Query And First Chapter Of WILFRID
My latest work in progress is now under way. Below is a query and the first chapter, I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is always welcome so please don’t be afraid to leave comments 🙂
It is the Dark Ages and Anglo Saxon England is a dangerous place to live. Within a week of becoming a man, twelve year old Wilfrid witnesses the savage slaying of his father by Kronwearh, a mythical wolf of legend.
Determined to avenge his father’s death he sets off to track and kill the beast himself. Unbeknown to Wilfrid, his best friend, Godric, follows. When Wilfrid finds the beast his friend is slain by Kronwearh and Wilfrid barely escapes with his life. He returns home to find he is ostracized by the members of his village. Causing the death of the Thegn’s son and preventing him from entering Waelheall is an abomination to the people he once called family.
His only chance of redemption lies with a Wicca living in the depths of the forests surrounding his Wessex home. She has the key to defeating Kronwearh. Wilfrid has less than two weeks to kill the beast and return to Woden’s shrine in time for the Blot Monath ceremony or his father and best friend are doomed to spend eternity between worlds.
WILFRID is an Upper MG Medieval Fantasy and is complete at 65,000 words.
Wilfrid paused by the lake, morning mist hovering knee high. He marveled at the clouds of vapor exhaled with each breath in the crisp October air. A wooden bucket dangled from his hand while he watched a flock of geese launch themselves into the sky. They were free to fly away this morning but he could not.
Days of pretending to be a great hunter or leading imaginary armies into battle were a thing of the past. A chill ran through his body that had little to do with the frosty morning. When the sun finally slipped below the western horizon this evening he would, in the eyes of his village, be a man.
The chill turned to ice when the howl of a wolf in the distance pierced the air.
‘Wilfrid! Hurry up!’
Wilfrid’s head jerked round at the shout of alarm from his mother. He dropped to his knees, eyes scanning the line of trees on the opposite bank, and broke the thin covering of ice at the shore’s edge before dipping the bucket into the frigid water. The wolf’s call came from the depths of the forest and, even though there was no immediate threat, he shivered at the sound. They usually stayed far away and only ventured close to the village if prey was scarce but he still couldn’t shake the fear crawling through his body.
He filled the bucket and sprinted back, the frost covered grass crunching beneath his feet. He hurried towards his mother who waved him through the gates to the village of Aelfring. Her rapid arm movements increased his pace.
‘Hurry up, Wilfrid,’ said his mother, eyes fixed onto the tree-line in the distance. ‘Quickly now.’
‘I’m coming as fast as I can, modor.’
Relief swam over him as she ruffled his mop of hazel hair when he handed over the bucket. He sprinted through the closing gates, scattering hens and goats in his hurry to reach the small wooden house located to the right of the village entrance. The thatch looked tired and the gaps in the walls needed repairing, but it was home and he loved it. He dove through the low entrance and ran round the fire pit to his sleeping area where a bright red tunic lay on the fur blanket. His heart swelled with pride as he ran his hand over the wooly surface. His first ever brand new item of clothing. Wilfrid jumped when a pair of strong, calloused, hands grasped his shoulders.
‘I have something else for you, son,’ said his father, wrapping a fur pelt around Wilfrid’s shoulders. ‘I made this cloak for you from a male boar. He fought like Woden himself before I brought him down, so look after it.’ The hands turned Wilfrid round to meet his father’s gaze. ‘And this clasp came from the village blacksmith as a gift. Make sure you thank him properly.’
Wilfrid fingered the bronze disc, inscribed with his name and the name of the smith. Firelight reflected from its surface illuminating the moisture threatening to break free from his eyes. A tunic, cloak and brooch. The value of these items alone must have weighed heavily on his parents. His father may be one of the best hunters in the village but they were not wealthy by any means. His aqua eyes met those of his father. ‘Thank you, faeder. When do we go?’
‘After we’ve eaten. Thegn Aelfric will be presiding over the ceremony today so act like the man you are to become.’
Wilfrid swallowed hard, the head of the village is performing the ritual? I hope I don’t drop the seax, faeder will never forgive me.
‘Will Godric be there too?’ said Wilfrid, trembling at the shock of discovering the role his best friend’s father was to take in the proceedings.
‘Yes, but will remain by Aelfric’s side until the ceremony is over. Now you change your clothes and eat your breakfast, then we can be off.’
When Wilfrid stepped outside, Godric stood waiting. ‘Hi, are you walking up to the shrine with me?’
‘I can’t,’ said Godric, shoulders slumped. ‘I’ve got to go with my faeder. I’ll see you after the ceremony though. I love your new cloak and brooch.’
‘Yours are way better than mine,’ said Wilfrid, looking at his friend’s clothes with a twinge of envy.
‘No they’re not, your faeder always has the best of the pelts when he comes back from a hunt and that boar skin is amazing. Look at the tanning on the back, it’s perfect. It must have taken him months to get that sheen on it.’
Wilfrid flushed with pride at his friend’s compliment. ‘Yeh,’ he said, fingering the cloak. ‘He’s the best hunter and tanner in the village.’
‘Which is why my faeder only ever trades with him,’ said Godric. ‘Look, I’ve got to go, the elders are coming. Good luck and I’ll see you after it’s over.’
‘Yeh, see you later.’
Wilfrid’s eyes followed Godric as his friend joined the Thegn and village elders making their way out through the gates. Godric’s father owned all the land surrounding the village and ensured his son had the best of everything. Wilfrid knew this ceremony would be the best his parents could afford but next year Thegn Aelfric would spare no expense for Godric’s. The longhouse would be filled with nobility and the finest food and drink available. Even though Aelfric had given over his home to Wilfrid’s father for today’s celebration it would be a much quieter affair.
Horns bellowed, dragging Wilfrid back to the present, as the men from the village gathered outside the gates. His father moved up to his side and rested a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder.
Wilfrid strode to the entrance, heart racing. With his father at his side, he passed the long line of men dressed in their finery and took up his position at the head of the procession. Horns sounded one last time and they marched towards Woden’s shrine sat on the top of the hill overlooking the village.
At the boundary to each farm they passed, the procession halted and sounded their horns. The custom alerted the farmers to their presence and indicated they were not thieves. Failure to announce themselves, even on land owned by the Thegn, could result in their death. Most of the farmers they met on the way joined the party. The rite of manhood remained one of the most important milestones in a boy’s life, important enough of an event not to be missed. And as the company of men grew so Wilfrid’s chest swelled with pride.
Even through the chill of the autumn morning Wilfrid perspired, not only because of the fur lining the inside of his heavy cloak, but from nerves. When he awoke in the morning he would be expected to carry out the same duties as his father. If the village came under attack Wilfrid would defend his home from intruders with the rest of the men, not hide in the longhouse with the women and children. Even though a knot of fear settled in his stomach, he lifted his chin and, holding his head high strode up the hill with a confident air.
Wilfrid stood by Woden’s shrine. Below, the valley stretched for miles in the crystal clear air and a weak autumn sun shimmered overhead in the watery blue sky. A reverent silence settled over the group as Thegn Aelfric stepped forward, indicating Wilfrid should do the same. The plinth, made of stone taken from local roman ruins, reached his waist and a bronze image of Woden sat atop. His eyes met those of his village leader whose encouraging smile allowed him to relax enough to loosen the painful tension in his body.
The rest of the men stood directly behind him, as if blocking any chance of escape. Although this ceremony marked a positive milestone in his life, he couldn’t shake the feeling he was being punished in some way. Twelve years old; too short a time to fully enjoy childhood. Godric stood next to Aelfric and winked at Wilfrid, breaking the tension in the air. Wilfrid exhaled the deep breath locked in his chest and smiled back at his friend.
Thegn Aelfric looked up to the sky, lifting a seax –the large single bladed Saxon dagger– high above his head, the sun glinting off the razor sharp blade.
The clatter of weapons, shields and helmets from behind, rang in Wilfrid’s ears, as the men of the village took to their knees, heads bowed.
‘Woden!’ Aelfric’s voice rang clear in the crisp air. ‘Grant your blessings on Wilfrid, son of Osgar, as he receives the seax of manhood. May this blade seek the blood of our enemies and find glory in his hands. May he follow in his father’s footsteps and bring honor to his family and his village. If he falls in battle accept him into Waelheall where he may sit and feast with you and the heroes who have taken their place at your table.’
Wilfrid watched the dagger as Aelfric lowered his arms until the seax sat at eye level.
‘Wilfrid, accept this Seax as a sign that you are now a man. Accept the duties and responsibilities that come with the role of warrior, hunter, provider and protector of your Thegn, village and family.’
The Thegn, with a slight nod, indicated he should take the weapon. Tears sprang into Wilfrid’s eyes as he raised his trembling hands to accept the gift. And as the cold metal touched his fingertips his heart skipped a beat. Aelfric released the seax and it was over.
I’m now a man!
Horns blasts ripped through the air behind him and he almost dropped the dagger with shock. Heavy hands pounded his back in celebration as all around men rose to their feet, pulled out drinking horns and broke into song. Wilfrid couldn’t take his eyes off the gleaming blade as his father attached the scabbard to his belt. The smith who fashioned the brooch had also forged this stunning blade and his name was engraved on the blade along with Wilfrid’s on the other side. Serpents adorned the whole length of the dagger, meticulously etched into the shining metal. A strong arm wrapped around his shoulder breaking the trance and he slipped the dagger into its leather scabbard; the weight of the blade feeling alien against his left hip.
Wilfrid dipped his head through the low doorway to the longhouse and the smell of roasting pork reached his nostrils making his mouth water. It took a few seconds for his eyes to grow accustomed to the gloom of the smoky room as a firm hand guided him through the entrance. Flames spat and sputtered as fat from the suckling pig dripped onto the flames of the fire-pit. A large u-shaped table wrapped around the fire was filled to bursting with fruit, bread, meat and silver banded drinking horns.
He gaped at the shear opulence of Aelfric’s home. Heads of stags, wolves and boars adorned the walls. Huge beams stretched across the room, sat atop thick oak columns draped with banners of the Thegn’s colors. The light from torches barely reached the peak of the high thatched roof where a layer of smoke hung like a low lying cloud. Godric walked by his side across the stone floor, unlike the mud of his home. Although they had been friends all their lives, Wilfrid had never set foot inside Godric’s home and was astounded at the level of comfort. Deer skins on the floor? They would have made cloaks and bedding in his home. Godric continue to guide him to a seat at the top of the table, to Wilfrid’s place as guest of honor. The village men took their seats only once he, his father, Godric and Thegn Aelfric had taken theirs.
Wealhs –slaves– and womenfolk appeared, moving around the table filling drinking horns with mead, wine and ale. Silence fell as his father stood.
‘Men of the village of Aelfring raise your horns and welcome another to our band of warriors. I am proud to present my son, Wilfrid, to you as a man. Wilfrid!’
‘WILFRID!’ thundered the rousing chorus. The volume of the toast filled Wilfrid’s chest with pride.
He took a drink of sweet fragrant mead as his eyes scanned the happy faces singing and laughing around the table. I’m part this group of men now, not just a child under their feet. I belong here. As the mead, ale and wine flowed so did the volume of singing and telling of boastful tales.
Godric had to put his mouth up against Wilfrid’s ear to be heard over the noise. ‘I’m to go to my room. My faeder says it’s time for men not for children. Will I see you tomorrow?’
‘If I am allowed,’ said Wilfrid. ‘I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do yet.’
Godric nodded and a sense of loss filled Wilfrid as he watched his friend turn away, head low, and head for his sleeping quarters. Wilfrid didn’t know how much time he would have for himself, or whether he would be allowed to spend any with Godric after today. The mead made it hard to focus so he leaned back in his chair and drank in the atmosphere around him.
A rhythmic thumping on the table brought Wilfrid to his senses. All eyes turned to the longhouse entrance and a sense of foreboding flowed through him as a figure in dark flowing robes entered. He couldn’t understand why he had such a visceral reaction to this person. He didn’t recognize him, although the men surrounding the table seemed excited to see him.
‘It’s Caedda, the wandering storyteller. Some say he is a sorcerer and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true,’ came the whisper in Wilfrid’s ear. He turned to see the face of his father flushed with excitement. ‘He usually only attends nobles and kings and never needs an invitation. He somehow knows when an important celebration is taking place and just appears. It is strange that he has picked your rite of manhood celebration to attend.’
Wilfrid’s eyes scanned his father’s frowning face, but the rhythmic thumping on the tables drew his attention back to the figure who had reached the foot of the table. A wealh ran forward and handed the storyteller a horn filled with wine and an expectant silence fell over the hall. Caedda took a long pull from the horn, wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his robes and scanned the room. Wilfrid’s heart raced as the storyteller’s piercing eyes made contact with his. He swallowed hard and relief swam over him when Caedda turned away, breaking the spell.
Wilfrid watched, transfixed, as the storyteller raised his arms above his head. An indication the story was to begin. He noticed every eye in the hall focused firmly on Caedda. The only sounds came from the crackling fire and sputtering torches and the whole room held its breath, waiting.
‘Woden!’ cried Caedda, lowering his arms.
‘Woden, from whom all men are descended, sits on his high throne. His two dark wolves, Geri and Freki, at his side. Most of you believe this is so, but there were four. Shrowearh, a beautiful white female, once Woden’s favorite sat where Freki now resides.
‘Kronwearh, a truly massive beast desired Shrowearh’s position at Woden’s side. But our faeder spurned this huge wolf, sensing greed and avarice. Geri and Freki also ignored their brother and pushed him further and further away from their circle. This enraged Kronwearh to the point of madness and he constantly snapped and snarled at his siblings, attempting to secure a place at Woden’s side.
‘With promises of peace and of a truce the treacherous Kronwearh lured Shrowearh away from Woden’s side and slew her. In his madness he had convinced himself he could return to our god’s side and take up the position he so dearly desired.
‘But Woden saw the savage butchering of his favorite and, in his rage, banished Kronwearh to live on this mortal plane. Not as a true wolf but as an abomination to nature and every living creature around him. He lives here amongst us, shunned and feared by all beasts.
‘Kronwearh’s fury knew no bounds and Woden had miscalculated the level of evil within the wolf the god has cast aside. He haunts forests, moors and mountains, preying on those who worship Woden. Anyone slain by Kronwearh can never reside by Woden’s side in Waelheall and are trapped between our world and the kingdom of the fallen.
‘This is Kronwearh’s curse on all who follow our faeder and god, Woden. Death inflicted by this wolf will lead to certain damnation.
‘ There is a rumor that one hero stood toe to toe with Kronwearh, inflicting grievous harm to the wolf, and survived. This is just a just rumor, but where there is a rumor there is also a spark of truth no matter how small.’
Caedda’s eyes slowly surveyed the room and Wilfrid thought he caught a barely audible sharp intake of breath as they settled on his father for an instance, but dismissed it as Caedda’s eyes continued on.
‘If Thunor, the god of thunder visits you on your travels then find shelter because legend says that Kronwearh rides alongside his chariot.’
Wilfrid exhaled the breath he had held throughout the whole of the tale and he heard many around him do the same as Caedda took a large pull from his horn, signaling the end. A huge cheer suddenly rang out from the crowd breaking the spell and the men returned to their raucous songs and feasting.
Rather than relieve Wilfrid’s feeling of foreboding, the tale only increased his sense that danger was close at hand and when Caedda’s eyes, pointedly, fell on Wilfrid a lump of ice settled in the pit of his stomach.