Helen M. Stevens


 Textile Artist

Member of the Society of Women Artists 

Read excerpts from THE SAXON TWINS



“Be quiet, husband!” Elfrith said, steel in her voice.

“Why do you let her speak to you like that?”  Ethelwine was indignant.  “Very well, here it is.  You will recall the day Wold and I came to your father’s Hall?  King Edgar had heard that old Ordgar had a beautiful daughter – a daughter ill-suited to life in a far flung sub-ealdormanry, elegant enough to be a queen, educated above the norm.  He wanted a wife, but he wanted to know something of her before he raised her hopes by inviting her to Court.  Edgar is a considerate man.  He asked Wold to look you over and report back… but Wold, Wold looked too long and too hard!  On our journey back to Wintancaestre I heard nothing but how lovely you were, how clever, how virtuous!  By the time we reached the Court he had convinced himself that he was in love with you!  He begged me to keep quiet, and when the King asked, he said that reports of your beauty were much exaggerated.  That you were, indeed, quite intelligent, but not blessed with charm!  That you had not received the upbringing appropriate to a prospective Queen!  The King, of course, dropped the matter.”

Elfrith stood stock still.  She looked around her, eyes resting on each member of the family in turn.  No-one spoke.  “How many of you knew this?” she asked.

She flicked her long gunna back, smoothing its folds down over her slim hips.  Slowly she walked toward the hanging at the back of the Hall.  Turning, she said “Don’t even think of following me.”


“I swear I shall never understand that woman,” Ethelwold muttered to Brithnoth. “She never touches a needle if she can help it, and then when I am in a hurry to be away, she sees a frayed cuff to my tunic and insists on mending it there and then … and near flays me in the attempt!” A scratch ran across his lower arm and a little blood had soaked onto his cuff, staining the embroidery. Both men mounted and without looking back Ethelwold turned his horse and galloped out of the gates. Brithnoth raised an eyebrow to Aelflaed, blew her a kiss, and followed, the other riders in pursuit, raising a cloud of dust as the horses were given their heads.

For a while, impeded by the heavy late summer-foliaged woodland floor, the pace was slow enough for us to keep up, but gradually the older riders pulled ahead, and Ratkin and I were left in their wake, following the trampled pathway created by their passage, our horse content to co-operate, but reluctant to over-exert himself. We could hear the hunt crashing on ahead of us, and were happy to pretend to ourselves that we, as a rear-guard, would hold the hind at bay should she turn, despite my Uncle’s warning. We were weaving tales to each other of just this scenario when we entered a small clearing, where the going was easier, and came upon Ethelwold, his horse slowed to a walk. He was hunched forward over the pommel of his saddle, his right forearm pressing his stomach, his left hand dangling uselessly at his side. As we watched, he began to slip off this horse, trying to hold himself in place by leaning on his horse’s neck, but loosing balance and hitting the ground with a sickening thud, his face to the earth.


Desperation made her impulsive. “Lord, a purring cat gives more pleasure than a spitting one … You need not be so rough.” She stopped struggling and looked at him boldly, with what she hoped was an inviting smile. He lowered the knife and for an instant his hold of her elbow loosened slightly. It was all she needed. Twisting in his grip she ducked under his arm and flew away toward the castle gates, on the far side of the open square. Within a couple of strides, he had caught up to her and made a grab for her wet rag of a cloak. As it tore from her body, she tripped and sprawled to the ground, an agonising pain shooting through her knee. The smaller man made to step on her hand as she tried, on all fours, to regain her feet. As he put out his foot to do so he tripped his companion, the big man falling hard and swearing obscenely. The others in their party were laughing and urging on her tormentors, though some, she could hear, were placing bets on her chances of escape. With her last ounce of energy and courage she lurched away from the entangled limbs of her attackers as they tried to rise and headed for the castle door. Her unsuccessful attempt at entry was witnessed by all of us …