From my blog...

Wrexham Carnival of Words

On April 23, 2022 at 5:30 p.m. I will be joining novelist Barbara Erskine for Historical Fiction Night at the Wrexham Carnival of Words in North Wales.

Barbara will be talking abour her latest novel The Dream Weavers, and its unique blend of history and supernatural. Her novel is set along the borders between England and Wales, and moves back and forth between the 8th and 21st centuries. 

I will be talking about Emma of Normandy and the history behind my trilogy. We will both be discussing queens of Anglo-Saxon England.

For more information see the Carnival of Words Website

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The Last Kingdom 5.10: Destiny is All

The final episode of this season takes place at Bebbanburg, where the show and the novels have been leading from the beginning. How that return to Bebbanburg plays out in this series bears little resemblance to what happens in the novel The Flame Bearers on which it is very loosely based. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that Bernard Cornwell must be pleased with this entire series and the direction it’s taken, given that he dedicated his final novel about Uhtred to Alexander Dreymon and the cast and crew of The Last Kingdom.

Now, let’s go to Bebbanburg.

The final scene of TLK Episode 9 left us with Athelstan facing the fortress and waiting for an answer to King Edward’s ultimatum: Give us Aethelhelm and Aelfwynn or we will besiege and kill you all. The response is an arrow bolt that lands a few feet from the aetheling. We take that as a no.

Inside the fortress Wihtgar makes an executive decision about the best way to avoid an attack and in time-honored villainous fashion he drags Aelfwynn to the ramparts where Edward can see her threatened with  a knife and then orders her to be pitched over the palisade. But Uhtred’s been lurking and Wihtgar is not only foiled he’s terrified because now his dang cousin is stalking him within his own walls.

The mood inside the fortress is snarky because Wihtgar hates having to obey the Scots king, and the king and Wihtgar both hate Athelhelm. Well, everybody hates Aethelhelm.

While teams of Edward’s warriors batter the fortress gates Uhtred and his cohorts including, to his surprise, Hild, manage to get Aelfwynn down to the sea gate and out of the fortress. We are reminded along the way that before Hild was a nun she was one of Uhtred’s companions and she was good with a sword. The guard who tries to stop her finds that out the hard way. Meantime Constantin sets a plan in motion that he hopes will lure Edward’s army toward the fortress even as the Scotts are approaching them from behind. Young Uhtred tries desperately to stop Edward from taking the bait, but the king refuses to listen. The Wessex men are about to be fighting on two fronts. I KNEW this was going to happen. But I didn’t foresee that Edward’s army would be outflanked and driven toward the cliff-edge. The show runners are cruel.

I don’t know how many minutes of screen time this gruesome battle lasts but a lot of warriors fall off that cliff. Uhtred is helpless to aid them until he spots Stiorra in the distance. It takes an awfully long time for him, with Finan and Sihtric at his heels, to grab a horse and dash to where Stiorra is about to retreat. And then he takes the time to tie his horse’s reins to a branch! Uhtred! Really?

It might not matter, though, because Stiorra is not in a fighting mood. It’s too late, she tells her father. The risk is too great. But Uhtred’s eloquence and promises persuade Stiorra and her Danes, and soon it’s the Scots who are fighting on two fronts. Some of them abandon the field and when Constantin sees them running he knows he’s beaten. He orders his men to burn the fortress and take as many hostages as possible.

Uhtred wants hostages, too, and he gives Pyrlig (who thankfully didn’t drown at sea) that task, then runs to the fortress where his cowardly cousin has been watching the battle from the ramparts. Athelstan hares after Uhtred, and the next several scenes take place inside the fortress and they are all about family discord. Uhtred stalks his cousin, while Athelstan confronts his half-brother and that snake Aethelhelm.  

Athelstan (Harry Gilby) is a very engaging figure, just like the youthful Athelstan of the novels. The showrunners have given him a chance to reveal his character in several of this season’s episodes, and he really shines in this scene. He’s furious with Aethelhelm, yet compassionate toward Aethelweard. Luckily for the brothers, Aethelhelm himself delivers his own just reward. There is no family blood on the boys’ hands.

Speaking of a family’s bloody hands, when Uhtred catches up with his cousin, Wihtgar taunts him: “Kill me as I killed my father, as your son will kill you. That is the destiny of our family.” Uhtred has a curt, simple, apt reply: “No it is not.” It’s fitting that Wihtgar’s end is the same one that he threatened to give Aelfwynn.

Did I mention that the fortress is on fire? And we don’t like fire because it reminds us of what happened to the elder Ragnar and to Thyra. Athelstan tries to get Uhtred to leave, but Uhtred refuses. He will not just stand outside and watch his inheritance burn. Let the gods decide his fate. And they do, because moments later it starts to rain.

With the fire out thanks to Odin’s intervention, Uhtred and the Scots king parley about hostages and terms as Edward of Wessex makes his way across the slaughter field toward the fortress. Ignoring the bodies lying all around him, the king claims victory, and only Finan hints at the cost of that victory. It’s interesting that the Scots king negotiates with Uhtred, not with King Edward at battle’s end.

The penultimate scene in the fortress yard is one of rejoicing, reunions, and a sly remark from Aelswith that makes Uhtred look like he’s been gut-punched and makes me laugh out loud. Are you wondering about the youth Osbert who is led toward the fortress by Hild and has obviously been in her care for some time? Think back to when Hild had to tell Uhtred that his wife Gisela had died in childbirth, and Uhtred wanted nothing to do with the baby. We never knew what happened to that child. Now we do.

King Edward the Oblivious presumes that he has just unified the three kingdoms—that Northumbria will now be part of England. It’s up to Uhtred to set him straight and Edward does NOT like what Uhtred has to say: “The man who will unify England must be someone behind whom the people will stand together as one. You are not that man.”

In the final minutes there are some flashes forward as Uhtred contemplates what might lie ahead. The most surprising of these is a glimpse of Aethelweard locked behind bars in a very well appointed chamber and apparently looking quite content. My favorite, though, is the glimpse of swordplay between Uhtred and Athelstan.

There are a good many flashes backward, as well, as Uhtred recalls those who have been part of his life, and I’m guessing that Uhtred is not the only one getting all teary-eyed. One of the last images is of a dying King Alfred, and we know that, in Bernard Cornwell’s words, “this tale of England’s making, of Alfred’s dream, has not yet come true, so Uhtred must fight again.”

The final chapter of Uhtred’s saga still lies ahead. The filming of “Seven Kings Must Die” has just wrapped, so Uhtred and his companions will return.

Now, a historical note about Aelfwynn: When her mother Aethelflaed died in June, 918, most of the Mercian nobles accepted King Edward as their lord, but some wanted to preserve Mercian independence, so they recognized Aelfwynn as their ruler. But the following winter, in a violent act of power, Edward had his niece carried off into Wessex. We never hear of Aelfwynn again. She may have been planted in a convent—the fate of so many royal women. But it’s pleasant to think that she may have married and raised a family with a Saxon warrior. Who knows? Maybe even one named Cynlaef. Why not?

Wyrd bið ful aræd.

Castle Bamburgh, 2019.

 

 

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The Last Kingdom 5.9: The Best Laid Plans…

TLK Episode 9 begins with Uhtred’s men and the Mercian Guard preparing to ride out from the burh at York to make for Bebbanburg under Uhtred’s command. Uhtred has plenty of reasons for leading a force against Bebbanburg: the fortress is his birthright, stolen by his cousin Wihtgar and he wants it back; he wants to avenge Wihtgar’s murder of Fr. Beocca; he wants to rescue Lady Aelfwynn; and he wants to seize and punish Ealdorman Aelfhelm for his repeated treacheries.

That King Edward has threatened to violently prevent anyone from leaving the burh is a concern, and the queen’s mother takes it upon herself to address it. She teams up with her new daughter-in-law Eadgifu who I’m liking more and more, and they gang up on Edward with a complex mix of sober arguments and, from Aelswith, motherly encouragement. When the fortress gate opens the next morning and Uhtred leads his men out to find Edward and his army arrayed in front of them, Uhtred looks worried; but we’re not. We know that this season has to end at Bebbanburg. We’re just not sure how we’re going to get there.

Turns out Edward has relented, so he, Uhtred and Aldhelm lead their army to within 5 miles of Bebbanburg, intending to skirt the fortress and meet the Scots king on the road before he and his army can get inside. Of course, nothing goes as planned. To the consternation of everyone both inside and outside Bebbanburg, the Scots king lands at the fortress in a small boat practically alone. When the Saxon leaders learn this they argue about what to do next and Uhtred has to fall back on Plan B. He doesn’t really explain what his part of Plan B will be, probably because, as Finan pointed out last season, Uhtred flies by the seat of his pants. (I’m not sure he used those exact words.) Uhtred merely tells Edward, “Do not attack until I give the word.”

Well. We can already guess how THAT is likely to play out.

And then something totally unexpected happens. At least, I wasn’t expecting it. Uhtred, Pyrlig, Finan and Sihtric enter a convent. No, they don’t take the veil, they just go inside. This move was foreshadowed in an earlier episode when Uhtred said he had a friend near Lindisfarne and sent Haesten there with Aalys. Now we know who that friend is. Abbess Hild (Eva Birthistle–I love her!) greets them, willingly aids them, and drops a few brief words that solve an earlier mystery that has been gnawing at me. Did you hear the penny drop?

That villain Haesten—the guy we love to hate—must have had a Come To Jesus moment because he’s hanging out in the abbey and getting rich as a trader. Trading at an abbey is only a little far-fetched, because anyone trying to reach Lindisfarne would have had to wait for the tide to recede in order to cross to the Holy Isle (they still do), and the abbey would be a good spot to spend time and money. After some persistent urging from Uhtred, Haesten reluctantly agrees to help retrieve Aelfwynn from Bebbanburg. Hild isn’t too sure about Haesten, given his history of betrayals and, knowing that a leopard doesn’t easily change its spots she goes along for the ride.

So we have King Edward and his army waiting for word from Uhtred: we have Fr. Pyrlig sitting in a boat somewhere offshore waiting to convey Aelfwynn and company to her uncle; we have Haesten and Hild unloading goods on the beach; and we have Uhtred leading Finan and Sihtric on a secret, treacherous cliff path toward the fortress. What could go possibly wrong?

When our cliff-crawlers reach a spot where a slide has wiped out the trail, leaving a perilous drop just beyond their toes, I can hear Samwise Gamgee in my head muttering, “Rope. I knew I’d need a rope.” But looking at that cliff face I’m not sure that even a rope would have helped.

And while Uhtred and his companions are making like flies on a wall, Edward is getting nervous. The Scots army is getting close, and when he starts making noises about attacking before Uhtred gives the word, Aelswith decides again that she has to act to prevent a slaughter. She and Eadith ride south and I have no idea what she is planning to do. Neither does poor Eadith.

Down on the beach Haesten and Hild are confronted by guards who offer them shelter inside the fortress and won’t take no for an answer. So now Team Hild is inside Bebbanburg while Team Uhtred isn’t. Yeah. We knew this wasn’t going to go to plan; and it gets worse.

The following series of events that take place inside the fortress are beautifully orchestrated to raise tension. Uhtred’s team gets in, but Finan and Sihtric are captured and sent to be tortured until they reveal what they’re up to. Hild spots Aelfwynn, but loses her. Haesten, who Cornwell describes as having a tongue that could turn turds to gold, gets to Aelfwynn but can’t convince her that he’s with the good guys, and that’s hardly a surprise. His eloquence fails him again when he faces a suspicious and menacing King Constantin. In this, his final scene, Uhtred’s old enemy is given a moment of grace. He could have turned on Uhtred (again), but he didn’t and he pays the ultimate price. In the novel Warriors of the Storm Haesten dies in the same way, a sword thrust through his belly. But it’s not King Constantin who holds the sword; it’s young Athelstan as he faces Haesten in a single battle to the death. There’s no redemption for Haesten in the novel.

Somewhere in the woods nearby, Aelswith is searching for someone who is rumored to be living rough among the trees. When she finds her quarry she gazes pleadingly at a very unwelcoming Stiorra and says, “We need your help.”

They’ll need help fast because Edward’s army is already approaching Bebbanburg. Uhtred, watching from his hiding place, agonizes that they’ve come too soon, but the Saxons’ appearance at least distracts Constantin’s men from torturing Finan and Sihtric. Athelstan rides forward with a message from Edward: Give us Aethelhelm and Aelfwynn and we will not attack. Refuse, and we will besiege and kill you all.

But we know that Bebbanburg is impregnable, and I’m worried that there’s a Scots army approaching from the north that might trap Edward’s force  up against the walls of the fortress. I’m also worried about poor Pyrlig sitting alone in a boat on the North Sea; I hope they’ve at least given him a hat.

Athelstan’s chilling and possibly empty ultimatum is still unanswered when the credits roll and, darn it, there’s only one more episode left.

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The Last Kingdom 5.8: Daughters and Sons

In the previous episode (Ep. 7), while I was totally fixated on Brida, the other story threads inched forward.

Aethelhelm approached the Scots king with the offer of a Mercian bride (Aelswith) in return for putting his grandson on Edward’s throne. King Constantin was intrigued but, wisely, didn’t trust Aethelhelm any farther than he could throw him. So he sent the lying swine to Bebbanburg with Wihtgar, and if these two guys were cats they’d be hissing at each other with bared teeth.

Aelfwynn, to no one’s surprise, managed to fall into the hands of Aethelhelm’s goons and bring Aelswith and Eadith along with her. Aelswith was canny enough to recognize who was behind their abduction and that their lives were in danger. She decided to act, and probably everyone watching raised dubious eyebrows when she claimed that she was schooled in how to protect herself. Aelswith???? But she was as good as her word, and I had to laugh when after disposing of her enemy she breathed that she felt like Michael the Archangel when he slew Satan’s armies. She forgot, though, that her grand-daughter was not schooled in much of anything, or maybe Aelfwynn missed the class on self-preservation, because Goon Number Two snatched her up and rode off into the night.

Uhtred, too, was having adolescent daughter problems, and even before Stiorra killed Brida. The former queen of York wanted nothing to do with her father, with the Saxon King, or with Christians. She called her father the arseling of the House of Wessex, rejected Edward’s offer as ruler of York and managed to get herself and her people exiled, to Uhtred’s anguish and consternation.

King Edward couldn’t escape the rebellious teenager problem, either, but his response was quite different from that of Uhtred and Aelswith. While they refused to give up on their wayward children, Edward wasn’t going to stomach his son’s disobedience. So despite the fact that Aelfweard was ignorant of the treachery of his grandfather, when the boy went north in a huff to find his dear grandpapa, Edward responded by marrying his mistress to legitimize her unborn child and more or less washed his hands of his misbehaving lad.

As Episode 8 opens Uhtred is confronting his daughter and getting absolutely nowhere. She is planning to settle with her people in the north, not go with her father back to Runcorn. For most of this episode Uhtred obstinately insists that his companions and his daughter must return to their shattered village even though everyone he trusts attempts to dissuade him. Even Fr. Pyrlig – yes! Pyrlig lives!  

Fr. Benedict delivers Aelfweard to Bebbanburg and his disgustingly doting grandfather. With Aelfweard’s blackmail threat behind him, the priest listens to Aethelhelm’s talk of rebellion with misgiving and slips away in the night.

When Edward learns that his wayward son is nowhere in Wessex and has probably run to grandpa, the king is so wounded that he waxes philosophical. Why is this happening to him? He intuits that Aethelhelm is provoking him, and that there is a trap waiting if he should take the bait. So he makes a very firm decision that he is not going to move his army north but return to Winchester. He holds to that decision even when his mother storms in with news of Aelfwynn’s abduction and demands that Edward save the girl.

And while Edward’s position sounds like obstinacy, we have to remember that last season he nearly lost Winchester because he tarried too long in Mercia and left Wessex unprotected. He’s not about to make that mistake again.

I found myself warming to Eadgifu in this episode. She doesn’t come across as a schemer as she takes on the role of wise counsellor to the king. She honors Edward’s mother, and I especially like that she acts the straight man for Aelswith by giving her the perfect set-up for Aelswith’s boast about slaughtering a man with her bare hands. I laughed out loud.

A defiant, barely-a-lady Aelfwynn is delivered to Bebbanburg, but her threat to kill herself rather than wed the Scots king only earns her Aethelhelm’s scorn. The final image of the scene—the two of them seated in gloom with Aelfwynn the central figure in the key light—is held for a long time. It seems portentous, but I don’t know what to make of it.

Fr. Benedict brings word of Aethelhelm’s whereabouts and schemes to Aylesbury, and at the mention of Bebbanburg Uhtred begins to re-evaluate his next move. Like Edward he turns philosophical, and Fr. Pyrlig nudges him gently toward a decision.

In the final, tense scene of the episode Uhtred presents Edward with a plan to stop Aethelhelm and fortify the lands near the Scots border. Edward is mulish, refusing to be drawn north into a trap just so Uhtred, he points out, can regain Bebbanburg. He stays calm, firm, kinglike. He’s more like Alfred than we’ve ever seen him.  But when he announces that he will offer the Scottish king half of Northumbria plus Aelfwynn in exchange for Aethehelm’s head, absolutely nobody supports the plan. Uhtred, Aldhelm, Aelswith, Fr. Pyrlig, Athelstan—all of them raise their arguments. Stymied by this opposition Edward pulls rank, nods to his guards, and swords are drawn, although there’s no blood spilled yet. Edward reminds what is essentially his witan how he dealt with the witan of Mercia, and he threatens to execute anyone who attempts to leave the city. Uhtred and Aldhelm are still defiant, and now Uhtred offers the king an ultimatum in return. Join us now while we have the advantage of time on our side, or stay here and flounder. Choose.

It’s a Mexican Mercian stand-off.

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The Last Kingdom 5.7: Brida

The scripts for The Last Kingdom are based on the novels of Bernard Cornwell, on the history of 10th century England, and on what emerges from the creative minds of the showrunners. This final season has four previous seasons of accumulated story and character development on which to draw. It has, in essence, its own history.

We have seen beloved heroes die: Alfred, Leofric, Ragnar, Beocca, Aethelflaed, Steapa, Osferth, Gisela—the list goes on. So many wonderful characters, each with a compelling story. We have seen children grow, have seen the bond among Uhtred’s companions tighten and strengthen amid danger and heartbreak. We have watched loathsome villains pay the ultimate price for their deeds—characters we loved to hate: Skade, Aelfric, Aethelwold, Cnut, Kjartan, Bloodhair, Sigefrid. My vote as THE WORST goes to Skade.

And then, of course, there’s Brida.

In the early seasons Brida’s character development and her story were similar to what we saw in the novels. She was a Saxon child captured by the Danes and raised with Uhtred in Ragnar’s household, and she became Uhtred’s first lover. She was taught to hate the Saxons. Cornwell writes, in Uhtred’s voice: “Start your killers young, before their consciences are grown. Start them young and they will be lethal.” That surely applies to Brida. And while Uhtred struggled continuously between identifying with his Saxon roots and his Danish upbringing, constantly wavering back and forth—was he Saxon or Dane?– Brida never wavered. Brida was more Danish than the Danes! She was a woman warrior and even a sorceress. She was a kick-ass, sometimes foul-mouthed, irreverent, sometimes erratic spitfire. Yet even as fans of the early seasons embraced her fiery, obstinate, passionate nature, those of us who had read the novels already knew that Cornwell would slowly darken and twist that nature into something hateful.

In the novels we don’t really see all of Brida’s backstory and the incidents that embitter her, but the series invents many of them. She is imprisoned by the Saxons. The armies she leads against them are beaten again and again. Her beloved Ragnar does not die a natural death, as in the books, but is butchered by a Saxon in league with Ragnar’s Danish ally. She is captured, enslaved and tortured by the Welsh. Her ally Sigtryggr betrays her by making peace with the Saxon king. Her daughter meets her death in that fatal, heartbreaking leap at York. In Brida’s mind, these are a litany of crimes against her personally, and against her gods. Yet as she wanders through the wilderness of Mercia with Pyrlig she responds to his gentle prodding, unburdening herself. “I’m lost. There is no life for me after this. I am alone.”

There was no such unburdening in Cornwell’s novel The Flame Bearer. He describes Brida as “an enchantress, white-haired and wizened now, chanting her skald’s songs about dead Christians and of Odin triumphant. Songs of hate.” In her final scene in the novel she is a malignant, cackling crone who has ordered Stiorra’s little daughter to be blinded with a metal spike.

Yes, the Brida of both the series and the book cruelly gelds young Uhtred; in this episode she goes further and turns viciously on Fr. Pyrlig. But in the novel there is no final, private sword fight between Brida and Uhtred at the site of Ragnar’s burned hall where she goads him to kill her and, when he will not, pleads with him for death. In this scene we are given an aspect of Brida that the novel did not offer. There is despair: “Something has died within me, Uhtred.” And from Uhtred, surprisingly, there is forgiveness: “If my son could forgive you after what you have done to him, then I must do the same.” There is a moment of remembered tenderness as Uhtred places his forehead against hers and whispers, “Trust me.”

And this final scene between them does something that cannot be done in a book, at least, not quite like this. The flashbacks that intersperse the sword fight between Brida and Uhtred take us into Uhtred’s memories of her—the cruel avenger; the bitter enemy; the heartbroken friend weeping over Ragnar’s grave; the lover; the little girl who has, like the boy Uhtred, just witnessed the destruction of her entire world.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it, that I can think of. I thought it was brilliant and a masterful use of the history of this series.

The hand that takes Brida’s life is the same one as in the novel, but the circumstances are utterly different. Anyone watching with attention must have known that it was coming even if they hadn’t read the book. I don’t see how it could have ended any other way and still be true to Cornwell’s vision.

Actress Emily Cox had to go through strenuous physical training for this role. Along with that very physical portrayal of a viking warrior, she brilliantly explored the many facets of Brida’s personality. We loved her, hated her, pitied her. I suspect I’m not the only one who wept for her.  

As for Alexander Dreymon, his acting chops have expanded over this series, and this season in particularly  he must be commended for his stunningly powerful performance.

Yes, there were other things that happened in this episode. I’ll deal with them tomorrow.

 

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The Last Kingdom 5.6: The Herepath

Most of this episode takes place in Mercia, somewhere between York and Aylesbury. Mind you, there are 200 miles between York and Aylesbury if one follows the ancient Roman roads that the Anglo-Saxons called herepaths. These were the roads that the armies used as they made their way around England to wage war. Our first several sightings of Uhtred in this episode show him riding with Sihtric and Finan south through Mercia. Their goals are to find the king at Aylesbury, to avert war, and to seize Aethelhelm and make him pay for the havoc and death that he has caused. And because of the distance they have to cover, this episode takes place over many days, possibly weeks. It doesn’t feel like it to us because we’re watching comfortably from our sofas, not traipsing up or down the length of England.

The Danish army led by Sigtryggr and Stiorra is somewhere behind Uhtred. An army on foot traveled only about 10 miles a day; a man on a swift horse might do 25. This army has a destination that I think is near Leicester. The plan is to meet the Saxon army there, and despite his brother’s objections, Sigtryggr is convinced that if they take the high ground it will give them enough advantage to win, even if the Saxons outnumber them. He calls Edward arrogant, yet it is Sigtryggr who is thinking and acting with viking arrogance.

Far to the south, in Aylesbury, Edward is making his own battle plan. And Sigtryggr is right about him. He, too, is arrogant. We will have to lose many men, he says, but they will die in a noble cause. His cause. And he is counting on help coming from the worst possible quarter—from Aethelhelm.

But Aethehelm, his army camped somewhere in Mercia, intends to delay until the last minute to ride to Edward’s assistance; that way he will be a hero and Edward will be in his debt. He suggests to his man Bresal that the king’s bastard son Athelstan, in this very camp, should fall victim to a mortal accident. And he also wants Edward’s niece Aelfwynn found and “rescued”, now that they know where she is.  

Aelfwynn is – oh, maybe 70 miles to the west in a village called Buxton, across the hills in Derbyshire, where she and her  grandmother are waiting nervously for her bridegroom to show up. Instead they learn of the massacre at Runcorn and immediately start arguing about where they should go next. Aelswith insists on a convent. Aelfwynn reacts to that like a stubborn, mouthy 16-year old, and when Eadith arrives to warn that they are being followed, we’re not surprised that Aelfwynn has escaped. Eventually we see her riding off alone through the forest, grinning, utterly pleased with herself and her freedom. We suspect that won’t last long.

Poor Fr. Pyrlig, still without a horse, is hiking vaguely southward with Brida in hopes of finding Uhtred. They run into refugees from Runcorn making for Aylesbury who warn Pyrlig that the peace between Saxons and Danes is ended. He keeps this bitter news from Brida presumably because it would mean that the two of them—he a Saxon and she a Dane—are now at war. And she’s the one with the weapon.

Uhtred finally reaches Edward’s camp with proof of Aethelhelm’s treachery. That he was responsible for the death of the queen and for the death of Edward’s half-brother, Osferth. Once he’s convinced, Edward prepares to go north to forge a new union with Sigtryggr because his quarrel now is with Aethehelm.

Only, Sigtryggr doesn’t know any of that. He only knows that he has spotted Aethehelm’s Saxon war camp on the other side of a frozen lake. Rognvaldr urges his brother to cross the ice and attack. So what if it’s not Edward? They’re Saxons! But Stiorra argues that the Danes can’t afford to lose men. And what if the ice doesn’t hold? This is Mercia, not Iceland. Rognvald tests the ice to proves it will hold, and the army starts across the ice at night, led by Sigtryggr. Although we can hear the sound of ice cracking they make it across.

None of this was in the novels, none of it! So I have no idea what is going to happen next. I’m worried that Stiorra won’t make it across the ice to the hill where she’s supposed to wait out the battle, and I’m hoping that Aethelhelm will end up head first in icy water.

None of that happens.

Instead, the Danes surprise the sleeping Saxon camp and Stiorra watches the ensuing battle from a distance, wide-eyed with horror. She’s not like Brida. She does not revel in bloodshed. Uhtred gets there, finds his daughter, then heads into the fray with Finan and Sihtric, searching for Athelstan. That Swine Aethelhelm gets away just before Edward and his cavalry arrive to overwhelm the Danes.

At battle’s end Uhtred plays the diplomat, trying to broker peace between Sigtryggr and Edward. He’s done this before and succeeded. Not this time. The king takes a page from his father’s playbook and offers to restore the peace between them if the Danes will be baptized, but Sigtryggr refuses. And in ordering Sigtryggr’s execution, Edward extends his rule beyond Mercia and into Northumbria. (Historical note: it was actually Aethelflaed who, in 918, received pledges from the people of York that they would be under her rule. She died, though, that same year and York fell under Danish control again.)

Stiorra’s promise to her husband to take back York may be the plot of a future episode, but for now she is defeated and widowed on the order of the king and, at Sigtryggr’s request, by the hand of Uhtred. Remember how, a couple of seasons back, Brida begged for Uhtred to kill her but he couldn’t bring himself to do it? This time the poor man can’t refuse. The show runners really put him through the wringer, and actor Alexander Dreymon is brilliant at conveying the emotional trauma of a man forced to murder a friend.

Speaking of Brida, when she stumbles across a wounded Dane who’s escaped the carnage of that battle and she’s told that Uhtred fought with the Saxons against the Danes, she turns on Fr. Pyrlig. She leaves him, gut-wounded, on the side of the road, but we’re certain to see her again. She’s not done with Uhtred yet. As for Pyrlig, I’m hoping he lives, but it’s not looking good.

It’s a somber group that leaves that battlefield in an endless line along the herepath.  Uhtred, Athelstan, Stiorra, even the king have bitter regrets. Only Aethelhelm, swilling ale in some far off tavern, is sanguine. He’s heading for Scotland to canoodle with King Constantine about putting an end to Edward’s tyranny. And at the Scottish king’s table in Sterling, sitting among the lords of Northumbria who’ve come to consult with that king, is Uhtred’s cousin, Wihtgar of Bebbanburg. Uh-oh.

With Constantine, Wihtgar, Aethelhelm, and Brida ranged against him, there’s a whole load of trouble ahead for Uhtred.

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The Last Kingdom 5.5: Things Fall apart

In the middle of the previous Episode (4), Alfred’s widow says, as she mourns her daughter, “There has already been so much death, Uhtred, I could not bear more of it.”

I’m with her.

And so this 5th episode was another one that was hard to watch and even harder to write about because the story dives into darkness and death. I had to stop watching half-way through, and I suppose some of my own distress was because the show reflects the world we live in today. Just read the news.

The episode again takes us all over Britain, beginning in Aylesbury. King Edward gets plenty of negative feedback about the way he grabbed the throne of Mercia, and is even second-guessing his own actions. But his new lady Eadgifu (Sonya Cassidy) is nearby to reassure him. I can’t quite make out Eadgifu, but she’s showing evidence of being a force behind the throne. She and Stiorra both have spines of steel.

While Edward is attempting to ingratiate himself to the Mercians, that slimeball Aethelhelm (Adrian Schiller) is scheming to provoke war between the Saxons and the Danes. This powerful Saxon ealdormen wants his grandson to be king of a united England, and he tells his minion Bresal (Harry Anton) that “Like the king I have learned that nothing is as effective as the stench of death.” And if King Edward dies in battle, even better. So he puts his plan in motion, but warns Bresal that it must not be traced back to him. The men who commit the act must claim they are Sigtryggr’s men. We don’t know what he’s planning, but when he attempted something similar in The Flame Bearer, Uhtred was on to him and prevented it. This time his much more cruel scheme works only too well, only he doesn’t know it yet. Wyrd bið ful aræd.

Edward’s Queen Aelflaed shows some spine in this episode, and I think we have to honor her with a line from Shakespeare: “Nothing in her life became her like the leaving of it.” Her death in this series is purely fictional, though. While the show presents her as the mother of only one son by Edward, the historical Aelflaed bore him 8 children, and although we don’t know the actual cause of her death, it may be safe to say that given all those births she was just plain exhausted.

Uhtred returns to his people in Runcorn determined to get more men and head north again to find Brida. First, though, he checks on young Uhtred, recuperating from his wound although still in pain. Young Uhtred suggests that his father might marry again and have more children, and Uhtred responds bitterly that he would not curse another child with him as a father. And now we have an extremely mysterious dialogue between father and son.

“What of the son who was hidden, who does not know his father?”
Uhtred snarls, “You do not know that. It is not safe for you to know that. His time will come.”

I have no idea who they are talking about!!! Who are the show runners going to spring on us?

But, back in the woods: It’s out favorite villain Haesten, now a trader, (really!) who stumbles upon the crime scene in the forest, and when he finds the dead queen of Wessex he is really disturbed. We have never seen Haesten disturbed like this. And for once, Haesten does a good thing: He sends the visionary to safety, and takes the queen’s body to Uhtred at Runcorn. Haesten doesn’t want to see war any more than Uhtred does. It’s bad for trade. As they run through the possible perpetrators of the crime—Sigtryggr, his brother Rognvalder, Brida, or the Mercians—our Baby Monk Osferth predicts: “This is a bad omen, lord, for all of us. I fear this death will bring only more death.” And it’s only when we look back on his words later that we know how true they were. Wonderful dialogue!!

Now Uhtred has to act, sending Sihtric and Athelstan to spy on the king’s doings at Aylesbury while he and Haesten go to York to warn Sigtryggr and Stiorra that there is trouble brewing. Brida is on the back burner now, but she’s still around. She’s decided she wants Fr. Pyrlig to take her to Uhtred, and THAT sounds ominous.

And let’s not forget Aelswith who is in hiding with Aelfwynn, and is planning to marry the girl off to the young Cynlaef. Her thinking is that if the girl is married to a nobody she won’t be a threat to anybody. But I don’t know. Those two slaughtered nuns in the forest seem to contradict that theory.

In Aylesbury that swine Aethelhelm is freaking out because word of the slaughter of women he ordered has not gotten out yet (thanks to Haesten who hid the bodies). He goes to the king and announces without any proof that the Danes have murdered the visionary and they must be punished. When Edward refuses to act Aethelhelm takes matters into his own hands and sends warriors to attack Runcorn in the king’s name, hoping that this little fire will start a war. Not all of our favorite lads survive the ensuing slaughter. Last episode I was prepared for the death of Aethelflaed. I wasn’t prepared for what happened here—I. Just. Wasn’t.

King Edward, still unaware of the death of his queen, asks his son Athelstan to lead the Mercian guard, a step towards reconciliation. He orders Aethelhelm to go to Scotland with a message of reassurance for the Scots king, but Aethelhelm plans to attack York instead. Since he hasn’t been able to provoke Edward into war, he’ll start the war himself.  

But Sigtryggr is already on a war footing because the refugees from Runcorn have arrived with lurid tales of the slaughter ostensibly ordered by the king. Sigtryggr is outraged. All his fears about Edward’s bloody ambitions have been confirmed. If Edward wants war, then Sigtryggr will oblige him.

In Aylesbury Bresal has brought the queen’s body and blamed her death on the Danes. Now Edward finally does what Aethelhelm has been trying to get him to do. Eager for vengeance, the Saxons are going north to war against the Danes.

Meantime, Uhtred has discovered that it was the visionary who was the target of the murders in the forest, not the queen. As  he often does, he intuits the mind of his enemy who, in this case, is that smear of pond scum Aethelhelm. Hard on the heels of that realization Uhtred is faced with news brought by Finan and Cynlaef—news of Runcorn. News of Osferth.

There is bad news for that swine Aethelhelm, too. When his man Bresal tells him that the queen was slaughtered instead of the visionary, Aethelhelm is unmanned, ready to kill himself. But he’s not mourning because his daughter died and it was his fault; he’s morning because the influence he had at court died with her. Bresal here is like an evil spirit, urging him to finish what he started, to fight for the influence he’s lost, to find himself. It’s a bizarre scene, and at the end of it, Bresal has succeeded because the ealdorman slowly straightens from his groveling and whimpering, and now he looks like he’s possessed by a devil. I guess he’s found himself but, really, he didn’t have to look very hard.

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The Last Kingdom 5.4: Fade to Black

Anyone who has read Bernard Cornwell’s novels Warriors of the Storm and The Flame Bearer must know by now that the series is straying significantly from the story lines of the books. Nevertheless, the series has embraced Cornwell’s characters, his larger story of the making of England, and the history in which it is embedded.

And for me, this 4th episode of Season 5 was a very difficult one to watch because it was so moving. There are several plots unfolding here. The largest is the struggle for political control in Britain. The most emotionally gripping, though, are the intimate relationships between Alfred’s family members and followers, and those between Uhtred’s family members and companions—relationships that weave together as the story moves from Northumbria to Mercia to Wessex and back again.

It begins in York where Rognvaldr undergoes a cruel trial by ordeal set by Sigtryggr and Stiorra. At the same time, somewhere in the Yorkshire wolds Fr. Pyrlig faces his own ordeal—a maddened and venomous Brida. She taunts and tortures the priest, and for her it seems important to prove that her god is more powerful than Pyrlig’s Christian god. And in fact this entire episode is infused with the concept of trust in the gods, accurately reflecting early medieval beliefs.

We pick up another thread of the story as Uhtred arrives in Aylesbury and finds Aethelflaed rallying. He still cannot believe that she is dying, but Eadith cautions him that she has little time left. Aethelflaed ignores Uhtred’s insistence that she use her strength to fight her illness. She wants her daughter on the Mercian throne, and she wants his promise that he will protect Aelfwynn. Young Aelfwynn is maturing before our eyes, but although she’s her mother’s daughter, we know she is in a tough spot, especially because that worm Aethehelm is plotting against her.

In Winchester Queen Aelflaed is considering traveling to Lindisfarne with a tapestry she has made despite the political implications of such a visit. Edward has forbidden her to go, but she likes to have her own way. So, why is Lindisfarne important? It is the Holy Isle, the monastery where St. Cuthbert lived, and the heart of Northumbrian religious belief. Now, I just want to point out that if you go to Durham Cathedral today you can see an embroidery made by Queen Aelflaed (she embroidered her name on it) among the cathedral treasures that were given to the shrine of St. Cuthbert. It seems the showrunners have incorporated that tangible bit of history into their story.

In Yorkshire Brida continues to mourn her daughter. She threatens Pyrlig and one of her own men, and rails against the gods. She wails that she is alone, and this may actually be true because her warriors  have disappeared or they may just be giving her space. Pyrlig is unafraid, and he persistently seeks to comfort her. There is a generosity in this man and a lack of fear—a strength that isn’t physical.

Brida’s raging is intertwined with the quiet tenderness shared between Uhtred and Aethelflaed in the little time they have left together. That is a beautiful scene, what I saw of it through my tears.

Edward arrives, too late to speak with his sister. He is grieving for her, but when he swears that he will ensure Alfred’s dream of a united England it sounds ominous for Mercia and not at all what his sister had in mind.

The death of her daughter throws Aelswith into a crisis of faith and, surprisingly, it is Uhtred who goes to her in the chapel. Actress Eliza Butterworth gives a wonderful performance here. Her character has had to shuttle back and forth between eliciting our sympathy or our rage and she’s done a remarkable job. In this scene she is nearly broken, but she is also politically astute. The sometime bond she shares with Uhtred is visible when he touches her shoulder and she grasps his hand.

Athelstan, King Edward’s son who has been essentially hidden away most of his life, confronts his father who puts him off. Some simmering resentment there on Athelstan’s part. Aelfwynn shows some sense when she recognizes Aethelhelm’s determination to undermine her. She’s resolved to fulfill her mother’s wishes about the future rule of Mercia, but poor Aelfwynn is outmatched. In the great hall beside the empty throne there is a power struggle going on between King Edward and that weasel Aethelhelm, neither one a Mercian. Edward is waiting for something, and when some turmoil breaks out in the yard Athelstan, who IS a Mercian, gets caught up in it.

Edward has ordered his men to murder the ealdormen of Mercia. While Uhtred, Edward, Aldhelm and Aethelhelm shout at each other, Uhtred nods to Aelswith to slip away with Aelfwynn who is likely in danger now, too. Edward claims that the ealdormen had already been bribed and he has merely acted to remove the corruption. He will be the king of the Angles and the Saxons, and he sits on Mercia’s throne.

What we’ve just seen is probably pretty close to what actually happened in Mercia after Aethelflaed’s death in 918. Although I’m not certain about the murder of the ealdormen, Edward could be ruthless. In 917 he stormed a Danish camp in Tempsford and slaughtered all those who refused to surrender including two jarls and possibly the king of the East Angles. So yes, Edward could be this bloody. When Athelstan tells Uhtred that this was no way to become a king he replies, “I think it might be the only way.” Eleventh century politics in a nutshell.

Up in York Rognvaldr has survived his ordeal, but there are still tensions between the brothers and certainly between Rognvaldr and Stiorra. In the Yorkshire wolds Brida and Pyrlig have buried her daughter and mournful music swells as the scene moves to Aylesbury. Uhtred speculates to Athelstan about the future of Britain, and after Aethelflaed’s body is carried past them on a flower draped bier the scene fades to black.

Historical Note: Aethelflaed actually died in Tamworth and was buried in Gloucester in a church that she founded. Mercia, by the way, has not forgotten Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians. Look at this.

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The Last Kingdom 5.3: The Road to Aylesbury

 

At the end of the last episode we were holding our collective breath as Stiorra left hiding to face Brida. Thankfully, this third episode did not keep us in suspense for too long. Uhtred’s daughter has learned how to taunt, and she provokes Brida into single combat by suggesting twice that Brida is a coward.  Stiorra doesn’t look all that confident that she will win this battle, and the imprisoned citizens of York aren’t either as they shout at her not to fight Brida. Unknown to everyone but us, Uhtred and company have made it into the compound, and just as Brida raises her sword to strike a fallen Stiorra, Sigtryggr sends an arrow into one of Brida’s Beloveds, and Brida freezes.

In the midst of the ensuing mayhem, Brida’s daughter makes her way to a rooftop. Uhtred and Brida both try to reach the child, and Brida shouts that the girl must jump to her, not to Uhtred. Is this a measure of her blind hatred toward Uhtred that she believes he would harm the child? Or is she reacting to Uhtred’s earlier shout that she should not have gone after his children, that she heard it as a threat to her daughter? We cannot read Brida’s mind, but I’m guessing that whatever her thinking, she’s going to blame Uhtred for her daughter’s death.

When the dust has settled Stiorra upbraids her father for allowing Brida to walk away from York, her dead child in her arms. And although there is surely a desire for vengeance in Stiorra’s cold words because she saw so many of her innocent people die, there is also a very large grain of truth. She warns Uhtred that Brida will find more people to follow her, and Uhtred realizes that his pity for Brida’s loss of her child has led him into an error that he is going to have to correct. Yet even as he searches for Brida, we discover that he may pay dearly for his mistake. Poor Fr. Pyrlig has gone off with the refugees from York in search of safety, and suddenly he’s surrounded by Brida’s men. The blasted priest is on foot again, darn it. I KNEW he needed to have a horse!

Before we can learn Pyrlig’s fate we’re back in the compound at York. Uhtred tries to calm Sigtryggr as he bitterly castigates himself for ever trusting the Christians. He wants Uhtred’s oath, while Stiorra, sensing her husband’s disquiet and need for guidance, wants her father to stay in York.  And Uhtred is pulled in two directions because while his daughter needs him, his son is lying wounded down in Runcorn. And he doesn’t even know about Aethelflaed yet.

King Edward in Winchester is clueless about  Aethelflaed, too; but that snake  Aethelhelm has learned of her condition, and he is plotting to get his grandson on the Mercian throne that Aethelflaed wants for her daughter.

In Mercia, Aethelflaed’s mum is still living in denial, convinced that God will heal her daughter. That swine Fr. Benedict gives Aethelflaed Extreme Unction which, as seen here, looks a little voodoo-like and threatening, especially since we do not trust Fr. Benedict. But there have been instances when the administering of that sacrament did sometimes result in the restoration of health. Aethelflaed, though, is resigned to her fate and insists on traveling to her capital of Aylesbury; it is 150 miles away and would have taken at least 10 days, perhaps 2 weeks, to reach in an uncomfortable covered wagon.

News of her illness, though, is spreading. It’s Aethelhelm who tells Edward about his sister, interrupting a tender moment between the king and his new lady, Eadgifu. Edward can’t believe it at first, but he finally accepts that his elder sister, ruler of a neighboring kingdom, is about to die. There will be enormous consequences personally and politically.  

At the same time, Uhtred is preparing to continue his search for Brida; we’re really worried about Pyrlig; and Finan at last gets Uhtred’s attention by whispering, “It’s the Lady Aethelflaed.”

One major difference between this series and the books on which it is based is that the series is not bound to Uhtred. The novels are written in first person, in Uhtred’s point of view. The reader sees only what Uhtred sees or is told. We are constantly in his mind and reading his opinions about everybody and everything. But this filmed series can be with each of the main characters, can explore each of their personalities and intentions and difficulties, one after another. It can take us from Edward in Winchester to Uhtred in York to Aethelflaed in Aylesbury within a few minutes. It uses those jumps in time and space, as it does right now, moving from Uhtred and Finan in York to Eadith and Aldhelm in Aylesbury, in order to prolong suspense even as it moves the story forward. It also makes effective use of close-up to capture the expressions of the characters in their moments of relief, terror, or anguish.

At this moment Uhtred is expressing disbelief, then confusion, then anguish as he listens to Finan. He’s going to have to go south. To Aylesbury. To Aethelflaed.

And only now do we discover that Pyrlig is still alive, although even Brida doesn’t yet know why. And I can’t help remembering how, many seasons back, Pyrlig was about to be crucified by Danes in London until Uhtred, knowing that the priest had been a warrior, suggested he be given a sword and told to fight for his life. Will he be given another chance to do that? Here’s hoping…

Aethelflaed’s daughter, overprotected from the truth of her mother’s illness by her grandmother, finally gets an earful from Aldhelm who, we know, has long borne an unrequited passion for Aethelflaed. What follows is a beautifully sad scene as Aelfwynn finally understands what is happening to her mother. Last season Aethelflaed lay beside her ailing daughter, afraid for her life; now the scene has been reversed. Yet even as Aethelflaed assures her daughter that the witan will support her as ruler of Mercia and asks a grieving Aldhelm to protect the girl, Aethelhelm’s assassin is bribing the Mercian elders to betray her.

In Winchester Edward’s queen is making an ill-timed move with political implications that earns her disapproval from Edward and a rebuke from her poisonous father. Eadgifu overhears Aethelhelm say that his grandson will be king of Mercia in a week and reports it to Edward. The king intuits that Aethelhelm is bribing the Mercians for his own purposes, but Edward clearly has a plan, as well, and probably not the same plan. Personally, I don’t trust either one of them!

So Edward, his son, and his father-in-law are headed for Aylesbury just like Uhtred and company. Clearly, there’s going to be some kind of showdown around the dying Aethelflaed. Meanwhile, in York, Sigtryggr is putting his brother to a trial by ordeal. Ow.

 

 

 

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The Last Kingdom 5.2: Death, Danger and Heartbreak

Every single episode of The Last Kingdom has elements of tenderness, threat, heartbreak, tension and fear. The show pulls us into the lives of its characters and enfolds us in the history into which they’re mired; makes us care about them, worry about them, laugh with them, and grieve with and for them. Yes, it’s just a story. But it touches us and moves us because it is based in the truth of human experience. Stories like this happened, and not only in some other century. They are happening today.

Episode 2: We’re back in York on the night of Brida’s surprise attack. Her men are ravaging, plundering, slaughtering.  One of them finds Stiorra and her handmaid, but they escape his hands even as Rognvaldr continues searching for them. Stiorra and a few of her women takes refuge in an underground chamber, and she watches from hiding as Sigtryggr, outnumbered, is forced to submit. Brida humiliates him, laughing and cooing, luxuriating in bloodshed and cruelty. Emily Cox is doing her very best to make us despise Brida, and she’s succeeding brilliantly.

The showrunners tighten the screws of tension by having Brida toy with Sigtryggr and also with his brother who is supposed to be her ally. At scene’s end Sigtryggr is thrust alone into the fog-drenched night beyond the city with Brida’s promise that Stiorra will live only if Sigtryggr returns with Uhtred in tow. But Brida still hasn’t found Stiorra. And who trusts Brida, anyway?

In Runcorn winter is setting in and Uhtred, agonized for his unconscious son, is watching as Eadith tends the boy. And the showrunners, by combining the two sons of Uhtred from the book into this one son, have created a further anguish for Uhtred. His son will not be able to give him grandsons. There will be no more Uhtreds, son of Uhtred. (Remember, in this period, priests could marry and have children. But Young Uhtred has been gelded.)

Scouts are searching for Brida; all of Runcorn is on the alert, except for Cynlaef who is canoodling with Aelfwynn, but there has been no sign of Brida or her men. Uhtred knows that he’s been outplayed because while he expected Brida to come for him, he did not expect her to attack his children. So when Aldhelm rushes up with bad news, Uhtred already knows what it is. Brida is after his bloodline, and Stiorra must be in danger.

But there are other dangers besides Brida, and Eadith is stunned to discover that Aethelflaed has, apparently, late stage breast cancer. This is tragic news for Aethelflaed and everyone who loves her. Eadith is weeping, and anyone who’s read the books knew this was coming, but we’re weeping, too. True to her character, Aethelflaed, like her father, accepts her fate and steels herself to accomplish whatever she can before the end. In particular, she has a daughter who must take her place when the time comes. The death of a ruler is always a dangerous time for a kingdom, so she doesn’t want the news made public. The secrecy that Aethelflaed demands becomes a very big issue when Uhtred comes asking for troops to help save his daughter but Aethelfaed, anguished, denies him, throwing these once lovers into bitter conflict. Uhtred is on his knees begging her for men, but she has to refuse him sternly because, as Aldhlem confirms, if Uhtred knew of her illness he would be fighting Brida with a broken heart.

And this is one of the strengths of this show: the historical and the political are made personal. The dialogue in this show is terrific as conflict upon conflict builds in every single scene.

Down in Winchester Edward orders troops sent to support his sister in aid of Sigtryggr, insisting that they be under her command alone. And we wonder what sort of trouble that’s going to cause.

That weasel Aethelhelm tries to convince Edward to send men to kill Sigtryggr as well as Brida. When Edward doesn’t listen, Aethelhelm sends his favorite assassin to throw a spanner in the works up north, so we haven’t heard the last about that. Meantime Edward sends Fr. Pyrlig north to assess the situation. I’m hoping that this year they give poor Pyrlig a horse when they send him across country. Last season he had to walk to Wales!

In Runcorn there are farewells as Uhtred’s men prepare to leave, and the acting is so very wonderful as there is so much expressed yet unspoken. Eadith, practically broken herself, confides Aethelflaed’s secret to  Finan because someone has to be warned that there is going to be trouble in Mercia.

Once Uhtred is gone Aethelflaed’s troubles increase, coming from those who should be supporting her: her mother, her daughter and her priest. Aelfwynn and Aelswith we can understand, but the priest makes me gnash my teeth.

And while we’ve been sobbing over Aethelflaed, poor Stirorra has been hiding in that hole for days, and now she watches more of her women cut down, although Brida does face a little hiccough when her blindfolded daughter messes up. Nevertheless, the tension and anguish are ratcheting up for Stiorra.

In Winchester Edward makes friendly with a woman who manages to impress him, and she impresses us, too, by neatly turning the tables on that weasel Aethelhelm when he tries to bribe her to go away. Eadgifu was, historically, quite a woman. We don’t see her in the novels, (that I can recall), but I think it was a masterstroke to add her to the show. I hope we’ll see more of her.

Up in the northern woods Sigtryygr and Pyrlig find each other, and when Uhtred and company show up the tension is relieved by some humorous byplay between Finan and Pyrlig, thank goodness! We needed a little lightness.

Sitryggr is outraged that Aethelflaed hasn’t given Uhtred an army and Finan is literally wringing his hands because he’s the only one who knows why. Even with so few men, Sigtryggr says he knows a way that will lead into the compound—perhaps. Meantime Stiorra has just been spattered with the blood of another murdered woman, and she’s had enough. Her disembodied voice calls to Brida, “I’m coming for you. You will pay for this.”

Brida shouts for her to show herself, and as the credits rolled I wondered how many people were sitting on the edges of their seats, breathlessly waiting for the next episode to start. More than a few, I suspect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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