his head. “But we must not talk of such things in these Christian times.”
“’Tis harmless enough. Nobody in their right minds would believe the tales anyway,” Gunnhild said.
Wulfhere cocked an eyebrow and chuckled. “So, our ancestors were mad, is that what you’re implying, Gunnhild?” Then he turned to Winflaed. “What else was in this chest you spoke of, daughter?”
“I’ll show you, Papa.” They left Gunnhild to get on with her work and she took him to where the chest stood. “We had not thought to look for anything else.” Wulfhere studied it and Winflaed could tell he was admiring its beauty.
“Open it, Papa,” she said and he lifted the lid. She reached in and pulled out a small piece of folded linen. It was a much smaller piece than the wall hanging, shaped like that of a standard, the type one took into battle. It was rectangular in shape, with a long body that graded to a tip. The background colour was a shade of amber. At the centre, someone had sewn the emblem, a running wolf, its head shaded with brown and amber threads. Skilful hands had obviously produced it with loving care, but the years had not been kind to it and it was torn, battered and threadbare in places.
“Is it the wolf-king, Papa?” Winflaed questioned admiringly.
“Indeed, I do think it is,” Wulfhere agreed, fingering the broken stitching with a distant look in his eyes. “’Tis your grandfather’s old war banner. He used to ride into battle with it held high, proudly fluttering in the wind above men’s heads.”
He studied it fondly as if he were reminiscing.
“What is it for, Father?” Winflaed asked him softly, sensitive to the poignant look in his eyes.
“It is a war banner, sweeting. Something that a lord takes into battle …” He took a spear down from the wall and hooked the banner onto it, “… and raises it high so that his men will recognise it and rally to him. Just like this,” he said, raising the end of the spear above his head and waving it.
“Does Earl Harold have one?”
“Oh yes, he has the Golden Warrior.”
“And the King?”
He nodded. “The Dragon of Wessex.”
“Who makes it for them?”
“Why, most likely their womenfolk do.”
“Do you have one, Father?”
“Why don’t you use this one?”
“It is in need of repair now.”
Winflaed climbed into his lap as he slunk down onto the floor by the open chest. Around them, Gunnhild and her team of workers carried on with their jobs, whilst father and daughter were oblivious to their clamour. Winflaed held the banner in her lap. “So the Earl has a warrior, the King a dragon. What is so special about a wolf?” she asked curiously, looking up at her father, her eyes round.
“Haven’t you listened to anything your aunt told you about our ancestors being wolves?” Wulfhere said, pretending to rebuke her.
“But that is just legend, is it not, Father?” She looked up at him with her huge, innocent blue eyes.
“Legend? Good heavens, no! All of it is true! Soon you will have your own wolf hair and then you will see.”
“No, Father, I don’t believe you.” She laughed.
“You mean you have not grown your wolf hair yet?” She laughed as he took her arm and pretended to search it for hairs. “See, here look at these. They are starting to grow already!”
Playfully, she retrieved her arm. “No, they are not!” she declared. “You haven’t told me why the wolf is so important.”
“Because, of all the gods’ creatures, the wolf was considered the most fearsome of beasts,” he replied in an ominous tone. “A wolf meant slaughter was afoot, it is an eater of carrion on the battlefield. No matter who won the battle, it was always the wolf who was the true winner. You see, the wolf need not exert himself…for men show their respect by providing him with their enemies, dead, on the field, for them to feast on.”
She looked at him intently. “Such a fearsome creature!” she said with childlike awe. “Is that why men hate him so much?”
Wulfhere shook his head. “No, little Fléogenda. We do not hate the wolf. He is a creature to be feared and respected, but not hated… And they eat little girls just as easily as they would eat warriors on a field of slaughter!” He playfully attacked her, making wolf noises and nibbling at her neck. She squealed, and her girlish laughter rang out across the hall.
Suddenly she leapt into his arms and covered his face with kisses. “Oh, Father, I love you so! Please don’t ever go away and leave us again!” she begged.
“Daughter, what troubles you that you should say such a thing?” He held her back from him and studied her.
“You and Mother … you fight terribly and I fear that it is my fault.” She began to cry.
“’Tis no fault of yours, sweeting.”
“But we brought you the package, Tovi and I.”
“’Tis not your fault. You weren’t to know the mischief that package would bring. Now dry your tears. Tonight we will have fun and there will be storytelling and riddles and –”
“Father?” Wulfhere looked up. It was Tovi. “Mother wishes that you attend to her upstairs.” There was a look of jealousy in Tovi’s eyes.
Her father patted Winflaed’s back and urged her to her feet. “I will go to her,” he said awkwardly, standing up slowly, nodding at his son.
Winflaed watched their interaction. Wulfhere was attempting to make her sullen brother smile, ruffling his hair; but the boy dodged him and slunk away. Their discomfort made her feel anxious, and she felt her heart palpitate.
Her father looked at her knowing eyes and shrugged. “At least you are talking to me, little Fléogenda.” He bent down and kissed her forehead. “I must go to your mother. I have my orders!” He smiled and walked away.
“Father,” Winflaed called after him. He turned to her. “I would like to fix it for you.” She held the ruined banner up. “So you can have a banner to take into battle.”
“I should like that,” he replied.
Author Paula Lofting has so generously offered TWO free Kindle copies of Sons of the Wolf to gift to a couple of lucky readers. Simply comment below, OR at the review (here) OR at our Facebook page (here). I’ll do a drawing for two names and will announce winners on November 19. Good luck!!!
Drawing November 19
About the author …
Paula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.
With the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.
Her debut novel, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.
She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”
Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the sequel to Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner, as well as the upcoming Wolf Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.
Stay tuned for my review of The Wolf Banner!
This post was updated to highlight drawing date