Thursday 25 August 2022

Have a sneak-peek between the covers of M J Porter's fabulous novel - The Last Seven #historicalfiction #TalesOfMercia #Ceowulf @coloursofunison


The Last Seven
By M J Porter

Book Title: The Last Seven
Series: The Ninth Century
Author: M J Porter
Publication Date: 25th August 2022
Publisher: M J Publishing
Page Length: c.250
Genre: Historical Fiction/Action and Adventure

He sent twenty men to infiltrate three hundred. 
It had to be enough.

While Archbishop Wulfhere of York begs for assistance against Jarl Halfdan, now living in Northumbria, Bishop Smithwulf of London is eager for Coelwulf to forge an alliance with King Alfred of Wessex. And the three Raider jarls continue to hold Grantabridge. Yet, Coelwulf has so far managed to dismiss all of these concerns, his worry only with his missing warrior, Pybba.

But while searching for Pybba, events overtake Coelwulf, his men are murdered, and his aunt taken, but by which of his enemies?

If Coelwulf fails to rescue his aunt alive, then what hope does he have for keeping his kingdom secure?

The year is AD875 and the men of Mercia must once more ride into the fray. The future of Mercia depends on them.

The witan, Worcester, Easter AD875

‘My lord king.’ I growl at the whinging tone and then try to smooth my face. It doesn’t come easily, and I can see my aunt watching me carefully. Her expression is severe, and for her, the clothing she’s donned is elaborate. I fiddle with a loose thread that runs from the embellishments on my tunic. It’s so stiff I can hardly move. If I was a man given to flights of fancy, I could almost say the bloody thing is strangling me as I sit, listening and pretending to show some concern.
‘Where’s Pybba?’ The words roll around my head, and there’s almost no space for anything else. Yet the bishop is bleating, and the ealdormen are watching me with careful expressions on their faces, as though they, too, know that at any moment I might lose all composure.
I don’t say the words aloud, but I must think them loudly enough that Edmund winces at me. He’s on edge, I can tell from the grimace on his face, which remains handsome despite the loss of an eye. His clothes, like mine, are for ceremony and ritual, and I could laugh at how uncomfortable he is if only I didn't feel the same. 
I think he fears I’ll lash out. I might just do that. I’d sooner face seven shiploads of Viking raiders than my loyal Mercians at the moment. I need something, or rather, someone to kill. Diplomacy dictates that it shouldn’t be one of my warriors, one of my ealdormen, or even one of my bishops. 
My gaze falters, and suddenly I don’t see the men and women of the witan, seated and surrounding me, attentive expressions on their faces, but instead that moment, I realise my warrior’s missing, just when success had been snatched from our enemy, and the river thundered at our backs. I remember my words. They fall easily into my mind now.
‘But first, tell me, where’s Pybba because he’s not here?’ I’d lifted my hands to either side, indicating to my attentive warriors that everyone else had been accounted for.
I’d look to Rudolf first of all my warriors. He’d done me the courtesy of looking down at his mud-splattered feet, water pooling down his neck, his shoulders low, entirely deflated even after such a victory against the Viking raiders. He’d not wanted to tell me, and I’d not wanted to bloody hear it. Bloody Pybba.
Damn it.
‘My lord king?’ I fix a perplexed expression on my face, look to my aunt, who now glowers at me, alongside Edmund, and I’m grateful when Bishop Wærferth comes to my aid with his keen intelligence and sprightly demeanour.
‘My lord king,’ his words are as smooth as always. I admire him with such poise in the face of my obvious distraction and belligerence. ‘Bishop Deorlaf raises some concerns regarding the defence of the settlement of Hereford. We did discuss this matter quite recently, my lord king. Perhaps, something similar to that which now protects Northampton?’ Bishop Wærferth assists me a great deal. I should be more grateful for his patience.
I nod. I know we did. But just the mention of the name Hereford has sent my thoughts spiralling towards Pybba. When I find him, I’m going to kill him.
‘Defences need to be built. I have men from Northampton who can discuss matters with the local carpenters. I’ll also ensure funds are directed your way. As with Bishop Wærferth and Worcester, I can exempt you from the burden of feeding the kings’ horses and their servants for the next four years, and in that time, you can oversee the construction of walls to protect the inhabitants of the local area.’ All of a sudden, I remember our previous discussions clearly enough to make such a decision without having to think for too long.
Bishop Deorlaf’s face clears of confusion at my obvious disinterest while he spoke. He bows low to show his gratitude. He shouldn’t be grateful for such actions. I’m the bloody king of Mercia. This is my role. To protect my people. All of them. Even the whining bishops.
But see how easy it is to please my bishops? Just determine a means whereby they have the available coin to do what they desire. Ah, coin. I know what’s coming next, and once more temper my frustration. First, Bishop Deorlaf retakes his seat, and I wait for the next demand on my time. I know I agreed to this witan, and I know I said I’d wear Mercia’s warrior helm of shimmering gold and silver, but I’d rather be elbow deep amongst the Viking raiders, fighting to the death, than here, in the great hall of Worcester, with all eyes on me. I’m not a man for clever words. And certainly not for honeyed ones.
‘And the new coinage?’ Bishop Wærferth queries, one busy eyebrow high, as he indicates to the scribe beside him that something should be noted for future reference. Bishop Wærferth will assign the deeds discussed here today to vellum with ink. My decisions will be recorded for all time or thrown back into my face when I renege on one of my promises.
‘Ah, the coinage,’ I think. It’s an issue that needs solving.
‘Have the new coin dies been prepared?’ I ask, again, once more recalling previous conversations, trying to banish the sounds of that thundering river from my memories.
‘Not yet, my lord king. It’s necessary to first decide on a design. Will it show your head, as your predecessors?’ Bishop Wærferth’s tone manages to convey respect even while he chastises me for forgetting one of the many details I should be able to recall. And indeed, one of the decisions I should have made a long time ago.
‘Why would people need to see my head?’ I blurt aloud. ‘Is it so they know whose head they need to sever when we meet in battle?’

This novel is FREE to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx