Dear readers, tonight on the interview couch we have an 11th century warrior. He’s here to tell us about his amazing journeys through storms and treachery over seas and lands, across England and on the road to far off Rome.
Shield brother and friend to Harald, son of the king, Gwyn the Welshman is always at the atheling’s right hand, ready to defend him and the realm.
You are known as Gwyn the Welshman?
Aye. Gwyn ap Emlyn be my true and rightful name. Gwyn, son of Emlyn, who was my da, a course.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
My wife, Gudrun would say I never did grow up, wouldn’t she? She can never resist a jab, that one. Got to love her. Well, I’m a Welshman, but you know that. Not that I’ve ever spent much time there. To tell you where I was a lytling, I’ll have to tell you of my father. My da had not the heart for working the land and being a scrapper he kept himself alive long enough to get good with a skeggox––a battleæx, you know. He had no love for the Saxons––the dastards had too many Welsh slaves, though I dare say the sardin’ Danes wasn’t much better. So he offers his battleæx to Sweyn Forkbeard, don’t he? That’s when he gets to know Cnute, son of Forkbeard, as they was fightin’ Edmund Ironsides. Shield brothers they was, and nothin’ counts more between men than killin’ together and keepin’ the other alive.
So Cnute’s handfasted wife was Ælfgifu, English born, from Northantone. And my da takes up with her friend Ylva. And what do you know, both women are expectin’ bearns ’bout the same time.
And the babes were you and Harald Harefoot, son of King Cnute?
Harefoot, ha! He loves that, don’t he? You guessed it. So the story of my growin’ up is all about my friendship with Harald Cnuteson, in’t it? Playin’, scrappin’––Harald and me, we was like two bear cubs.
And Sweyn, Harald’s older brother?
Sweyn the Swine we called him. What a cruel dastard he was. Still is. One time he took after us, Harald and me––can’t remember what for––didn’t need a reason. Harald got away, but Sweyn grabbed me and pushed me into the brambles. After Sweyn had gone, Harald was back to get me out, careful like, wasn’t he? Harald’s got a tender side you don’t usually see. Selia sees it––loves him for it.
And this, of course was before Harthacnute, Harald’s younger brother was born?
Half brother he is. Crafty fox. So Cnute casts Ælfgifu aside and marries King Æthelred’s widow, Emma, didn’t he? To unite the Saxons and the Danes he figures. Harthacnute comes along at the natural time after Cnute and Emma have done the deed a few hundred times––in the first week of the marriage bed, I’m thinkin’. Ha! So Hartha was a bearn when Harald and I were up and runnin’ everywhere. And he was with the Queen while we was with Ælfgifu, Ylva, and some of the other families. Harald didn’t see his father as much as before and that pained him. It was like Cnute had two wives, two families.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Well, that would be when Yngvarr Skarissen and I set off in search of Harald, wouldn’t it. He’d been held for silver somewhere outside Engla-lond. Word came that he’d returned, landed near Ceaster. Then his friends lost him. Cnute sent us riding north. No that’s not the truth of it. He sent us to find that cur Drefan. We was lookin’ for him and tryin’ to find Harald, with a big swath of Engla-lond to cover. And there was that business with Pearce the Shire Reeve, the sardin’ pig poker, setting me up for Wregan’s murther. Pearce got entangled with the search for Harald as well, all on account of that connivin’…but I can’t tell you ’bout that.
Cause I swore an oath I wouldn’t, didn’t I? So leave it be.
What was the scariest thing in all your adventures?
Have to think about that. I’d say that time our raft broke up in that river comin’ down out of the Alps into Italia. Thought I’d lost Harald that time, didn’t I. Selia thought so, too. Near broke her heart. Have to admit I was some afraid that time. I’d rather die with a sword in my hand––I’m like the Danes that way––not fightin’ for air and bouncin’ off boulders in some sardin’ foreign river. But that’s a whole other story.
So you’ve gone back to the farming life?
Gudrun and I have land near the village of Fiergen. ‘Tis a good life. The Fiergen folk have finally accepted us after that business with Pearce. It ended well for us––not so well for Pearce. Our daughter, Meleri, is growing like an elm, and always on the run, into everything. She’s a joy, that one. And we’re not so far from Wintanceaster. Harald knows where to find me if he needs me.
And you don’t mind being away from court?
Ha! Can’t get far enough away from that ants’ nest––all the connivin’ and posturin’––not as bad as some places I’ve been. Rome for one.
What was Rome like?
Well, it was big, weren’t it? And the biggest structures you’ll ever lay eyes on––that Coliseum and such places, still standin’ after hundreds of years. And the churches, Mother of God but they make you feel small. But all the bleedin’ courtiers and churchmen, dressed up like fantasy cocks, all tryin’ to show everyone else how important they are. Not the place for a simple Welshman. Didn’t seem to bother Harald, though, or Cnute himself for that matter. Would take more’n that to make the king feel small.
What was the best thing about Rome?
The best thing about Rome? Odd question, in’t it? The women a course! Some of those Italian women could have been goddesses.
Your wife was with you, wasn’t she?
Oh, aye, she was. Gudrun and I met in a tavern on the Rhine. Took to each other right away. Good thing, too. She’s saved my Welsh hide more’n once. I know what you’re poking at. I stayed away from the Italian beauties.
Whom do you really hate?
For a time I hated that dastard Pearce, thought about killin’ him and how sweet that’d be, after all the harm he did me and mine. But in the end I think we understood each other. No, I think I hated deZouche, that Norman dog as much as I’ve hated anyone, even more than Robert the Devil, the sardin’ Duke of Normandy––even he wasn’t as bad as Bertrand deZouche. By God’s blood may he rot in Hell.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
Ale, a course. English ale, Welsh ale, don’t matter do it? Favourite colour? Colour of ale, in’t it? Or maybe mead is a might prettier. Depends. Favourite pastime? Besides swivin’ the wife, you mean? Drinkin’ ale with the wife and friends––Harald and Selia, Yngvarr and Wilona, Irenbend and Cwen––Thor’s knuckles, I got no shortage of friends.
What do you wish for the future?
Long life, I hope, for Gudrun, me, and Meleri. More bearns would be a blessing for sure. I’d wish to see Harald on the throne when Cnute dies––God bless him––and have someone show me the graves of Harald’s brothers––so I can piss on ’em after six pints of ale.
Garth Pettersen is a Canadian writer who lives in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, British Columbia. When he’s not writing, he’s riding horses and working with young, disabled riders. Garth’s short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies, and in journals such as Blank Spaces, The Spadina Literary Review, and The Opening Line Literary ‘Zine. His story River’s Rising was awarded an Honourable Mention for the Short Story America 2017 Prize, and his fantasy novella, River Born, was one of two runners-up in the Wundor Editions (UK) Short Fiction Prize. His debut novel, The Swan’s Road was released in 2017 published by Tirgearr Publishing. Book #2 in the series, The Dane Law, was released in September 2018.
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