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One of the secrets of the Vikings’ success was the speed at which they moved. Their longships were probably the fastest things on earth over long distances and they could land and witthdraw their raiding bands far more quickly than their more settled adversaries could mount defences against them.
When the Great Heathen Army landed in England they decided to combine the speed and flexibilty of their ships with the ability to move fast across land. Within a year they had demanded a vast tribute of horses from the kingdom of East Anglia and proceeded to journey across the country to attack every English kingdom.
Within ten years they had conquered Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia. Their only remaining foe was Wessex. King Alfred has his back to the wall.
The movements of the army at this time were swift and complex as they criss-crossed England in pursuit of treasure and lordship. This map, which you can find on Wikipedia, is the best I’ve yet come across.
I hope you find it as interesting and useful as I did. Just search Wikipedia for the Great Heathen Army to find it.
If you’d like to take a look at Wolves of War, my book about the Viking invasion of England please click, tap or paste here:
My new novel, Wolves of War, will be published next week. It’s set in the time of Alfred the Great but from the point of view of his enemies, the Vikings. Here’s the cover, designed by Jenny Quinlan of Historical Fiction covers and the opening of the book.
Leif worked the bellows furiously and watched the fire blaze stronger with each gush of air. Sparks from the flames leapt into the air, burnt bright for an instant and then died. Sigurd watched the fire intently, and the sword burning within it. Then he lifted the blade and turned it in the light of the forge.
‘It’s the finest sword I’ve ever made,’ he said.
‘Then it’s wasted on that scoundrel, Eohric,’ Leif said. ‘He has an ill-favoured look.’
Sigurd shrugged. ‘Eohric has given two thirds down-payment and that’s enough for me. I don’t care how a man looks as long as he pays.’
‘It is no wonder you don’t care about appearances, brother,’ Leif said. ‘You don’t have to look at yourself as I have to every day.’
Sigurd grunted, his form of laugh.
Ever since they were children, people had commented on how different the brothers looked. If they had received a cup of ale every time they’d heard it they would have spent their days drunk.
Sigurd looked like his father. He was tall, broad-chested, round-faced and had a mass of golden yellow hair. Leif sometimes called him ox. He did not mind. He admired oxen for their stolid strength. He admired them for their endurance.
He followed his father’s trade as well. But where Orm had been an accomplished smith, his son was more. Sigurd could work metal like a baker works bread. His swords were masterpieces of death and miracles of beauty. He was sought out by many to make their weapons.
Leif could not have been more different. He took after his mother who was a Moor from Seville. She claimed she was a princess but one of Orm’s friends said she was the daughter of a spice merchant so incompetent he lost his money, his home and his pride and had to sell his only daughter to the Vikings. She was dark as a damson, small and lithe as a cat.
And she could tell tales to keep men enthralled. Leif learned every one of them, then added more from his own imagination. His friends called him a poet, his enemies a liar. He acted as story-teller, a Skald to Klack, the head of the village though, in truth, Klack did nothing worthy of note, the village forever slept like an old dog and all Leif’s tales were woven in his head.
Leif continued to pump, intently watching the flames darken as Sigurd plunged the blade back into the fire.
‘What name does Eohric want for his sword?’ Sigurd asked.
Leif shook his head. ‘I couldn’t find him this morning.’
‘Then find him now. You might as well do something useful. You’re pumping as feebly as a little girl.’
Leif grinned and headed out of the smithy.
He took a deep breath. It was a bright, cold morning but the air was heavy with the promise of spring. Sea birds cried loudly in the sky, vying for territory, boars snuffled amongst the huts, scenting females in heat, young men glanced swiftly at young women, hoping to see some sign of interest in return.
‘Is the sword finished?’ said a voice.
Leif turned towards it.
The stranger did, indeed, have an ill-favoured look. He was a young man, skinny as a ferret and had neither beard nor moustache. His face was narrow as if from a life-time of sneering. Now he stared at Leif with a hungry look.
‘Almost,’ Leif said. ‘We need to know the name you wish to call it.’
Eohric glanced around, as if fearful his words would be overheard. ‘It shall be called Havoc.’
Leif just managed to hide his grin. ‘You choose an awe-inspiring name.’
‘It is not my choice. It is not my sword.’
Leif stared at him intently then shrugged. ‘It matters not. You have paid.’ He paused. ‘The final payment?’
Eohric untied a heavy purse from his belt.
Leif held out his hand and Eohric poured out half a dozen gold coins.
‘Byzants,’ Leif said in surprise. He weighed the coins in his hand. ‘We agreed twenty.’
‘You get the rest when the sword is finished.’
Leif nodded, reluctantly. He decided to ask friends to be close by when the exchange was made, in case Eohric chose to flee with both sword and purse.
‘It is a fine sword,’ he said. ‘The best my brother’s made. The weapon of a mighty warrior. I have to say that you do not look such a man.’
‘The sword is not for me,’ Eohric said. ‘I was commanded to come here to see it made. By a very mighty warrior.’
‘Who is he?’ Leif asked, intrigued. ‘Who will wield the sword? I must know this for the naming.’
Eohric shook his head. ‘I cannot tell you.’ He crossed his arms in a belligerent manner.
Leif sighed. ‘As you wish. Though this will not help in the naming.’
He returned to the darkness of the smithy. Sigurd was pumping at the bellows, more strongly than Leif could ever hope to do.
‘Well?’ he asked. ‘What’s it to be called?’
Sigurd whistled. ‘Eohric must think himself a famous warrior.’
‘It’s not Eohric’s sword. He wouldn’t tell me who will own it.’
Sigurd picked up his hammer. ‘A shame. Do what you can.’
He pulled out the sword and began to beat upon the glowing metal, sharp blows running up and down the blade to give it the final tempering.
Leif watched for a little while, taking the rhythm of Sigurd’s blows into himself, watching the sparks fly and die in the darkness.
And then he began to chant. ‘All-Father Odin, you have given my brother Sigurd the power and skill to make mighty weapons. You have loaned him the strength of your son Thor to hammer out the steel and make it strong. Lend now the fierce valour of the war god, Tyr, that the sword may deal terror to the enemies of its lord.’
He fell silent, watching Sigurd beat the metal with ever more careful blows.
‘All-Father Odin,’ he continued. ‘This weapon will be named Havoc and shall, if you will it, unleash havoc upon its adversaries. The wielder of the blade, whose name we don’t unfortunately know…’
Sigurd glanced at him in surprise, pausing for an instant before continuing with his hammering.
‘The wielder of this blade,’ Leif continued, ‘whose name is unknown to us but known, of course, to you, All-Father, this warrior will cleave to this sword as a brother and the sword will cleave unto him likewise. And so it will prove a stupendous sword, a blade of rumour and of legend. A blade worthy of Odin, Thor and Tyr.’
Sigurd gave the sword three final taps, gentle now, to seal the words of the spell within its heart. Then he plunged the blade into the water-trough.
The water crackled like a sea struck by lightning and steam surged up, a fierce mist which dimmed their sight.
But as Leif watched he thought he saw a shape within the mist. His heart almost failed him. He knew it to be the god Loki, lord of cunning and mischief. But a moment later Loki veiled himself as if he had not been.
‘It is done,’ Sigurd said.
He held the sword in front of him, eyeing it carefully. It was long, beautifully tapered, and the delicate tracery which ran down the blade glittered from the fusion of fire and steel.
‘What do you think of it?’ Sigurd asked.
Leif shook the image of the falsest god from his mind and bent closer to examine the sword. ‘I’m glad it doesn’t belong to Eohric,’ he said. ‘The man’s not worthy of it.’
‘But he’s paid for it,’ Sigurd said. ‘So let’s give it to him.’
He held the sword carefully as he walked towards the entrance of his forge, as if it were a new born child.
Eohric took a step towards them. ‘I cannot take it from you,’ he said. ‘You must give it to the man who will wield it.’
‘Then where is he?’ Leif asked, irritably. ‘My brother cannot hold it all day. Who is this mysterious man?’
‘The man who commands those ships,’ Eohric said, pointing towards the sea.
Leif gasped. A vast fleet of ships was heading towards the shore. They filled the sea, like a huge flock of seabirds, three score or more.
I’m delighted to feature Alison Morton in my series ‘Where I Write.’ Alison has proved a very helpful friend to me and is a great source of help and inspiration. So, without further ado, it’s over to her.
Artists traditionally write in a garret preferably in Paris, but I write in a basement in the middle of rural France.
Actually, it’s a sous-sol, a half-basement common in French houses until the late 1980s.The house part is a three-bedroom single storey building of 110 square metres but underneath lies treasure: another 110 square metres of precious garage, utility area, garden shed equivalent, boiler, massive storage area, husband’s ‘radio shack’ (Don’t ask!), downstairs loo and wine cellar. But the jewel in this crown is our 3.6 x 3.6 metre office.
Shortly after emigrating to France, we converted a chunk of the sous-sol into a work space that wouldn’t be out of place in any UK office. I already had two full workstations, wall cupboards, filing cabinets, book shelves, computers, printers and office paraphernalia from the UK where I had run my own translation business. The builder built the office around the size of the desks. The final addition was a large Parker Knoll sofa bed: we had nowhere else to put it but it makes a perfect writer’s sofa!
Whether it’s aging/decrepitude, I have a chronic back problem (Don’t let’s go there.), so my ever-resourceful husband, Steve, fortified by his ‘O’ level Woodwork, converted a redundant bedside table into a standing desk unit for my Mac. It can be lifted off easily: no desk was harmed in the making of this unit.
When I can sit down to work, I tap away on my faithful MacBookAir on the proper desk and the whole thing is linked through the cloud-thingy. I don’t ask – Steve was an IT and radio engineer in his Real Life, so I’m pathetic and leave all the technical stuff to him. I’m an artist, darling.
But I’m a simple artist. I used boring old Word. I started computing in DOS over twenty-five years ago and drove programmes like Wordstar, SuperCalc and Dbase on commands only. When Windows came along, WordPerfect gave Word a run for its money, but sadly WP has gone the way of Betamax.
Pixelmator and PowerPoint are my standard programs for fiddling about with photos and the standard Office programmes like the Excel spreadsheet keep track of character ages, features/characteristics, sales stats and accounts. Some of my research is paper-based, i.e. a library of books, but most of it is digitally stored or linked. I use Protopage to keep all my links neatly arranged so I don’t get my Roman gladius dimensions mixed up with the fifth floor in Macy’s department store (You’ll have to read INCEPTIO to see why I needed both of those in the same book.)
You asked me about planning, Martin, and said we weren’t talking house extensions. My book ideas start with a character, then expands to those around her. I give her some background, including the reason why she is like she is, then I throw a big problem at her and see how she reacts. This ‘mulling’ phase can last a few days or weeks or even years. After all, the Roma Nova idea took several decades to burst out of my head. But I was living my Real Life over that time with zero ambition to become a novelist.
These days, mulling time is shorter so I sit down and write (theoretically) 30 lines of plot notes; the inciting incident, three crisis points, the Black Moment, the climax and resolution. My books are thrillers and this is the classic structure that readers expect. It shouldn’t be formulaic, but this process gives my writing a structure. That’s the 15% of plotting. After that, I fly off into the void by the seat of my pants.
Turning to the production path, what happens when the first draft is finished? Well, I resort to two non hitech solutions: the one-and a-half spaced printout and the red pen. I use a process I evolved in my early writing days and it catches all sorts of little horrors. But you’d expect that from self-editing a first draft. The next stage is to read the amended draft on my Kindle as a complete book to check whether the story has legs and/or if there are any gaping plot holes. Then it’s off to my critique partner for her thoughts. If I say she has the eyes and instincts of a velociraptor combined with an unfailingly polite way of expressing herself, you can guess how cathartic a process it is. But this is where you need brutal literary love from somebody you trust.
Next, I send full-length books (100,000 words) to a structural editor, then after the inevitable revisions, the final version will go to the copy editor to be tidied up and given a final polish. Then, and only then, does it go off to be made into a book.
Until recently I used an outside company to produce my books and have been very grateful for their expert introduction to independent publishing. But now I’m off on my solo flight path with my own imprint, Pulcheria Press. Recently, I’ve discovered the delights of Vellum, very user-friendly software which formats and prepares files ready for uploading to eBook retailers and print book producers and distributors. My first ‘experiment’ has been on my new novella, CARINA, eBook release date 23 November. So far, so super-smooth
The middle of nowhere in the Poitou-Charentes where I live has some lovely undulating scenery, mostly caused by the River Thouet and I take time out most days to walk by it and gather an impressive collection of insect bites.
Apart from that, some garden pottering, the occasional sortie to meet real people for lunch and the need to sleep, I am lured to and chained to my writing desk for most of the day.
Alison Morton bio (CARINA)
Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.
All six Roma Nova full-length novels have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.
Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.
Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton
Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon
Buying links for CARINA
Carina Mitela is still a young inexperienced officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces. Disgraced and smarting from a period in the cells for a disciplinary offence, she is sent out of everybody’s way on a seemingly straightforward mission overseas.
All she and her comrade-in-arms, Flavius, have to do is bring back a traitor from the Republic of Quebec. Under no circumstances will she risk entering the Eastern United States where she is still wanted under her old name Karen Brown. But when she and Flavius discover a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Roma Nova, what price is personal danger against fulfilling the mission?