Queen of Distant Hives
By Theresa Tomlinson
When an unwelcome visitor arrives at Hild’s monastery, Fridgyth the herb-wife is forced to hold her tongue. The widow of the fierce Mercian king, who once brought death and destruction to the coastal community, is an uneasy sight for many. Although everyone is thankful for Northumbria’s fragile peace, painful memories are still fresh and some can think of nothing but revenge. A young tanner is found dead after a mysterious liaison - his brother is nowhere to be seen, and the boy that used to help him is terrified to speak.
While the Abbess is busy trying to secure an on-going peace for the kingdom, Fridgyth starts her own investigation, though she has no idea what she is dealing with or the danger she is in …
Ralf lifted the reins to drive his beasts on, but then he seemed to change his mind and, for a moment or two, appeared strangely reluctant to set off again.
“It is just that...” he began. “I had it in mind to ask a favour... and when I saw you here...”
Fridgyth smiled. “Oh aye?” she said.
He fastened the reins of his waggon and climbed down to stand in front of her. The herb-wife patted her mule to keep him still and waited patiently, unsurprised by the sudden change in Ralf’s behaviour.
“How can I help?” she asked gently, as the lad awkwardly shifted his weight from foot to foot.
Fridgyth was used to being approached in this uncertain manner. Love potions were her stock in trade, as was knowledge of certain lovemaking tricks, which might prevent conception and the burden of too many mouths to feed.
A bashful enquirer might need encouragement before he was able to fully state his business, but the herb-wife always cheerfully shared her knowledge without passing judgment. Over the years her reputation for sense and kindness in these matters had travelled around.
She thoughtfully looked the lad up and down. Though not as handsome as his older brother Godric, Ralf was still a strong, healthy lad. The tanners’ trade had thrived since Abbess Hild had founded the monastery on the cliffs, for boots, shoes, bags and saddles were everyday requirements. The scriptorium too now made demands on certain branches of the trade and Fridgyth had heard that Ralf’s brother had recently been studying to learn the skill of curing calfskins, in order to supply the monastery school with parchment. Both the tanner brothers would make attractive husbands. No lass who married a tanner would go hungry, cold, or short of decent clothing, though she’d be expected to turn her hand to a few unpleasant and stinking tasks from time to time. These reflections whisked through the herb-wife’s mind, while Ralf still hesitated, uncertain how to frame his question.
“Is it a lass?” Fridgyth asked at last.
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Theresa Tomlinson spent many years as a children’s author and was twice short-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Historical themes have always fascinated her and many of her books are set close to home in Sheffield where she brought up her children and Whitby/North Yorkshire where she lived as a child.
Since hearing stories as a child she has been fascinated by the famous Anglo-Saxon monastery set on the clifftops at Whitby and Abbess Hild, a powerful woman set in charge of a community of men and women. A SWARMING OF BEES was the first adult murder/mystery introducing Fridgyth the half-pagan herb-wife who serves the community at the time of the famous Synod of Whitby - and QUEEN OF A DISTANT HIVE takes this warm-hearted, no-nonsense detective onto enjoy a further adventure.