Thank you for visiting my blog. I am very happy to say that I finally have my author copies of The Forest Dwellers: ISBN:978-10908603-63-0 and it will be available at Amazon and other leading booksellers very soon. It has been a long and painful journey to get this book into print, writing it was the easy bit. As most of you know there has been set back after set back. To celebrate I thought I would hold a little competition with a free signed copy for the lucky winner.
To Enter just leave a comment (you may have to join to comment) on which side you would have fought on at Hastings and why. A friend and I will decide which comment is the most original and announce the winner both here and on Facebook on the 15th November 2011.
The Forest Dwellers is the story of a family who, several years after the conquest, are evicted from their home to make way for King William's hunting ground. Life is hard. The Norman interlopers are hated. When Leo sees a trio of Norman's molesting a forest girl, he stops the attack in teh only he can ...violently. His action triggers a chain of events that will end only with the death of a king.
The Forest Dwellers is a story of oppression, sexual manipulation and vengeance. Here is a little something from the first few pages:
We sank into the undergrowth. Leofric raised his hand and beckoned me forward. Fear scuttled up my neck as the scream ripped the silence again. We waited, listening, the pounding loud beneath my ribs.
Beneath the canopy of the trees I could see nothing. Leo cocked his head to one side, mentally blocking out the sound of the surging river. He ignored the natural noises of the wood and set his sights upon larger prey. The cry came again, echoing and terrible, sending a shrim of fear through my body. This time I recognised the sound as human, and female.
Leofric fitted an arrow into his bow. We trod stealthily forward. A twig snapped beneath my feet. Cursing my clumsiness, we moved on. The path took us downhill, Leo had scented his quarry. I knew we were close.
He drew aside a tangle of undergrowth and we peered into the clearing. We saw three men, strangers. One solidly built, the others his bondsmen. A girl cowered before them. It was her cries that had penetrated the quiet.
They grabbed her and, like an animal in a snare, she writhed in her attackers grip, her limbs pale against the woodland floor. One of them struggled to hold her legs but she broke free. She kicked him, hard, on the mouth. Spitting out a tooth, he put up a hand, bringing it away bloody. His accomplice pinioned her arms above her head. Their leader took the hem of her tunic. We heard it rip and saw it tossed aside. The other man caught and held her again. His superior, dropping his breeches about his knees, prepared to take his pleasure. It was the first time I had seen a naked woman.
The girl thrashed and screamed. I glimpsed a gaping mouth and white-blonde hair. Leo had them marked. A thin sound, swift and true, hushed through the clearing. The un-breeched man clutched his chest and fell to the ground, spouting blood.
They let her loose, backing off, hands raised as she scrambled away. Spreading their arms they asked silently for mercy. Leo drew his bow. One man took his chance and turned to flee. His accomplice fell with Leofric’s arrow through his throat.
Leo stood up, nocked another and moved into the clearing. He released it. It ripped into the back of the fleeing man. I glimpsed the girl crouched in the bushes. Heard her breath rasping. Leo kicked her tunic toward me. ‘Give her the clothes.’
I thrust the garment to her. A hand emerged from the bush. I saw fair hair strewn across a thin, naked shoulder.
A few moments later she stood before us, pulling down her torn garments. She was ready to flee, not trusting us. Her eyes darted from Leo to myself as I absorbed every extraordinary inch of her.
Unlike other forest dwellers, her hair was as white as a gull’s back. And her eyes, that seemed to burn in her narrow face, were as bright as the sky. She was filthy and about fifteen summers, a couple of years older than me, although she seemed more. The shadow of a bruise marred her forehead. Leofric put down his bow. ‘Come, we will lead you home.’
We trailed after Leo, unspeaking. I noticed her placing her grimy feet in the prints left by my brother’s and I did likewise. Half hour or so later we reached the lonely glade where her father lived. Smoke sulked from three cone shaped piles of turf and a few scrawny hens scratched in the dirt before a tumble down shack. Purkiss and his forebears had lived here for generations burning charcoal in the forest. It was an ancient craft and the life a lonely one. They kept to the deep woods, not mixing with the other forest dwellers. Leo jerked his head.
‘Send Purkiss out.’ She ran toward the hovel without saying goodbye. I hoped she would come out again. Leo and I waited until, at last, the door creaked open and a small, twisted man emerged. He nodded, blinking in the sun and grimacing in a horrible approximation of a smile. Leofric spat onto the ground.
‘Tisn’t safe for a girl to be out alone, Purkiss. The wood is full of vermin. In future, keep her close.’
Purkiss nodded and pulled his forelock.
‘Aye, Master Leo, aye, that I will and thank ye sir, thank ye for bringin’ her safe back.’
Without further words, Leo and I trod the forest path homeward.
Ælf’s StoryYtene – 1078
Home’ was a ramshackle holding. In winter the rain seeped through the thatch and quick, brown mice feasted among the floor rushes. In my father’s day we had been prosperous. Not rich but comfortable. He sat on the council and fought for the king. Not the bastard that rules over us now, but King Harold that led us well until he was slain at Senlache Ridge.
My family call me Ælf and at the time my tale began I lived in Ytene with my brothers. My mother had perished giving life to me and I do not remember her. As the last born, I was at the mercy of my brothers’ goodwill. They treated me fairly, teaching me how to hunt and move soundlessly through the wood. They praised me when I excelled and thrashed me when I failed. It was a good system for I learned fast. I could shoot as well as Edric and he was two years my senior. My legs were sturdy and I could run like a hound and creep like mist through the forest.
In the year that I was born our father marched off to fight for King Harold. My brothers say he was a brave fighting man until he returned with the side of his head cleaved open like a turnip. On the day he finally awoke he was not even half a man and for three years they spooned gruel between his lips and cleaned his soiled linen. On the morning they found him stiff in his bed, with his favourite hound asleep across his chest, it was a burden lifted.
Nowadays, life for us is all hardship and even my brothers can barely recall the merriment of the days when my mother was alive. At least they have those golden memories. I only remember harshness, the hunger in my belly and chilblains gnawing my toes.
Life altered for us after the conqueror came, he coveted our forest for himself. He didn’t care that our families had dwelt there since before the Saxons took the land from the Celts. He saw only a place to chase deer and hunt the wild boar. And so, our fences were torn down, leaving our crops unprotected. Our mastiff’s claws and fangs were drawn so that they would not harm the king’s stags. Where once our family had eaten well on small game, hunted in our own copse, we were afterward reduced to poaching on our own land while the king and his countrymen feasted high on the hog in their sumptuous castles.
Even the berries and acorns belonged to the king now and we were forbidden them. Instead we watched them moulder on the bush. We could no longer cut turf or collect wood for our fires. The king cared only for the protection of the venison and vert. Everyone that dwelt within the forest, and without for that matter, hated the Norman invaders. The forest dwellers were miserable…and they were cold. We spat on the name of King William.
After the shooting in the wood we kept our heads low and, when we heard that the Norman’s were questioning the people of Broceste, we took no action. We had to worry for ourselves. The hardship of our neighbours was their own affair. Deep in the forest, we stayed close to our dwelling. Leofric and Guthlac poached our supper while, out on the heath, Edric and Oswulf dug peat for our sulky hearth. We kept the fire small so that the smoke would not betray our crime. I got on with my chores at the holding as if nothing had happened but the thud of Leo’s arrow in Norman flesh remained with me. I prayed that God would understand.
To enter please tell me which side you would have joined at Hastings and why. The most original, well thought out answer will be chosen. You can also join The Forest Dwellers Face Book Page.