Shield Maiden is the first book in The Nine Worlds series in which the historical world of Anglo-Saxon England meets the mysterious world of myths and legends, gods and monsters our ancestors believed in.
This is the world as it might have been had those stories been true…
Shield Maiden is set in our world in about the year AD 600. These are the years when thousands of Anglo-Saxons are crossing from Germany and Denmark and pushing west, creating a land that will one day be called England.
The heroine of Shield Maiden is Anna. Anna’s people are Angles. Tradition says that the Angles who came to Mercia crossed the North Sea in around 527 and so by Anna’s time her people would have lived in Scenestane for over 70 years.
Scenestane itself and the surrounding lands are based on the village of Shenstone. Two Roman roads do cross northwest of the village near the village of Wall – itself the ruins of the old Roman town of Letocetum. Now owned and run by the National Trust, it can be visited, as can the museum there (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/letocetum-roman-baths/how-to-get-here).
Evidence of several Roman Villas have been found around the village in archaeological digs over the last century. Likewise there was a barrow north of the village, and on the hills to the west, there is an Iron Age hill fort on private land. Shenstone means ‘beautiful stones’ and refers to the Roman ruins that would have been visible when Anna’s ancestors came to the village. The modern day parish church and the ruins of a much older one are on a rocky hill populated with trees. The English often built their churches on former pagan temples so to me it seemed a good place for my pagan temple.
The Angles were not Christians. Mercian kings allowed Christian missionaries in from AD 633 onwards but it would take a century for it to all become Christian. So Anna, her ancestors and even her own children (if she lives to have them) would be pagan.
A world of beliefs
The Anglo -Saxons believed in many gods and goddesses. There are at least fifty different gods, each having care and power over certain aspects of the universe. Anglo-Saxon gods are not always kind. They can be harsh, arrogant and certainly strong-willed. In Shield Maiden we hear about four gods:
Thunor is the thunder god. The Vikings called him Thor and that name is more familiar to us today.
Freya is the Goddess of Love and Beauty but also in charge of the Valkyries. Half those who die in battle are sent to her afterlife fields to live with her.
Heimdall: Gatekeeper of the gods. Watches the Bifrost – the gateway to Asgard. He has very good eyesight and hearing. It is said that he can hear and see a single blade of grass grow.
Woden (Called Odin by the Vikings and Woden in England): Chief of the gods. God of wisdom and thought. He is also a war god. An old man with a long beard. Has only one eye so wears a patch. He can make the dead speak and change men’s fate and destiny – their wyrd.
A World of Monsters
The Anglo-Saxons believed in many different creatures and monsters. They populated their world and haunted their nightmares.
Barghests (sometimes called black dogs) are evil creatures who appear as huge black dogs or hounds, as large as a calf. They can move silently at times. Some can shape-shift and appear as different creatures. These terrifying dogs are often linked to certain roads, gates or locations near water.
Dweorgar ( or dwarfs)are usually described as ugly, often bad tempered and occasionally evil. Dwarves are talented at making magical items and artefacts. They created many of the powerful artifacts made by the gods such as the Brisingammen of Freya.
Svartálfar (dark elves) these are very different from the beautiful light elves that became Tolkien’s elves and which today we might be more famliar. Dark elves are ugly and misshapen but perhaps nearer an evil version of Santa’s elves. They can influence human dreams and give nightmares. They live underground. Possibly sunlight can turn them to stone which is why they avoid it.
Ravens : Ravens, although a natural bird have deep symbolism in Saxon Mythology. Firstly Woden (Odin) has two ravens called Huginn and Muninn (thought and memory) who flew across the world and brought news back for the god. Ravens were often seen at battlefields and so became associated with death. Indeed seeing a large black bird became a bad omen suggesting imminent death for someone.
One of Nine Worlds
The Anglo-Saxons along with their Norse and German brethren believed that the universe was a big tree called Yggdrasil. In its branches nine worlds (sometimes mentioned as just seven) were supported. The nine worlds are:
Asgard – home of the gods and location of Valhalla where the dead go to feast with Woden.
Midgard – Our world, Earth. Home to humans.
Vanaheimr – Home to Vanir, gods of magic.
Ālfheimr – The world from which the beautiful light elves come.
Jotunheimr – Land of mountains and giants.
Muspellsheimr – Land of fire and beings of fire.
Svartálfaheimr – Land of the svartálfar dark elves.
Nidarvelir – Land of the dweorgar or dwarves.
Niflheimr – Land of Ice.
In addition, near Niflheimr is Hel (spelt with one l)- the realm of the dead.
This is the world of Shield Maiden.
Shield Maiden is a Historical Fantasy Adventure For Children of Ages 9+
Anna is a 12 year old girl growing up in a Saxon village in 7th century Mercia. Her life changes when she finds a golden horn in the ruins of a Roman Villa. Soon an ugly dwarf, a beautiful sorceress and even her own people are after her.
What powers does the horn have and why does everyone want it?
And why is Anna the only one who can get a note out of it?