My novel, working title The Serpent Sword, is currently being edited and yesterday I started writing a historical note for the end, explaining some of the decisions I have made and liberties I have taken with the history. As I was writing, I started thinking about the way I have portrayed the land of Northumbria in 633 AD.
The first half of the seventh century is situated deep in what is traditionally called The Dark Ages. The period is dark in many ways. It was a violent time, where races clashed and kingdoms were created and destroyed by the sword.
|A lord with some of his gesithas|
Men with ambition ruled kingdoms with small numbers of warriors - their gesithas, or retinue of companions. Although they professed kingship tracing back their claim through ancestors all the way to the gods themselves, I imagine them to be little more than gangsters, or the cattle barons of the American West of the nineteenth century. Each vied for dominance over the land, clashing with other kings in battles which were simply turf wars. They exacted payment in tribute from their ceorls, or churls - the peasants that lived on their land. This was basically protection money to keep the king and his retinue stocked up with weapons, food and luxuries, so that they would be at hand to defend the populace against the dangers of a largely lawless land.
|A cowboy fights a native American|
|Woden - all-father of the Anglo-Saxon pantheon of gods|
|Anglo-Saxon Christian cross|
|A page from Bede's "A History of the English Church and People"|
The fact that it is a time seen as "through a glass, darkly" makes it a perfect time to write about. An author does not have a free hand, but there are certainly more areas of uncertainty than with many other periods, allowing a level of flexibility to tell an exciting tale against a backdrop of turmoil and conflict.