Pagan Warrior: Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.
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.
King Edwin of Northumbria begins to realise he might just have underestimated the force rising against him
AD631 – Edwin of Northumbria
My stronghold at Bebbanburh, or Bamburgh as some call it, is very different to Yeavering. It has its good points and its bad. It’s more compact and far more defensible. At its side, the sea rushes against the cliffs making it feel as though I live on an island. That it’s the stronghold of my predecessor only adds to my enjoyment of it whenever I visit. That it’s the fortress his family take their name from fuels my annoyance and unease.
The family of Bamburgh, all apart from its head, King Æthelfrith, lives and is a constant cross to be borne. I wish I’d killed them all, even my sister, his wife. It would have made my tenure at Bamburgh far more secure. Knowing that I have men who wish to take my place almost the length and breadth of this land makes it difficult to sleep at night. I’ve already endured two attempts on my life. I don’t intend to suffer anymore. I’ve changed my God to prevent another from killing me. It better bloody work. I don’t like bargains where I seem to receive nothing in return.
Gazing from Bamburgh, out to sea, on clear days and on those that are more atmospheric, I can see the islands that harbour more birdlife and sea life than the coast around me. The men and women who fish the waters are filled with tales of wonder and magic about the sights they see. I can well believe every single one of them.
The settlement at Yeavering can be eerie, but its open nature doesn’t lend itself to the same tales. The men and women tell of haunting songs and eerie whispers when the mountains and trees speak to them as they hunt, fish, or farm. The men and women of the sea believe in a God of the sea who sends them good catches and poor as well, depending on how well they’ve prayed to them before they fish. Bishop Paulinus despairs of the stories he hears. But I imagine he’ll somehow turn them to his own good, substitute one God for another. I might be a Christian, but even I understand how the Church twists and manipulates people’s beliefs and would-be-kings.
My wife is pious. I am …. I am opportunistic.
I understand that Bishop Paulinus already eyes the islands off the coast and covets them for his monks to own and farm. He says they like the seclusion; only he calls it aestheticism. That’s a long word for quiet and tranquillity. I wish he spoke with words that all men and women could understand. It might help him convert people from the old faith and towards the new.
I’ve sent my oldest son to ensure the compliance and support of King Cadwallon. I know it’ll annoy Cadwallon, but I don’t much care. I’ve given him two years to come to me and submit, and he’s refused.
In that time, he and Penda, the man Bishop Paulinus sneeringly terms a pagan, have clawed back much of the land I took from him. That I don’t mind much. If he demands the allegiance of those men and women, then he must exact tribute from them in my name, and he must accept my overlordship. There’s no compromise.
On his journey south, my son will visit with more of my allies and my would-be allies. Eowa, Penda’s brother, will be one of those he meets. I can’t say Eowa’s visit at Yeavering was an overwhelming success. Even so, I hope he’ll stand against my enemies whenever they make their intentions clear.
I appreciate that King Cadwallon is planning something; I hope my preemptive strike will force him to decide whether to make himself my irreplaceable enemy or my ally. We were foster brothers once, admittedly, I was the elder, but we could be rulers together.
Whilst my son meets with Lord Eowa and King Cadwallon, I plan on visiting the new king of the East Angles, Sigeberht. I might also travel as far south as Kent to see how Bishop Paulinus fares as he reinforces the claim as the premier religious man on our island. I wish him luck. I’m certainly pleased that, for the time being, I don’t have to listen to his sermonizing and earnest words. I’ve heard it all too many times for them to have any impact on me. Yet I still have to nod my way through them.
Osric has preceded me south. His reports assure me that my allies are firmly with me. I’ll be walking into a congenial atmosphere, not one where I have to barter for their support. I thought changing Gods would give me more freedom, not less.
“My lord?” a voice at my side, and I turn to meet the eyes of one of my noblemen. He’s a good man. Sometimes, he’s a little slow because he thinks with his sword and spear, not his mind. He presides over the far northern borders for me. His presence here is worrying.
“Yes, Ahlred, what can I do for you?”
He looks unhappy, standing before me, obstructing my view of the scenery and generally being a nuisance. I know he has to share something that I don’t want to hear. I wait patiently, listening to the stray sounds of a wave crashing far below me, the noise disjointed with the distance and the direction of the wind. Finally, Ahlred speaks.
“Lord Penda has been to visit with Eanfrith.”
That immediately has my attention. How strange that I was only just thinking of the house of Bamburgh and the old kings of Bernicia.
“When was this?” What I want to know is, did he do so with the support of Cadwallon or is it merely a coincidence?
“Last year,” Ahlred responds quickly.
So it was with the support of King Cadwallon. I doubt my son will gain his allegiance after all. “Penda went himself?” I ask, but Ahlred shrugs and shakes his head. He only has part of the story.
“Find out more. This might be the start of something.”
He bows his way out of my presence as my mood darkens. It’s never done. I thought making myself king would end war and battles, but really, they’ve just changed their name. Before, I was a war leader in a skirmish, and now I’m a king in a battle.
If I weren’t so righteous about my kingship, I might find the whole thing tiring.
A final look out to sea, and I return to my great hall. I have another war to plan, and I want it to be on my terms, not King Cadwallon’s.
I call my son to me, Eadfrith, the one I’ve not sent to meet with Cadwallon. I want him to ride north, treat with the Picts and see if, once and for all, they’ll give up their honoured guest, the man who’s my enemy; my nephew and his children.
I’ll send Eadfrith first, an Eadfrith to bring me back an Eanfrith, and then I’ll dispatch a more considerable force as well, to enforce my son’s claim. I need to start being proactive if I’m to keep my place as over-king of the Saxons. The thought fills me with renewed vigour.
Perhaps, after all, I need constant action. Maybe, after all, I’m not happy unless I have an enemy I need to conquer.
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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/
Narrator, Matt Coles: