A series where my guests are female writers
talking about their female characters
(and yes, I'll be doing the chaps next!)
Alfreda and Káta
In a great hall, somewhere in Anglo-Saxon England, two characters from the novel Alvar the Kingmaker, meet over a glass of mead. One is Queen Alfreda, whose second husband was King Edgar, and whose son was King Æthelred the Unready. The other is a Cheshire noblewoman, Káta, whose husband was Alvar’s trusted deputy.
Káta wears a simple gown, not shabby, but without adornments. Alfreda wears expensive silk, and her fingers are heavy with gold rings. Káta sits with hands in her lap, and she looks down at them. She has never been confident about eye-to-eye contact. Alfreda appears to be looking past Káta, as if she’s barely acknowledging her right to be in the same room. The author has her doubts about this meeting, and she’s ready to step in if needed.
Alfreda: We never met, did we?
Káta: Well, we did, but I don’t think you noticed me. But I think our author deliberately kept us apart for most of the story.
Alfreda: Did she think we would not like each other?
Káta: I think it was more that we both loved the same man. [She takes a moment to steady her breathing.] So tell me about your life, because I think I misunderstood. I was so envious of you - you had the king, you had the riches, and you had Alvar.
Alfreda: Did I? Oh yes, well, it all sort of came naturally to me. I did have to make a few things happen though. We have to do what we can to make ourselves safe. Why did the author tell our story, do you think? I never knew much about you and I could never understand why Alvar spent so much time at your house.
Káta: Well, he came to see my husband. There was nothing untoward. Until…
Alfreda: Oh yes, that nasty business about the death? That really did upset my life and all my plans.
Káta: Did it? You know that my family suffered a great deal over that. It was a difficult time for me, too.
Alfreda: Hmm. Yes, it meant that Alvar spent even more time at your house when he should have been helping me.
Author: Your highness, a little less haughty, if you please. This woman is nice; she could be your friend if you let her. [To the audience]: But Alfreda is not the kind who has women friends. She won’t reveal her inner heartache, she is far too proud, but I can tell you. She knows her appeal, and is well aware of her allure. That beauty was nearly the breaking of her, causing her to hide away. One day she made a fateful decision which changed her life. After that, she learned to use her beauty, and she captured a king’s heart. She was safe then, but that safety came at a heavy price. As for Káta…
Káta: Excuse me for interrupting, but… Are we real?
Alfreda: Well, I am. I was the first consecrated queen. It is well documented.
Káta: Oh, well I’m sure you are then. I feel real…
Author: You were real. You weren’t much written about and I only found you by accident in a footnote, and I changed your name but yes, you were real. In fact you were the inspiration for this story, because I wondered who you were, and what part you played in Alvar’s story. [To the audience]: This makes Káta blush, because she is really bad at taking a compliment. It’s true though, that she was the inspiration for the story. She too, had her heartache, but she became strong in a different way, always remembering what her pioneering mother said about life, and how one must always look forwards, never back.
As for the question, did they meet? Yes, although they never should have done. They both loved Alvar, but he was the servant of one’s husband and the lord of the other’s and fiercely loyal to both. He knew how fragile the queen was, but he was always drawn to the simple sweet life that Káta lived. She stayed away from court. She was practical, and capable, and also fragile in her own way. The women had little other than Alvar in common, and it was a terrible tragedy that brought them together.
Alvar the Kingmaker is the recipient of a Discovering Diamonds award, a Chill with a Book Readers’ Book of the Month award, and has been honoured with an IndieBRAG Gold Medallion.
“The story, based on true events, begins when the king is caught in bed with his wife and her mother, and ends with the murder of another king, a crime attributed to his stepmother, the queen. Central to the story is Alvar, earl of Mercia. Having helped King Edgar to secure the throne, amid great unrest he must fight to clear the queen’s name, bring the country back from the brink of civil war, and stabilise the monarchy for Edgar’s son, Æthelred the Unready. He does this at great personal cost, and his enemies will stop at little: Abbot Dunstan, banished, recalled, and in no mood to forgive. Bishop Oswald, the ambitious foreigner who will let nothing stand in his way. They must not discover Alvar’s secret love for the wife of his deputy, whilst Alvar must keep her safe, and serve and protect the queen, who is in love with him and who harbours a dark secret of her own…”
Praise for Alvar the Kingmaker:
“The conflicts between different factions and rival individuals surrounding Alvar’s life are convincing. They keep the drama flowing, and the women in the novel are nicely drawn, fulfilling the lifestyle expected of females at that time yet showing their individual personalities. They also have key parts in the action; Kata, for instance, the love of Alvar’s life, is depicted as quiet yet emotionally strong and open-minded.” Historical Novel Society