The Saxon Marriage

Eadgyth of Wessex and Otto the Great Cover image by Gali Estrange/

The Saxon Marriage is available from Amazon and is free with Kindle Unlimited

“On those days when it will feel as if half the nobles in the realm are against him, the loving and unquestioning support of a wife is a blessing like no other. Promise me, Eadgyth, you will always be that for my son.”

Eadgyth’s happy childhood as the adored daughter of King Edward of the Anglo-Saxons came to an abrupt end at the age of nine, when her mother was cast away. Distraught at the rejection by her father, she learnt to keep her heart closely guarded.

After ten years shut in a convent Eadgyth is commanded by her half-brother, King Athelstan, to go with her younger sister to the court of King Henry of Germany, where his son, the brave, young Otto will choose one of them as his wife.

Indifferent to her fate, she travels to Saxony where she is welcomed by King Henry and his wife, the beautiful Queen Mathilda. As her friendship with the Queen grows Eadgyth warms to her new life, while her relationship with Otto, little more than a boy at seventeen, takes a turn she had not anticipated. Despite the ever-present threat of war on the nearby Slavic front, slowly Eadgyth dares to believe she can be happy.

But beneath the surface of this contented family, tensions are building. Otto’s brothers harbour concealed ambitions, Mathilda’s love for her son seems strangely uncertain and Otto himself reveals an unexpected secret. And as Otto prepares himself to take the throne of Germany, the hostility boils over leaving Eadgyth facing a desperate struggle to hold her family together, terrified that yet again she could lose the man at the heart of it…


Great Dads of the Dark Age

Everyone has a different idea of what makes a great dad, but for these dark age fathers, my criteria for what makes them great will be very simple. Each of these fathers had a son known as ‘the Great’. These fathers paved the way to their son’s greatness, yet are not remembered or celebrated as their famous sons are. So let’s remember them this Father’s Day!

Pepin the Short

Pepin was the first of the Carolingians to become king. He was a great reformer of the Frankish church, evangelising the Saxons, who were continually in revolt against him, as were plenty of members of his own family. He was one of the most successful rulers of his time, but little is known about the boyhood of his sons. However in young adulthood his son, Karl/Charles campaigned alongside his father undoubtedly helping to account for his rise to military genius. This son is more commonly known as Charlemagne, the Faher of Europe.

Athelwulf of Wessex (Discover more on Athelwulf in Three Times the Lady

Judith WFrancia2

This man was a fairly successful king, who managed the Viking threat well and helped raise the profile of Wessex on the continent through his pilgrimage to Rome and his somewhat outrageous second marriage to Judith of West Francia, the teenage daughter of Charles the Bald when Athelwulf was well into his fifties. He appears to have been a  devoted father, fighting alongside his oldest son and later forgiving him for a rebellion against him. Athelwulf is known to have been of a scholarly inclination, a tendency his youngest son at least seems to have inherited. He also took his youngest son with him on his travels to Rome and the court of Charles the Bald. The impact of this on the young boy must have been immense. That boy grew up to be Alfred the Great. Athelwulf died when Alfred was eight or nine, but the influence of his father surely helped him on his way to greatness.



Henry the Fowler

We’ve had two great dads, but if any man deserves the title Greatest Dad of the Dark Ages it is Henry the Fowler. He had not just one, but two sons known as the Great. It is hard to say how much credit he deserves for the younger – Bruno the Great, Archbishop of Cologne since Bruno was placed in the care of the Bishop of Utrecht from the age of five, but perhaps Henry recognised even then his son’s intelligence and planned accordingly. However Henry’s actions definitely helped in the success of his older son Otto. He fought alongside Henry from an early age on the Slavic Marches and it was Henry’s decision to leave his whole realm to Otto, rather than dividing it among his brothers as had previously been the custom. It was also Henry who arranged an advantageous marriage for Otto with a princess from one of Europe’s oldest dynasties, thus increasing the prestige of his son. Henry’s actions as much as Otto’s own helped create his title of Otto the Great.

To great dads everywhere


Strange allies

When the UK General Election was called the result already seemed certain, but a week is a long time in politics and a month even longer. The result is now less certain and it looks like after June 8th there could be some strange alliances formed. Perhaps officially (in the event of a hung parliament) or perhaps unofficially (in the event of a slim majority).

Alliances, as much as wars, are the stuff history is made of and can have a lasting impact on the course of a nation. Think of the influence of the Franks on 9th century Wessex, due to their long links with the Carolingians – Egbert was an exile at the court of Charlemagne, Athelwulf married a Carolingian princess and Alfred married his daughter to the Count of Flanders.

Alliances are also a key part of my books. As well as the aforementioned diplomatic marriage of Athelwulf and Judith of West Francia, there is also the marriage of Cinaed Mac Alpin, made to cement a truce and enhance his own Pict royal connections, and the desperate need for allies which drives Radigis the Varni prince to the shores of East Anglia.

Common enemies are often a key part of alliances and it will undoubtedly be this which will play a part in any alliances forged in the next few weeks, perhaps resulting in two or more very different political leaders of very different political parties having to work together. This reminds me of an exercise I was set as part of a writing group, where you had to bring together characters from different books and see what happened. For me there was an obvious choice of characters. Cinaed mac Alpin and Athelwulf of Wessex came to the throne in the same year – 839 and died in the same year – 858. Historically speaking there is no reason to think the two leaders ever met, although they must have been aware of each other – they were two of the most powerful men in Britain.

In my books the two men are portrayed very differently. Athelwulf is pious, decorous and scholarly. Cinaed is ruthless, ambitious and martial. It seems unlikely they could possibly get on, but they did have a common enemy…



The skirmish had ended, as it so often did, in a standoff. The two leaders stared at each other suspiciously.

“Why are you here, Wessex King?” Cinaed shouted at the fair-haired man. “Our campaign does not concern you.”

“You are too close to our Mercian allies,” Athelwulf of Wessex called back. “You cannot advance further.”

“Can we not?” Domnall called. “Are you certain, Wessex King?”

Before Athelwulf could retort, the men on both sides began to mutter and point. They were not far from the coast and smoke was rising from a nearby settlement.

“Norsemen!” Cinaed spat.

“Heathens!” Athelwulf said at the same time.

The two leaders stared at each other. Athelwulf went forward, his hands outstretched. “My lord, I think we have a common enemy. I call for a truce.”

Cinaed and Domnall exchanged amused looks. “What terms are you offering? And can you be sure the Norsemen will not offer us a more advantageous one?”

“You would not join forces with them!” Athelwulf exclaimed. “They are heathens. I know you are a Christian man.”

Cinaed’s eyes narrowed. “How can I be certain you will not trick us in some fashion?”

“You have my word.”

Cinaed and Domnall laughed at that. “We do not trust men’s words,” Domnall said.

“Prove your good intent,” Cinaed demanded.

“How?” Athelwulf was looking impatient, his eyes on the smoke.

Cinaed looked at the boy at Athelwulf’s side. He was a good-looking, dark-haired boy, not long out of childhood. “Is that your son?”

Athelwulf nodded. “Allow me to present my second son, Prince Athelbald of Wessex.”

“The lad fights alongside me,” Cinaed said.

Athelwulf’s arm went around his son’s shoulders. “I will not trust you with my son.”

“Then no truce,” Cinaed said with a shrug. “I do not care if the Norsemen sack Mercia.”

Athelwulf looked distractedly at the smoke and then back at his son. Cinaed smirked, knowing he had found the Wessex King’s weakness. But as their eyes met he felt a flicker of shame.

“I have a son,” Cinaed said, “I’ll defend your lad with my life. You have my word.”

“Are you a man of your word?” Athelwulf asked, the suspicion clear on his face.

Cinaed grinned. “No, but you can trust me on this. One father to another.”

Reluctantly Athelwulf smiled and pushed his son toward the Gael men. To Domnall’s amusement Athelbald folded his arms and glared at him.

While Cinaed and Athelwulf shouted orders at their respective troops, Domnall and Athelbald sized each other up. In a swift action Athelbald drew his sword, slashing it towards Domnall’s throat. The boy was quick, but Domnall was quicker. Athelbald’s sword fell to the ground.

“It does not seem to me that you are a man of your word,” Domnall said looking sternly at the boy.

“I did not say I was,” Athelbald retorted, looking unrepentant.

Domnall laughed and handed Athelbald back his sword. “You should stick with me and Cinaed, my lad. You will fit in very well.”

KB5_Photo   Meet Cinaed, Domnall and a host of other Picts and Gaels in Kenneth’s Queen , the tale of a forgotten queen in the tumultuous days of 9th century Scotland.

Judith WFrancia2 Athelwulf and Athelbald are both major characters in the remarkable story of Athelwulf’s wife, Judith of West Francia. Three Times the Lady

Happy Birthday Women of the Dark Ages!

So it’s a year since I hit publish on Kenneth’s Queen! Actually it’s been a year and a week, but on the anniversary I was in medieval Suffolk (well, almost medieval – very old house, no WIFI, candles lighting the way to bed etc.) and since then I’ve been getting on with my latest book and supervising Easter egg hunts. However the children are back at school today and I’m feeling too distracted by the shock General Election announcement to immerse myself in the politics of 1000 years ago, so I can finally say

balloons-308419_1280Happy Birthday Women of the Dark Ages! balloons-308419_1280

The Women of the Dark Ages was a somewhat unexpected birth. When I started writing Kenneth’s Queen the series was meant to be ‘Queens of Scotland’. But during writing I realised I did not want to go more modern than the Mac Alpin dynasty and so while I would certainly like to revisit Scotland in this series it will not be with the Canmores, Bruces and Stewarts, but with the Picts, Gaels and Vikings.

So, it’s been quite a year. Two more books followed Kenneth’s Queen and I discovered some wonderful historical characters I had never previously encountered. A huge thank you to everyone who has bought a copy. I don’t know many of your names – I wish I did! Thank you to those who have taken the time to leave reviews or to get in touch via Facebook and Goodreads. I well remember the excitement of that first sale just hours after the book went live. Even though I now see sales almost every time I check I still feel that same excitement and gratitude for each and every sale. I hope that never changes – the day I start taking readers for granted is the day I should stop writing.

One of the things I first discovered upon publication was that I had no idea of how to promote my work. I had also completly underestimated how vulnerable publication would make me feel. For months characters live only in my head and only belong to me. Then I hit publish and the characters I have come to love so much go out into the world for anyone to meet. So thank you to everyone who has encouraged me. A few special mentions are deserved here.

Firstly to my second son, Jono, always a sounding board for questions like ‘how many named characters is it ok to kill off?’ when I became concerned by the mounting death toll of Kenneth’s Queen! He also gave up several days of his Easter holiday last year to help me with the cover, heroically coping when I announced the blonde model needed to be a red head!

Thank you also to friends Paul and Kirsty who were the recipients of my first panicked message to please like my Facebook Page. Bless them, they not only did that but splashed it all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. while I hid away on an internet blackout  – every introverted author needs friends like this!

Another thank you to everyone who has shared posts, retweeted promos, or featured my books on their blog. I am lucky that there are too many to mention, but every share, retweet and mention is truly appreciated.

Writing can be a crazy pass time, so a supportive community is always a big help. People who understand the highs and lows of the process and don’t think you’re a lunatic for crying over the death of one of your characters! For anyone in the same boat I can strongly recommend Facebook group Writer’s Assembled. Members there range from people who write the occasional poem or short story to those with full publishing deals, so whatever your ability or ambition you are welcome.

It is often a bit of a cliche to thank someone with the words ‘without them this book could not have been written’. But in my case this is quite literally true. I never forget that there were real people who lived through and often suffered through the events of the stories. So to Cinaed Mac Alpin, his unknown wife and all the others who suffered the devastating Norse attacks; To the Island Girl, Wehha, Radigis and all who suffered in the famines and plagues caused by that far away volcanic explosion; And to Judith the Beautiful and Wise a child bride, who lived through accusations, loss, imprisonment and a desperate journey as a fugitive. Thank you – it has been a privilege to tell your stories.


I do feel I should have done something momentous to mark this first year. A new release would have been good or at least a cover reveal, but unfortunately I’m not organised enough for that. But I shall at least reveal the (currently provisional) title.

Coming soon – The Saxon Marriage

Until then, here’s the family so far!

KB5_Photo    Kenneth’s Queen                      EdlinWolfThe Girl from Brittia

Judith WFrancia2 Three Times the Lady

In search of The Waste Land

Reblogging this to celebrate the ‘cruelest month’!

Dark Age Voices

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land…

So begins T S Eliot’s masterpiece, the Waste Land – that poem that was used to torture me during A level English and that I appreciate so much more as an adult! Eliot’s waste land is not just a physical one, but also a spiritual one – the waste land of civilisation, struggling to recover after World War One.

There are a number of influences in this poem, but perhaps the most obvious one and the one that most interests me is the Arthurian legend. King Arthur – Britain’s hero, the once and future king. Definitely a mythological character, but possibly also a historical one. His story has been told and retold down the generations with many associated legends. One of the most famous is the Grail Quest and the Fisher King, both of which feature in Eliot’s…

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Dark Age Mothers

As it is Mothering Sunday in the UK let’s celebrate the Mothers of the Dark Ages! Over a thousand years ago women for the most part had two choices – they married and hoped for children or they entered the church. For those who married impending motherhood must have been a time of extreme emotions. On the one hand the hope of a child was a matter for celebration, but on the other was the very real possibility that they would die during or soon after the birth. Even for those who survived the birth, the joys of motherhood were by no means assured.  Infant mortality was high and for a mother to lose one or more of her children in the early years was normal.

With no reliable fertility treatments available the failure to provide children could have serious consequences. Lothair, King of Middle Francia/Lotharingia spent many years trying to secure a divorce from his wife Teutburga, including accusing her of incest with her brother, because she was unable to bear children and his concubine, Waldrada could.

Records of motherhood from that period are few. In the cases of many of the early leaders we do not even know the names of their mothers. Some recorded examples are monsterous, such as the Empress Irene, who ruled as regent for her son. Her lust for power was so great that when her son came of age she had his eyes put out and he later died from his injuries, apparently triggering a solar eclipse and seventeen days of darkness as Heaven itself condemned the action! A jealous Frankish queen Fredegund allegedly tried to murder her daughter, by trapping her neck in the lid of a chest.

More praiseworthy examples might reflect the mother fighting for their offspring, such as the Empress Theophanu, who ruled as regent over the Holy Roman Empire, securing against opposition the rights of her three-year-old son Otto III. Queen Aacha of Northumbria saved her children including the eleven-year-old (future saint and founder of Lindisfarne Monastery) Oswald by taking them to Dal Riata after her brother killed her husband and took the throne of Northumberland.

For most of us today fighting either for or against our offspring for power over an empire is an alien concept. A more familiar example might be Osburgh the mother of Alfred of Wessex. Alfred himself recounted to his biographer the story of his mother reading to him and his brother and promising the beautifully illustrated book to the one who could memorise the tales. The gifting of treasured books and reading of stories is as much a part of motherhood for many of us as it was for Osburgh all those years ago and this story forges a very real link between those Dark Age mothers and mothers today.

Alfred’s mother (probably) died while he was young and we can never know how much Osburgh’s story-telling influenced him. But we do know that Alfred valued the ability to read very highly and he became one of the great champions of Dark Age literacy. So as we celebrate the mothers of today, take a moment to remember the mothers of the past. Their actions are mostly unrecorded, we often know virtually nothing about their lives, but their influence on history may be far greater than we think.



Any age can be a Dark Age

In Dark Ages vs Middle Ages I considered whether it was appropriate to still use the term Dark Ages to describe the period from C500 – C1000. My feeling was that this period deserves it’s own term and not be lumped in with The Middle Ages and that although it was no more dangerous or unenlightened than the surrounding periods, the term Dark Ages is appropriate to describe a period which is obscure and hard to see.

The term Dark Ages to mean anything else could equally well be used to describe many another age. Hitler’s Germany, for example, was far darker than the Germany of Otto the Great.

The term ‘stuck in the Dark Ages’ is often used in a derogative sense as we like to think as time has moved on we have left such times behind. But have we? Could the term ‘Dark Ages’ be used to describe our own age?

Danger: We fear terror attacks just as the people of Athelwulf’s Wessex and Cinaed mac Alpin’s Dal Riata once feared the Norse raids. Head to places such as Syria and you will find a society affected by war in a way unheard of in those ‘uncivilised’ medieval times. Medical advances mean that a lot of the common causes of death in the medieval world no longer affect us… at least, they no longer affect us in the West. For much of the world death in childbirth is as common now as it was a thousand years ago. We have the means to prevent it but not, it seems, the will. Does this not make us even less civilised than those Dark Age people?

Enlightenment: We can shudder at the thought of teenage Frankish princess, Judith of West Francia given in marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather, but women remain second-class citizens in many of the countries of the world. In the West we like to think our attitudes have come a long way since the Dark Ages. But have they? Misogyny, racism and homophobia are just a few of the prejudices that still exist in Western society and judging by recent political decisions by the UK and USA, they not only exist, they are flourishing.

  • Misogyny – judging a half of society as inferior based on their reproductive organs.
  • Racism – judging a segment of society on the colour of their skin or their country of origin. (or in some cases the country of origin of their ancestors)
  • Homophobia – judging a segment of society on their sexual orientation even though it is a) only one facet of who they are and b) as long as it only involves consenting adults sexual activity is a matter of personal taste and no one else’s business.

It’s hardly an enlightened attitude, is it?

Information: But surely our society has come a long way in its visibility hasn’t it? Surely the historians of the future will find it easy to understand our times, or will they? We live in an age of spin, post truths, alternative facts and media bias. It would not surprise me if the historians of the future who will have a wealth of books, articles, news clips, websites and tweets find it just as hard if not harder to decipher our age, as the historians of today trying to work out the past using just archaeology, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle and Asser’s Life of King Alfred.

Perhaps the question historians should ask is not “Is it acceptable to use the term Dark Ages to describe the period C500 – C1000?”. Perhaps the question should be

“Are the Dark Ages really over?”

Anyone wanting to escape from  modern dark times into times gone by, check out my Women of the Dark Ages series.

KB5_Photo  Kenneth’s Queen                        EdlinWolf The Girl from Brittia

judith-of-wessex2 Three Times the Lady

All for love – Dark Age style!

As Valentines Day sees all thoughts turn to romance, consider the romantic gestures of days gone by… after some of these, that supermarket bunch of flowers may never seem quite the same!

Wantage: Wantage in Berkshire may not be the first place which summons romance to mind, but this place was the last gift of Alfred the Great to his wife, as it was one of the estates left to her in his will. It was a significant and highly personal gesture, as Wantage was his birthplace. He also left her Edington, the site of his famous battle. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite so romantic, but perhaps to an old warrior like Alfred, it was!

A romantic? His birthplace makes a touching gesture, but not so sure about the battlefield!

Rheims: France is ever romantic, but Rheims is where the Frank king Clovis finally gave his wife Clotilde what she had wanted since their marriage three or four years before: He converted to Catholicism.

The ultimate romantic gesture?

Magdeburg: This beautiful German city was in AD930 a wedding gift from the German Crown Prince Otto to his wife Edith, a woman he is alleged to have fallen in love with at first sight. More than a thousand years later they still lie there side by side.

OK, flowers really aren’t cutting it now!

Bruges: With its canals, intimate restaurants and medieval streets Bruges in Flanders is ever a popular choice with romantics. But few realise the touching love story behind the creation of the County of Flanders. Baudouin Bras de Fer, the first Margrave of Flanders rescued a tragic princess from imprisonment at the hands of her domineering father in a story which has all the best fairytale elements of romance and surely makes Bruges the ultimate Dark Age romantic destination!

Founded on love!

For more Dark Ages romance check out the Women of the Dark Ages series:

KB5_Photo Kenneth’s Queen                     EdlinWolf The Girl from Brittia

judith-of-wessex2  Three Times the Lady

How to become a Dark Age leader

January 20th sees the inauguration of Donald Trump, the new president of the US and much of the world is still mystified how that came about. The process in the Dark Ages was often equally mystifying with many different methods of gaining control.

Be the son of a king: This wasn’t a reliable way to be a Dark Ages leader, as mostly the people of the Dark Ages had more sense than to choose a leader just because his father was a king, but being born into a royal family definitely helped. Example: Athelwulf of Wessex. In 839 he was the first Wessex king in generations to succeed from his father. Even then it took a special synod for King Egbert to arrange it and Athelwulf already had leadership experience as King of Kent.

Be the brother of a king: This was quite a common method. The brother of the previous king was more likely than his son to be a grown man with experience in battle and administration. Examples: Alfred the Great and Domnall Mac Alpin (Donald I) both inherited from their older brothers, even though their brothers left sons.

WP_20160803_17_03_22_Pro Alfred the Great is not normally considered a wicked uncle figure, but his accession ended any ambitions of his nephews!

Be the widow of a king: The USA may not be ready for a woman leader yet, but places in Europe accepted it over 1000 years ago! Examples: Aethelflaed the Lady of the Mercians, led armies and ruled Mercia after the death of her husband. Adelaide of Italy, regent of the Empire briefly for her son and again for her grandson.


Help the pope: If the Pope was in trouble, helping him was a good way to gain a position of power. You might even get to be emperor! Examples: Charles the Great (Charlemagne) defended the Pope from having his tongue cut out. Otto the Great came to the Pope’s aid when the papal states were under attack.


Elope with or abduct a princess: Probably a risky strategy, but it worked for the first Margrave of Flanders who stole away the daughter of Charles the Bald.


Take advantage of a national disaster, make a few dodgy alliances, murder all your opponents and get everyone drunk!: Yes, that’s the method favoured by Dark Age poster boy Cinaed Mac Alpin.

I can’t help wondering if that last method played a part in some of the political decisions of the last year or maybe it’s just what will get us through the next ones!


2016 – the year I lost a continent but gained a whole world

2016 has been a peculiar year, a year of loss. There has been an unusually high record of celebrity deaths this year and the world has lost some bright talents. I have been saddened in the last few days to hear of the deaths of George Michael, Richard Adams and Carrie Fisher – people who helped create the musical, literary and fantasy world of my childhood.


But sad as these losses are, for me the biggest loss of the year was Brexit. Losing that sense of European identity is one I am finding very hard to get over. The debate rumbles on as to what it’s going to do for issues such as the economy, jobs and immigration. But these were not the issues which motivated me. For me Brexit is about the loss of a dream. The idea that a continent could work together to tackle common problems was an inspiring one. The EU is far from a perfect organisation, but then so are the countries including the UK which formed it. However it was a massive step in the right direction and the issues facing the world today such as climate change, cybercrime and extremism seemed more manageable when countries were in a position to work together. World peace now seems a little further away.

However 2016 was also the year I gained a whole world, by which I mean that mysterious Dark Age world I escape to whenever I have the chance. It is strange to think that this time last year Kenneth’s Queen was still in its early stages with no real sign of how it was to draw me into its world. This world of course no longer exists. Perhaps it never really existed, as the world I visit is created from my interpretation of the facts, rather than the facts themselves. But while I am glad of the escape from the 21st century, I wonder what would those women and men think of the year 2016? How would Edlin, the Island Girl, react to Brexit as a first generation immigrant, proud of her European roots yet still every inch a girl from East Anglia? I can imagine only too clearly what Cinaed and Domnall would have to say about Scottish independence after being cheated of their glorious European alliance by the perfidious Angles! And as for Judith, Athelwulf and Alfred, they would surely be agog at us throwing away the sort of European alliance they could only dream of.


That is not to say I want to hold my Dark Age world up as any sort of ideal. It was not. Child and maternal mortality were very high, simple infections could and did kill and women were often treated as possessions rather than people. Yet for much of the world little has changed and even though we now have the knowledge and skills to change it, we do not seem to have the will. I could argue that in a way that makes our world more backwards than theirs.


So what will 2o17 bring? For me I hope there will be at least two new books. Their timelines are already taking shape and I hope to break ground on the first one soon. The first big event of 2017 for the world will presumably be the inauguration of Donald Trump. At that point the world will hold its breath and hope for best. Can any hope be gained from my Dark Age world? They lived through some dangerous and uncertain times. Terrorism, incompetent or thuggish leaders, and extremism are nothing new. But they adapted and survived. In the winter of 878, the future must have seemed bleak for Dark Age Wessex. The Vikings were victorious and their king was skulking around the Somerset marshes, powerless. There seemed no hope, but the Battle of Edington and years of relative peace and innovation under their remarkable leader King Alfred were just around the corner. Perhaps 2017 will bring for us just such a turning of the tide.


For anyone wanting to join me in a touch of Dark Ages escapism the Women of theDark Ages series is available on Amazon.

KB5_Photo Kenneth’s Queen    EdlinWolf  The Girl from Brittia

judith-of-wessex2         Three Times the Lady