Re-united, they set out on an epic voyage to discover the final truth about his father.
The journey takes them far to the north, to Orkney, swathed in the mists of treachery, and to Dublin’s slave markets where Byrhtnoth faces a fateful decision.
How far will he go, to save those he cares for?
The Orkney Inspiration
I was inspired to include Orkney in my book after a holiday I spent there a few years ago. It was a coach tour and it gave me the chance to visit some of the archaeological sites. I have always been interested in ancient history and have dragged the family around more stone circles than is healthy. Because of the lack of trees on Orkney (and Shetland) houses and tombs were built of stone and the relative sparse population has meant that evidence survives of the early habitants that is found nowhere else. Visiting Skara Brae and seeing the houses, hidden beneath the sand for so long, complete with furniture, quern stones etc is something that I will never forget.
In the Byrhtnoth Chronicles, I have given one of the characters, Byrhtnoth’s best friend, Wulfstan, an insatiable curiosity about many things, especially what has happened in the distant past. In book two, Bright Axe, he is nearly killed when digging into one of the smaller mounds at Sutton Hoo.
This extract from Bright Helm comes soon after they have arrived in Orkney after receiving information that Byrhtnoth’s missing father might be imprisoned there. Of course, the first thing Wulfstan does is go off looking for “stones”.
Back at the hall, Wulfstan and Aelf had arrived. Aelf slipped from her pony with a bored expression and headed away with a stiff gait. I took her horse and followed Wulfstan to the stable. I handed it to a boy, but Wulfstan insisted on dealing with his mount himself. I leaned on the fence and watched him.
“Did you have a good day?”
“Very interesting. I didn’t need to dig the mound,” he said with a grin, “It had an entrance, a bit low but you could crawl inside. All made of stone, a tall round ceiling and several separate rooms, for the bones, I suppose.”
“No treasure, then,” I replied.
“All long gone. From outside it is just a grassy hill. I saw circles of stones in the distance, not far away, some very tall and narrow, and there are more in a large circle across a causeway, not as elaborate as the circle near Sarum. I didn’t get a chance to get closer; the guide insisted we return. It makes you think. Did a king once rule all this land from the south of England to these northern isles?”
“All very interesting, but,” I glanced around and lowered my voice, “any clues to the man we are looking for? Petroc suspects there is a connection with that island with the twin peaks.”
“Now, that is interesting. There were other stones, not far from the mound, dotted across the fields. If you look carefully, some line up with the entrance to the mound, and where do you suppose they point?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure you are going to tell me.” I was beginning to understand Aelf’s rapid exit.
“Straight towards that gap between the two hills,” he said in triumph.
“And how does that help? I doubt men hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, carefully positioned stones to point out the place where my father is hidden.”
“Of course not, but if you need an excuse to go there, I can express an interest in the place, nothing to do with your quest.”
“That might work.” I would think about it. “We’ll speak later. You’d better follow Aelf and cheer her up, she didn’t look too happy.”
“I will. She wanted to tell me something, but I was too busy. See you at the feast.”
Meet Christine Hancock
Christine Hancock was born in Essex and moved to Rugby, Warwickshire when she married. She a husband, two sons and two lovely grandchildren.
She is a long term family historian, leader of the local history group and town guide. Christine had never thought of becoming an author – She just wanted to write about some her ancestors. In 2013 she joined a writing class. The class turned out to be about writing fiction. Before she knew it, she was writing a novel.
Byrhtnoth was a real warrior who died in the 991 Battle of Maldon, made famous by the Anglo-Saxon poem of that name. Growing up in Essex, Christine visited Maldon often, and attended the 1000 year anniversary of the battle in 1991. She wanted to find out what made Byrhtnoth such a famous warrior.
She finished the book but discovered it had become a series – how long, she has yet to find out.