Saturday 4 July 2009

I thought that comments on the latest chapter had the potential to become a spoiler-​​fest, so I wanted to move the discussion over here. I wanted to explain a few things about what I was trying to accomplish and why I made certain choices, because I actually feel a bit guilty about how some of the characters (Alred*cough*) turned out.

Replacing some earlier chapters

This chapter, and the previous two (“Prologue” and “Colburga meets the majesty”) have now effectively replaced “The Story Begins”, which I will soon retire in some manner. So I needed to incorporate any remaining info from that chapter, such as these parts:

But one young lord has refused to accept William as king and has gone wandering, traveling farther and farther from the court into the wild country.  

In the spring, looking down from the hills, he sees a rich and yet barren valley, with ruined huts and an ancient church, as well as the remains of old fortifications.  Farmers from the hill country tell him that this is the land of Lothere, a land under a curse.  A century ago or more, a sudden plague eliminated the entire population in a matter of weeks.

Obviously, down-​​to-​​earth Sigefrith couldn’t relate this part, however:

Some nights odd lights can be seen flickering in the church: proof, they say, that the curse remains even if the air is no longer diseased.

so I will have to work that into one of the other chapters, but otherwise that chapter has reached the end of its usefulness.

I also wanted to replace the blurb about Alred and Matilda from the “The Families” chapter, which for ease of reference I’ll put right here:

Sigefrith met young Sir Alred when they fought side by side on the battlefield, and he came to admire his courage and strength.  But Sigefrith doesn’t know that Sir Alred’s courage was based on honor alone, and in truth he would rather live quietly and obscurely than seek glory on a battlefield or in a court.  However, Alred’s wife, the mesmerizing dark-​​eyed Lady Matilda, a cousin of the old king, was humiliated by the defeat of Harold’s army and furious that she had to live under the new King William.  She leapt at the chance to leave the country and join Sigefrith in Lothere, especially with the title of Duchess.  Duke Alred has a feeling that this King and Earl and Duke nonsense is just a little playacting that will only last until King William gets wind of their experiment.  But he can refuse his wife nothing, and so he put their future in her hands.

I think I covered pretty much everything in that paragraph except the actual history of how Alred and Sigefrith met, but that gets covered in later chapters. (In fact in my first draft I had a bit where Alred reflects about how he had gained his renown by “accidentally” saving Harold’s life, but the chapter is long enough as it is.)

Introducing some information that is needed later

With such a long and unplanned story, there have been plenty of seemingly monumental things that sorta come out of the blue years later. I wanted to ground them in the first chapters.


We know now that Leofric was a huge presence in Sigefrith’s life – and a huge hole once he was gone. Sigefrith used to tag along after him since he was old enough to toddle, and Leof was like the big brother he never had – and after his father died a sort of foster father too. In the beginning I had seen Cenwulf as Sigefrith’s best friend, and perhaps he was, in terms of guys his own age. Leof was really more like family.

But as far as I can remember he was only mentioned one time before he made his appearance – namely in “Prince Colban receives Duke Alred”, when Alred meets baby Cubby for the first time:

Alred whistled.  “That’s a lion cub if I ever saw one!”

“Did you ever see one?” Sigefrith asked.

“Shut up, Sigefrith.”

“What do you plan to name him, Sigefrith?” Alred asked after inspecting the boy.  “How about Leo?  Or Leofric!”

“‘Son of a serpent!’” they growled in unison and laughed, remembering an old, departed friend.

That was in June of 1073, and Leof himself arrived in September of 1074.

Therefore I mentioned Leof several times in this chapter and once obliquely in the last. (“She had not seen Sigefrith so merry since before that fateful battle, and the loss of his lands and his king and his country, and the death of his dearest friend.”)

In this chapter Leof gets an almost monumental stature – on the level of Harold when Alred thinks back on the dead, and enough to make Matilda stop her gabbling and Sigefrith stop his laughing just at the mention of his name. Definitely a person who is present even in his absence.

I suppose I did indulge in a little foreshadowing in the “If Leofric was good for nothing else, which I have not yet determined” remark, since of course it will be Leofric who eventually destroys Matilda – or who will become the instrument by which she destroys herself, I should say.

Alred’s fortune

I don’t remember when I started making reference to Alred’s supposed riches. It has been a cop-​​out for sure… a way for me to retroactively explain just how Sigefrith managed to build so much in so little time with so few men. (Even with all the money in the world, no one can build a castle at the rate Sigefrith can, but that’s the best I can do at this point.)

But you see, it does explain other things as well. In particular, why lowly, non-​​noble Alred ended up Duke and why he has the best land in Lothere. It’s not just because Matilda had a hissy at the idea of Colburga having precedence over her. (Though she would have done that too… she and Colburga never were the best of friends.)

It also explains why he’s the one indulging in fine wine and fancy books, and why his wives and daughters are so well-​​dressed and so bejeweled, and why he’s the only lord who has more than one proper castle on his land (Dunellen and Sceadwung-​​clif in addition to Nothelm Keep).

And since his fortune does sort of seem to be something he doesn’t really boast about, I added the little detail of it being perhaps not entirely lawful, by implying that his grandfathers may have been engaged in the “enterprise” of plundering churches and monasteries.

Sigefrith’s relationship with Denmark

I thought it worth mentioning the fact that Sigefrith is, in some manner of speaking, a Dane, and also that he has “ties” to the King of Denmark. Early on I think I made a point of Sigefrith having less royal blood than Matilda, which is why Matilda is Duchess, but I think Alred’s fortune explains that. If while revising I find any evidence of Sigefrith’s supposed non-​​royalty, I think I’ll take it out. He does milk the “Danish princesses” connection for all it’s worth, but I think it’s worth something.

Matilda has more ancestry from the old-​​old English nobility, though, which probably means something to some people (including Matilda). But Sigefrith definitely believes that the Danish King has a legitimate claim to the English Crown. By 1085 it’s the King of Danes he’s supporting, not Harold’s sons, and certainly not the Aetheling.

Theobald’s family and “the curse”

In the first place I wanted to explain how people who had spent a hundred years too afraid to live in the valley suddenly up and went down just because Sigefrith asked. I do think Sigefrith is charismatic enough that he could encourage a good many people to follow him, but even he might have had a mutiny before now at various difficult times. So I wanted to hint that some people had been itching to go for some time. (We may see that in the other families’ stories too.)

Second, I wanted to set us up for the old Baron’s obsessive insistence that his family absolutely does not rule the valley. (Which I did in this chapter and the last.) This helps explain why Sigefrith was allowed to do what he did in the first place. The Baron doesn’t really care what goes on in the valley, so long as the elves (or whomever) don’t think it was him.

And of course we know how it all plays out later, with the weird events happening the night that the Baron died, when Theobald unwittingly spent a night as Baron inside of the valley, on land he owned.


I had to set up Sigefrith as the sort to fall head-​​over-​​heels in love with the most inappropriate people, after all. ;-) The detail of Leof having been the one to save him from his follies pleased me quite a bit. If only Leof had been there to save him from Maud!

So what’s up with Alred?

Okay. I’m not sure how people are going to take the Alred of this chapter. There is very little to love in him really. At best we can retroactively feel sorry for him, since we know him now. It was hard for me to write. It was not the Sigefrith-​​Alred-​​Matilda joke-​​fest that I had anticipated and taken pictures for. But I decided the Alred I needed to write for this chapter had to be a little craven and quite insecure.

I thought of his stated unwillingness to go to Lothere in the first place, and his long denial of the permanence of their situation (resolved somewhat two years later in “The Duke Makes a Decision” and also at the time of Gwynn’s birth in 1072 in “Alred sees what he should not”).

I thought of his insecurity about his relationship with Matilda and fleshed it out a little into outright jealousy where Sigefrith – obviously her ideal man – was concerned. Remember, their relationship was rocky at times at the beginning – the whole deal with Githa, and Matilda kicking him out of their bed, and their squabbles and making-​​up.

And most importantly I wanted to make an Alred who would go on to be stunned and surprised in the famous scene from “Matilda sends for Alred” in 1074:

“Alred,” she said a few moments later as she relaxed into a dreamy smile, “do you remember all of those poems you wrote for me when you came back from Wales with Sigefrith and Harold and met me for the first time?”

“Do I?  I remember my poetry was what caused you to break your oath never to laugh again!  How dreadful it must have been!”

“Oh, no,” she murmured.  “I was so proud and so flattered, though I could never tell you so.  And I copied them all down into the blank spaces in my old Psalter that I had from my mother — such a naughty girl I was, writing in my books!  But I said to myself: here is my own Song of Songs.  You never knew that, did you?” she smiled.  “I never let you see that book.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps it was wrong.  It must seem as if I didn’t want you to know how I loved you.  Ah, I see I did make you cry, you ass.”

He never knew how much she loved him until then.

I also thought about something Sigefrith said to Lady Eadgith once, when Eadgith had just arrived in 1075, in “Eadgith wants to talk”:

“Alred hasn’t changed, has he?” [Eadgith said.]

“Oh, he has.  In many ways.  He’s a better man than just about anyone I know.  Who would have believed it ten years ago?  But he hasn’t lost his sense of humor, as you have seen.”

Rather enigmatic comment – I scarcely remember why I wrote it – but it proves that at one time Sigefrith didn’t have all-​​that-​​high an opinion of Alred as a man. And that time was now.

I hope the Alred fans forgive me for this chapter. The early years of Alred are rather vague, and to the extent that I intend to flesh them out, I think that we will see a gradual evolution of Alred into the man we love.

And what about Matilda?

:-) What a doofus Alred is – it’s clear she’s quite in love with him and has no particular desire to be with Sigefrith. Who could resist a butt like that, really?

Matilda hasn’t changed much. She stomps and swears like a soldier and politicks like a man, but she also gets goofy and giddy and can’t control her tongue. And she’s as much a master of her sexuality as Sigefrith is of his facial expressions.

And what about the title?

I was having a tough time finding a title, so I decided to bring together the “Matilda meets” from the previous chapter’s title (“Colburga meets the majesty”) and the “Sigefrith, you are a fairy tale!” from this chapter.

Alred did say “there was a golden thread of romance running through her”, and we now know that she is secretly enough of a romantic that she fell in love with a poet and his poetry. I like to think that she retained a wee secret delight in fairy tales all the years of her life, and even if no one quite knows where it comes from, it lives on in Gwynn. :-)

Eye candy

Finally, some cute pictures I didn’t get to use:

Matilda and Sigefrith at the door | Matilda in Sigefrith’s arms | Matilda in love | Sigefrith “prancing in here” | Alred and Matilda hatch a wicked plan | Matilda gives Sigefrith a hug | Alred, Matilda, and Sigefrith sing-​​a-​​long (probably a song about asses) | Group hug! (I can’t believe I did that one)