The Wistful and the Good (Cuthbert’s People, Book 1)
By G. M. Baker
Publication Date: 4th April 2022 / 341 Pages
The mighty are undone by pride, the bold by folly, and the good by wistfulness
Read an excerpt from G M Baker’s tale set in the eighth century
Elswyth’s mother was a slave, but her father is a thegn, and Drefan, the man she is to marry, is an ealdorman’s son. But though Elswyth is content with the match, and waits only for Drefan to notice that she has come to womanhood, still she finds herself gazing seaward, full of wistful longing.
From the sea come Norse traders, bringing wealth, friendship, and tales of distant lands. But in this year of grace 793 the sea has brought a great Viking raid that has devastated the rich monastery of Lindisfarne. Norse are suddenly not welcome in Northumbria, and when Elswyth spots a Norse ship approaching the beach in her village of Twyford, her father fears a Viking raid.
But the ship brings trouble of a different kind. Leif has visited Twyford many times as a boy, accompanying his father on his voyages. But now he returns in command of his father’s ship and desperate to raise his father’s ransom by selling a cargo of Christian holy books. Elswyth is fascinated by the books and the pictures they contain of warm and distant lands. But when Drefan arrives, investigating reports of the sighting of a Norse ship, Elswyth must try to keep the peace between Drefan and Leif, and tame the wistfulness of her restless heart.
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About G. M. Baker:
G. M. Baker has been a newspaper reporter, managing editor, freelance writer, magazine contributor, PhD candidate, seminarian, teacher, desktop publisher, programmer, technical writer, department manager, communications director, non-fiction author, speaker, consultant, and grandfather. He has published stories in The Atlantic Advocate, Fantasy Book, New England’s Coastal Journal, Our Family, Storyteller, Solander, and Dappled Things. There was nothing much left to do but become a novelist.
Here’s an excerpt from The Wistful and the Good
The more this sleepless wondering dragged on, the more she became convinced that Elswyth had done what Drefan had asked of her, against her own desire, of necessity, and in doing so had come to despise Drefan, and her mother as well. And with that thought in her head it became impossible for her to go on without knowing.
She rose therefore, and went in search of Elswyth. From the door of the sleeping house, she saw the form of her daughter crossing the compound before the hall. Elswyth saw her standing waiting in the doorway and stopped a few paces away. The message could not have been clearer, but Edith was seized by a heartache too strong to allow her to respect Elswyth’s wish to be alone. She went to her, and Elswyth waited where she was, looking at the ground rather than at her mother.
“I thought you went to bed,” Edith said.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Elswyth replied, her voice low and surly, her eyes still on the ground.
“Neither could I,” her mother replied.
“I want to go to bed now.”
“Where did you go?” The anguish Edith saw in Elswyth now was not two days old. It was of the very hour.
“I’m tired, Mother.”
“You are not happy.”
“I don’t have to be happy all the time.”
“But you have spent the evening with the man you are to marry, drinking wine, singing songs, telling tales. How can that not have made you happy?”
“Can’t I just go to bed?”
“Where did you go?”
“Mother, I’m tired…”
“Did you go to him?”
Elswyth stiffened, as if with alarm, then turned away from her mother towards the sea.
There seemed only one answer. Only one thing to ask. “Has Drefan asked you to lie with him? Are you wandering about here waiting for him?”
Elswyth turned back to her again. “Why shouldn’t I, if I want to?”
“Do you want to? Or is it because…”
“You didn’t wait.”
“I had nothing to wait for.”
“Father couldn’t have courted you without…”
“Hilda already thinks I am a trollop,” Edith said. “Darling, please not you too.”
“Weren’t you a trollop?”
“One man. In all my life I have lain with one man. Your father.”
“Well, if I was waiting here for Drefan, and I did lie with him tonight, I would only ever lie with one man as well.”
“Is that all you want? To be no better than me?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted of me? I don’t need to be better than you, Mother. I’m not. That’s Hilda, not me.”
Edith went to her and grabbed her by the arm. “Oh, my darling. Please be better than me. I beg you, be better than me.”
“Really, Mother? At what cost? What should I give up to be better than you? Whose safety? Whose freedom? So that I can be better than you?”
Edith could not keep tears from her eyes. “Darling. You don’t know. You’ve never felt your belly pinch. You’ve never gleaned a field or lived on roots and dandelions. You’ve never been prey to plowboys or any young thegn that visits the hall. I need you to be a lady. Not half a lady like me, not pretending half the time and hoping no one notices, not Lady Cyneburg looking down her nose and pretending you didn’t make a fool of yourself. I need you to be a proper lady, who knows the right things and says the right things and does the right things. I need you to embroider like your fingers were born to it, not like mine that were born to the broom and the quern and never did learn to make an even stitch. I need you to wear shoes on your feet, cover your head, and keep your dress clean.”
“And what else, Mother? What else must I keep to be a lady?”
“Don’t darling. Be kind to me. Hilda is right. I am a trollop. I think like a trollop. You don’t know the difference. You will. A year in Bamburgh hall, and you will see what your grandmother saw, what Lady Cyneburg sees. Cyneburg forgives, because she is a lady. But she knows. She forgives it in me. But she cannot forgive it in you. You are to be Lady of Bamburgh after her, and you must be all she is and more. You must be better than me.”
“Mother, why are you saying this now?”
“Because of what I see in you. What I saw tonight. You don’t want to marry Drefan. You don’t want to marry Drefan, and I don’t know why. And I am afraid that it is because… I’m afraid I have made you hate me too.”
“Oh, Mother, I’m so tired. I just want to go to bed.”
Elswyth broke from her mother and began to walk toward the sleeping house. Edith turned and called after her, “You don’t have to.”
Elswyth turned back to her.
“You don’t have to marry Drefan if you don’t want to. Perhaps we can find another way.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mother,” Elswyth snapped in return. “There is no other way.” And then she turned and entered the sleeping house, leaving her mother standing alone under the harsh gaze of the summer stars.
Thanks to G M Baker for the excerpt and our good wishes for a successful Blog Tour
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