From bestselling author, MJ Porter comes the tale of the mighty pagan king, Penda of Mercia.
Penda, a warrior of immense renown, has much to prove if he is to rule the Mercian kingdom of his dead father and prevent the neighbouring king of Northumbria from claiming it.
Unexpectedly allying with the British kings, Penda races to battle the alliance of the Northumbrian king, unsure if his brother stands with him or against him as they seek battle glory for themselves, and the right to rule gained through bloody conquest.
There will be a victor and a bloody loser, and a king will rise from the ashes of the great and terrible battle of Hædfeld.
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Enjoy an Excerpt – in which the reader first meets Edwin, king of Northumbria at his royal settlement of Ad Gefrin, or Yeavering in Northumbria.
AD630 – Edwin of Northumbria
I’ve rewarded my men handsomely for their overwhelming victory against the foolish Cadwallon last year. Not that it was any great hardship for them. The men of my war band live for war and plunder, jewels and women. I try to prevent their love of the women, but I don’t think they live by my example. Not that I always blame them. But still, when you beat someone into submission, it’s best to make sure they can pay their tribute when it’s next demanded. Angry men make poor adherents. I know that. My men don’t, though.
My hall is a wondrous thing. Yeavering, the farthest north of my royal residences and my favourite. The rawness of its surroundings and its contrariness calls to my nature. When the wind blows hard from the eastern sea or the western mountains, I can imagine the wood of the great hall bowing under the pressure. The shrieks and howls are ungodly. They remind me of my old Gods. The ones I worshipped before being made to turn to this new God.
I don’t much know if I like my new God, but he seems to like me, so my second wife and my priest assure me. There’s no need for me to love him, providing he watches out for me, and he has, for the last three years.
But back to Yeavering, Ad Gefrin, as the locals call it. When the sun shines, when the weather is fair, my palace in Yeavering is far more pleasant but just as contrary. It can go from bright sunshine to heaving rain in the blink of an eye, black clouds rolling in and turning day to night. I wonder if a woman decides upon the weather? It would make sense to me, although not one who follows the new God. No, a woman who follows the spiteful, self-centred ways of the old Gods must decide the weather. I admire her and almost wish I could be as irrational as her, only I’m a king and a Christian king at that. I must be magnanimous.
It annoys me.
My men are feasting well from the tribute gained from the northern lands just this past month. The northern kingdom grows fine cattle that are easy to tempt away from their true masters. The beasts are a little slow and too stupid to realise that the men on horses are not their true masters. I grin at the thought. Cows and Gods. I’m in a strange mood today.
My elder sons have joined me for this feast. Osfrith and Eadfrith are not perhaps as I would want them, but I hope to bend them to my will. They’ll need to be strong men if they’re to hold my kingdom after my death. They’ll need to learn guile and deceit and how to kill men with a stare, not just with a sword or a war axe.
As sons go, they’ve not disappointed me. Yet. I suppose there’s always time. But whilst they have their war-bands to support them and my permission to raid where they want, provided it’s in the north and not south of the mighty Humber River, they’re content. They’re men in need of much more shaping. They need the experience. But they’ve not filled me with enthusiasm for their futures.
My new wife sits with her women. She’s refused to sit beside my other guest, Lord Eowa, a warrior from the south, a bloody-thirsty man and one who fought with me against Cadwallon last year.
He tries to mimic my gracious ways, but he’s little more than a war-chief at heart. He has a small hideage to claim as his own, thanks to his brother and the loyalty of the men and women who live on the land of the Hwiccan kingdom. He’s defended them well in the past. I think that he could be as great a threat as I am one day. That’s why I keep him close and have him as my ally. It’ll be best for my sons and me if Eowa looks on the hegemony of Northumbria favourably. He grows in power enough to leave his kingdom and visit mine. Enough that he eclipses his brother, Penda, the better warrior but not the man who’ll be the king of the Mercian kingdom, with my help.
I have no problem playing this man for a fool if I must, but I’d rather not. I almost like him.
“Fine beef,” he says at my side, and I chuckle at his thoughts that so closely resemble my earlier ones.
“It is, yes. It always tastes better when it doesn’t come from your own herd.”
He grins at that, his face crinkling around his eyes. He might be a younger man than I, but he’s spent so much of his time outside, trying to find his enemy, that he carries lines around his eyes that mark him as far older.
“I agree, My Lord Edwin. Always better. You keep a great hall here, isolated as well, and easy to defend.”
“I’d like to take credit for its placement, but my forebears first built here. The buildings aren’t original because the weather takes its toll on wood and turf, but the site is the home of the royal family of Northumbria.” I don’t acknowledge that I killed the last king of Northumbria, the man who could truly claim that his forebears built this site. There’s no need. Everyone knows about the battle on the banks of the River Idle.
“I wish I had somewhere so magnificent to call my own, but my family isn’t as well established as yours. It’s never likely to be if my brother has his bloody way,” he offers, his tone turning sulky as he speaks.
Ah, Penda. The mighty warrior brother of Eowa. I’ve never met him or seen him, but I’ve heard of him. He stands over six feet tall, and he bristles with weapons. I wish I’d managed to ensnare that brother, but I’ll have to make do with the one I have. Cadwallon, so I hear, has his hooks firmly into Penda. I’ve cursed my luck many times since Eowa told me the news on his arrival, but there’s little I can do now.
There’ll be another battle and soon at that. Provided Cadwallon only has Penda at his back; I’ll be victorious.
He should have been brotherly towards me, but then, perhaps our relationship is the same as other siblings I know. We’re foster brothers, but we hate each other, just as Eowa and Penda do. There’s a certain irony there.
Mothers and fathers should have only one child, never more. It would do away with sibling rivalry and place the dynasty in jeopardy. As a brother, I resent it. As a father, I know the importance of securing a dynasty. Life can be a real bitch.
“I’m sure with time, you’ll be able to settle in one place and build a palace as great as this one.” I soothe the fractious voice of Eowa but store the information away. I like to know how the minds of the men I hope to trust work if only so I can undermine them when the time is right.
His rivalry with his brother could be his undoing.
It might be mine as well.
MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to
Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Being raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/MJ-Porter/e/B006N8K6X4/
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