BY: RICHARD EDDE
The year is 1059, and Norse marauders raid and plunder Geffrey’s small Normandie village of Lochwald. Standing in the midst of burning rubble, he finds his father murdered, his mother and fiancé nowhere to be found. Geffrey is taken prisoner to slave away in the iron mines in distant Saxony. After he saves the lives of men trapped in an underground cave-in, Geffrey is promoted to work in the forges, making and fabricating steel weapons to be used by the Norsemen. With the aid of several friends, Geffrey escapes the mines and returns to his village where he rebuilds the family home. When soldiers of Duke William of Normandie come through the village recruiting men for the duke’s army, Geffrey and his friends join and are caught up in the duke’s plan to conquer and become King of England…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Hastings by Richard Edde, Geffrey is a citizen of Normandie who is captured by the Norsemen when his village is pillaged and burned. Just a young man at the time, he sees his father murdered. His mother and fiancée disappear, and he has no idea whether they are alive or dead. He is taken as a slave to work in the mines for the Norsemen, but he and three friends escape, only to be caught up in William the Conqueror’s quest to claim the English throne.
Set in 1059, the story has a ring of truth hard to find in historical fiction. Well written, fast paced, and full of surprises, I found it hard to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Hastings by Richard Edde is the story of a young man who is a teenager in 1059 in Normandie, when the Norsemen invade and ravage his village. Geffrey’s father is murdered, his mother and girlfriend are missing, and he is taken prisoner and sold as a slave to work in the mines for the Norsemen. After some time in the mines, the overseer discovers that he was a blacksmith’s apprentice, and Geffrey is promoted to work in the forge. From there, he and three friends escape and return to Normandie, building a new home on the ruins of his old one which was destroyed when the village was burned. When William, the Duke of Normandie, gathers an army, Geffrey and two of his friends join the duke in his campaign to win the English crown. Seeking adventure and a better life, they find a lot more than they bargained for…
Edde really did his homework on this one, giving it a rare authenticity. Along with marvelous character development, an intriguing and solid plot, and plenty of surprises, Hastings is one that historical fiction fans should love.
Lochwald, Normandie, 1059 AD:
They appeared out of the east riding powerful destriers, the animals snorting and charging, their hooves thundering against the earth throwing clods of soil high into the air. Silhouetted against the rising sun, the raiders’ features were obscured by shadows and steel helmets.
A shout rang out in the tiny hamlet of Lochwald, the villagers scurrying through the early dawn mist in advance of the oncoming marauders. The men, on their way to nearby fields, hurried home to protect their families and property while women boarded up windows and locked their doors. The village was in a panic.
The warhorses were large powerful animals and carried their riders easily at a gallop. As the marauders sped through the village, Geffrey managed a glimpse of them. They wore chain-mail tunics under black cloaks and steel helmets with a guard that extended over their noses. Each rider carried a large shield and spear. Long battle-axes protruded from the leather belts of a few. The rider at the head of the column wore a leather strap over a shoulder with a sword and scabbard affixed to it. From beneath his helmet red eyes glowed as if on fire.
Pulse pounding in his neck, Geffrey stood in the doorway of his father’s blacksmith stable and scanned the main road down through the center of Lochwald. In the distance, he saw that a number of homes were ablaze, the flames and black smoke punching into the pale slate-colored sky. With the initial alarm, his father, Hugo, left his place at the forge and sprinted back home to check on Oriel, his wife. A taste of metal filled Geffrey’s mouth and he ran, following his father, toward home.
As he did so, he passed men and women lying dead in the streets. A few villagers wandered about dazed, as if struck by a club. Blood ran in deep rivulets down the well-trodden main road. While the Norse raiders continued their ransacking of Lochwald amidst the cries and screams of women and children, men on large black mounts touched their torches to each building. Geffrey watched in silent panic the fires spreading from house to house. The east end of the village was an inferno.
Geffrey’s home was located on the far west end of Lochwald, around a hundred meters from the center of town and the blacksmith stable. His lungs burned, screaming for air, during the run toward home. Halfway there, the band of marauding Vikings overtook him, knocked him to the ground. Choking on the dust that swirled around him, Geffrey raised his head long enough to watch them charge past his home and out of the village. Death and destruction in their wake. Amidst the shouts and screams, Geffrey watched as his fellow villagers—people he knew and loved—die by sword and spear. Or trampled. The horses whinnied, the marauders shouted. He didn’t dare move. He lay with his head buried in the dirt, a silent prayer for God to save his family on his cracked lips.
In an instant, the raiders disappeared into the mist-covered forest.
Clambering to his feet, Geffrey continued his run home. He bolted through the front door, found his mother unharmed and their home untouched. Standing in front of the family hearth, his father held her in his arms attempting to console her. She sobbed uncontrollably in Hugo’s chest while his father was at a loss for words. He held her in his massive arms, patted her. His mother’s eyes were red and swollen. Geffrey had never seen her like this.
“Oh Hugo,” she stammered, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Why? Why?”
Geffrey stepped into the small house built of wood and a thatched straw roof. It embarrassed him to see his mother weeping so he turned to leave.
“No need to leave, Geffrey,” Hugo said, his thick powerful arms still caressing Oriel. “We have no secrets in this house. Besides, at sixteen, you are almost a man. It won’t hurt you to see your parents comfort each other.”
“I didn’t mean to intrude,” Geffrey said. “Is mother all right?”
“I am fine, my son,” his mother said, breaking from Hugo and drying her eyes with her apron. The raiders—they are gone?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Geffrey said. “They rode off to the west. Father, why do the Norsemen persecute us so?”
“Because they are infidels, Geffrey.”
“Infidels?” Geffrey had never heard his father use such a word.
“They have strange foreign gods,” Hugo said. “They are not the God of the Roman Christian Church. We believe in the one omnipotent God whose incarnate son was Jesus Christ. And the vicar of the One True Church is our Pope in Rome.”
“They hate us because we worship a different god?” Geffrey had difficulty with his father’s reasoning.
“Yes. They desire to conquer all Normans and make our homeland their own.”
“Why don’t we fight?”
Oriel returned to her hearth, removed two loaves of bread from the smoldering coals, and placed them on the wooden table. She continued to labor in the kitchen as the two men talked.
“Let’s have some of your mother’s fresh bread while we talk,” Hugo said, placing an arm around Geffrey’s shoulder and escorting him to the table. They sat and he watched Hugo cut thick slices of bread and spread them with large dollops of butter. Geffrey listened as he munched the warm dark bread.
Hugo was a short, squat, heavy-set man with dark black hair and gnarled hands and fingers from years of smithing. He possessed deep-set dark eyes. His face softened as he spoke.
“Fight with what, son? We Norman peasants don’t have the necessary weapons to mount a successful campaign against the invaders. Our ruler, Duke William, spends his time trying to consolidate his power so the concerns of mere peasants such as the villagers of Lochwald are as far from his mind as the stars. He has bigger fish to fry.”
“I have heard the man is a bastard,” Geffrey said, a smile forming on his lips at the mention of the word.
“Geffrey!” Oriel scolded. “You know better than to use that word.”
Hugo laughed and nodded. “It’s all right, my wife. The boy is a man, after all.” He winked at Geffrey. “Yes, that is true. William is the illegitimate son of Robert, known as The Devil, who was Duke of Normandie long before you were born, and his mistress Herleve, the daughter of Fullbert, a tanner of Falaise. His enemies call him The Bastard or simply, The Tanner.”
“Have you ever seen him, Father?” Geffrey was delighting in the story.
“Once,” Hugo said. “When you were a small child I travelled to Alençon to purchase some lace for your mother. William was there with his retinue. He was a tall, thickset man with reddish hair, which receded from his forehead. He appeared to be average height. His voice was rasping and guttural. William had that look of possessing considerable leadership skills and courage. I have heard tell that he is devout and inspires loyalty in his followers, but that he is also ruthless and cruel.”
“I would like to meet him one day,” Geffrey said. “I still don’t understand how, just because people have different gods and worship them differently, they have to make war on each other.”
“I’m not sure I can explain it to you, son,” Hugo said. “It is a question best put to our village priest, Father Ives. He would be more likely to have an answer than I.”
“Maybe I will ask him after Sunday Mass,” Geffrey said, gulping down the last of his bread.
“Well, enough of this idle chatter,” Hugo said, rising from the table. He licked the butter from his fingers, ambled to Oriel, and kissed her on the cheek. “Let’s go see if we can help our friends bury their dead.”
With that, Geffrey kissed his mother and followed Hugo out onto the main road where a grisly scene greeted them.
Lochwald was a small hamlet located in the northern duchy of Normandie on the banks of the River Skye. There was a single hard packed dirt road that served as the village’s main thoroughfare with a number of smaller streets splintering off at odd angles from it. A few merchants had their businesses in the center of town—the baker, dressmaker, and apothecary. Besides the merchants, there were the humbler folk, the craftsmen who were the carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, and others. Every trade had its apprentices, boys bound to remain with some craftsman a certain number of years to learn his business. The master fed and clothed the boy, gave him a home, and taught him. When he had finished his apprenticeship, he became a journeyman, or workman. Of course, each boy was eager to become a master, but before he could do this, he needed make a masterpiece—a piece of work excellent enough to be accepted by the gilds found in the larger towns.
Beyond the village proper were forests and fields where, every morning, the public herdsman drove the cows of the townspeople to pasture, bringing them back again at night. There were also gardens and cultivated fields around the town. Lochwald was not a clean village. Rubbish was heaped up in front of the doors, and pigs roamed about the streets at their own will, leaving a unique aroma to the atmosphere. One got used to the odor and no one seemed to mind. Or care.
Life was hard and the work difficult. It followed the seasons—plowing in autumn, sowing in spring, harvesting in August. Work began at dawn, preparing the animals, and it finished at dusk with cleaning them and putting them back into their stalls.
Most medieval homes were cold, damp, and dark. Sometimes it was warmer and lighter outside the home than within its walls. For security purposes, windows, when they were present, were very small openings with wooden shutters that were closed at night or in bad weather. The small size of the windows allowed those inside to see out, but kept outsiders from looking in. They were built using wattle and daub. Wattle and daub was a composite building material used for making walls, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle was daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw. It was sturdier than straw and provided better insulation from the elements. As with earlier straw houses, wattle and daub houses also made use of a timber frame and had thatched roofs.
Inside the home, a third of the area was penned off for the few animals that lived in the hut with the family. A fire burned in a hearth in the center of the hut, so the air was continually smoky. Furniture consisted of a couple of stools, a trunk for bedding, and a few cooking pots. Peasant food was mainly vegetables, plus anything that could be gathered—nuts, berries, nettles. The usual drink was weak, home-brewed ale. Honey provided a sweetener. If he ate bread, the peasant enjoyed black rye bread.
Blood-spattered bodies lined the main street of Lochwald. Geffrey’s neighbors were among those slaughtered by the Norse raiders. An old man sat on his haunches beside the corpse of his wife and babbled an inaudible prayer. People gathered the dead and loaded them into a cart to be taken to the cemetery south of town. Hugo helped load the bodies. Geffrey counted two dozen.
At the far end of town, he noticed the fires, which earlier blazed with an unwieldy ferocity, were now only piles of smoldering embers. The houses that once stood there were now reduced to ashes. A lump formed in Geffrey’s throat as a wave of nausea engulfed him. He felt his knees weaken.
Someone touched his arm and he turned to see Rosalind, the village baker’s daughter, standing beside him. She was a year younger than Geffrey. Petite, with blonde hair that hung in long loose curls, she was thin, almost skinny. Rosalind had green eyes and dark beauty mark on her right cheek. Geffrey thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
“Can you believe this?” she said in a soft voice.
“It’s a nightmare, Roz,” he said. “Look at everyone. They’re terrified. If I only had a sword.”
Rosalind squeezed his arm, her green eyes sparkled.
“I know. Where is your father?”
“He helped some of the men take the dead to the cemetery. I guess there will be burials later. Your family all right?”
“Yes. Father was at the bakery and mother was in her garden. Luckily our home survived.”
A man wearing a blackened tunic approached them. His face was soot-stained and there were tears in his eyes. Geffrey smiled at the village mayor.
“Giroldus,” Geffrey said, taking the man’s extended hand. “How did you manage to survive?”
“The butchers raced right by my house,” he said, out of breath. “Didn’t even give me or my family a second look.”
“You are lucky,” Rosalind said. “Many people were not so lucky.”
“I know, I know,” the mayor said. Turning to Geffrey he said, “Where is your father?”
“I believe he’s in the cemetery, sir. If you need him, you can find him there.”
Giroldus shrugged, wiped his face with a dirty sleeve.
“I need to organize the funerals,” he said. “Today is going to be a long and difficult one. And we’ll need to find places for people to stay until they can rebuild their homes. It’s too much. Too much.”
“I’m sure Father will open our home,” Geffrey said. “It’s small, but we can find the room.”
Rosalind took Geffrey’s hand in hers. “And my father as well,” she said softly.
© 2018 by Ricard Edde