The Saxon Wolf – the history behind the historical fiction
I’ve finished the second draft of The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2), the next book in my epic new Viking series, and sent it off to the publisher. The cover is sorted (see below) and the blurb on the back of the book is written. Basically, I’m done with it, and it will be published in mid-January 2022 as an eBook and paperback. So I thought I would tell my readers about the real history behind this work of fiction, and what inspired me to write the book in the first place.
The story is about two exceptional Norse warriors, Bjarki and Tor, who agree to fight for a Saxon princeling who is trying to win back his homeland from the encroaching Christian Franks. Bjarki and Tor are fictional but Widukind of Westphalia was a real warrior, a young nobleman who led the resistance against King Charles (called Karolus in this book, the future Charlemagne) for several decades in what is now northern Germany the late 8th century.
Widukind (see statue below) was a real man but his story is surrounded by a thicket of myths and legends – he is a Robin Hood-type character, a brave man who led a peasant army in dense woodland, including many bowmen, against the invading Christians and using what we would now call guerrilla tactics, or asymmetrical warfare. His support was mostly drawn from the lower ranks of Saxon society, farmers, woodsmen, cattle herders, and so on, while his fellow noblemen were more easily persuaded to accept their Frankish overlords. As the author of ten Outlaw Chronicles novels, I think it was probably the obvious Robin Hood comparisons that first drew me to him.
Widukind’s name means “Child of the Woods”, a Saxon euphemism for a wolf, hence the title of this novel The Saxon Wolf. He is recorded as the rebel Saxon leader in the Royal Frankish Annals, a contemporary account written in Latin by Charlemagne’s monks. But almost nothing is written about his personal characteristics. I have imagined him as an inspired public speaker because he must have had considerable powers of persuasion to induce his countrymen to fight on against impossible odds for thirty years. He also must have been stubborn, perhaps even a heroic figure.
The basic story line of the novel (beware: spoilers coming) comes from the Royal Frankish Annals which have this to say of the spring and summer campaign waged by Charlemagne against the pagan Saxons in AD775.
Extract from the Royal Frankish Annals
Then the pious and illustrious lord king Charles [Karolus] held the assembly at the villa called Düren [near Cologne], from where he undertook a campaign into Saxony. He captured the castrum of Syburg [Sigiburg], rebuilt Eresburg and reached the River Weser at the place called Braunsberg, where the Saxons, who intended to defend the bank of the river, were arraying themselves for battle.
By the help of the Lord and the exertions of the Franks, the Saxons were put to flight; the Franks seized both banks and many Saxons were killed. Then the lord king Charles divided his army and himself advanced with the men whom he had chosen to the River Oker. All the Saxon Eastphalians came there with Hessi, gave hostages as he was pleased to demand and swore oaths of fidelity to the above-said lord king Charles.
Similarly, when the king returned from there, the Angrians came with Brun and their other optimates [leaders] to the district called Bucki [Buckegau] and there gave hostages, like the easterners [Eastphalians].
On his return from there, the aforementioned king joined up on the River Weser with the other part of his army, which was holding the bank as ordered. The Saxons had fought a battle with them at the place called Lidbach [Lubbecke] where, by the will of God, victory had fallen to the Franks, who had killed a great number of those Saxons.
From this little bit of text, translated from the Latin origin, I fashioned my fictional story of triumph and tragedy, of betrayal and epic battles. I hope you enjoy it when it comes out in the new year and you can pre-order a copy by clicking here. If you haven’t read The Last Berserker, the first book in the series (below), you can still read The Saxon Wolf as a standalone. But it if you want to get the full background of Bjarki’s rare battle talent, click here.