If 'my' Arthur was asked to talk about himself and his portrayal in The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy - what would he say I wonder...?
It is the mid-fifth century, and I am Arthur, the Pendragon, son of Uthr, exiled King of the Britons, and now that he is dead, I am King, although it has been a long, hard battle to reach this position of authority. You will find me in many tales, some more outrageous than others, some more exciting, some more believable – but in this instance, I can be found filling the pages of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy written by Helen Hollick. The three novels are The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King, and they follow my life from youth to grey-haired old man. And it has been a turbulent life I can tell you!
I am the boy, who became the man, who became the king, who became the legend, but whether I am a likeable fellow is up to the reader to decide. I am not the turn-a-blind-eye, God is more important than my realm king of the later Medieval tales. If anyone tried to cuckold me, I can assure you he would not live long beyond me finding out - neither would she, my wife, come to that. But that line of a story does not fit with this Trilogy. Here, I am a post-Roman warlord. I have to fight to gain my kingdom and fight even harder to keep it. I have to be tough, even ruthless, at times. I am also passionate, and passionate people are often quick-tempered. But I like to think of myself as honourable and loyal to those who are loyal, in return, to me. I do not suffer fools, but I admire those with a brave heart. I adore my wife and Queen, Gwenhwyfar, although she too is a passionate woman and we have been known to have several rather dramatic fights.
Still, it is always nice to ‘make up’ after our quarrels.
My Gwenhwyfar is no simpering maid, She has a sword and knows how to use it. Nor are we a childless couple, we had three sons: Amr, Llachue and Gwdre, although I will not reveal, here, how they tragically, did not come to reach adulthood. We have a daughter though - she survives us both. As for the other son, the one who in your modern times is named as Mordred, but in my time, called Medraut, the Medieval stories took the facts and twisted them into nonsense untruths. Yes, he was my bastard son sired on a woman who I did not know was my own half-sister, but he was no traitor and he fought, and died, on the same side as I.
My strengths? Dedication to my cause – bringing peace to these turbulent times here in post-Roman Britain. The Romans just upped and went back to Rome, leaving Britain in a state of chaos and vulnerable to foreign invasion. There are those, mostly my British enemies, who are certain that the Romans will return, I am equally as certain that they will not, which causes friction between many of us.
I am also convinced that the only way to achieve peace is to negotiate treaties with the Anglo-Saxons, Hengest and his brother Horsa, for instance, who are attempting to settle in what modern people call ‘Kent’, with our without my consent. I would prefer to ensure it is ‘with’, although taking Hengest’s granddaughter as my first wife was not a part of my intended plan! She is well capable of stirring trouble and is not keen on accepting that I divorced her. Frankly, I would rather have cut her throat, but that is not very honourable, or so my advisors tell me.
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My weaknesses? Women and drink. And my love for my wife, Gwenhwyfar. I guess I ought to add my stubborn pride as well? Although she has as much stubborn pride as do I.
In the eyes of factual history, whether I ever truly existed or not is a debatable point. No author ever has the right of 'fact' where I am concerned, for probably, factually, I am nothing more than a myth, a legend, maybe several people who did actually exist rolled into one with their stories exaggerated over time. Whether I really existed or not is not the point though - I am a cracking good character, as far as fiction goes. (Or non-fiction as well, come to that!)
In the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, though, there are none of the later Medieval tales; this trilogy sets my life very firmly in the mid-fifth century and uses the early Welsh tales, not the knights in armour totally made-up stories. There is no Lancelot, holy grail or Merlin in this version. I am not a Christian king, either. My god is the soldier's god, Mithras - and my sword. And it is a better story for it, I think.
Some Amazon Reviews:
"What a story! Can't believe that I've come so late to Helen Hollick's wonderful writing. 'Pendrgon's Banner' and 'Shadow of the King' have been sitting on my bookshelf for years unread... I turned to them in desperation when utterly bored with the repetitive history fiction I've read lately....by authors worthy of more! 'The Kingmaking' I bought on Kindle. I fell in love with Arthur from the start, a flesh and blood hero with flaws and his feisty Gwen made for each other and believable (within the realms of legend). Helen Hollick's wonderful trilogy doesn't rely on unnecessary padding and her descriptions are heart-rending. I'm reading the series again and know I'll end in tears for Arthur. Here is a writer in the older style not ' jump on the bandwagon' writing!' Read and enjoy....."
"I absolutely loved The Kingmaking, the first in Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner Trilogy. The characterisation is superb, the action scenes memorable, and the grasp of the political machinations is so good it's like an extra fix of Game of Thrones!
Arthur is at times very unlikeable: no modern man in fancy dress here, but a man of his time - and that time was brutal. As for Gwenhyfar, I thought she was a brilliant heroine, at times strong, at times horribly vulnerable. Their relationship is compelling and feels true - no sickly romance here either!"
"From the very first page, I was hooked! I loved this book, the first of a trilogy. I'm a great fan of Arthurian Legends in general, but Helen Hollick brings such realism to her story. It is immaculately researched and far from the more usual romanticised approach. Her characters both good and bad are well fleshed out and real. Arthur himself, a ten-year-old boy at the very beginning of the book, is no romantic hero. He is a completely believable and flawed human being. A likeable boy, brave astute and loyal... he becomes as an adult, a bold and fearless warrior though no angel in his private life. Gwenhwyfar is no gentle female either, rather she is spirited and brave. As both child and woman, she is an extremely attractive, strong and interesting character. In the past, I have read various interpretations of Arthurian Britain, complete with magic and of course Merlin. You won't find those elements in this book which has a very different original approach to the legends. The battles are again truly realistic and Helen has no hesitation in describing their brutality. She ranks for me, among the very top rated historical writers of our time. I recommend it highly."
EXCERPT from PENDRAGON'S BANNER
Hushed murmurs, a few mutters of protest from Arthur’s men were heard, but the invited guests this night were mostly from the settlement and stronghold – Councillors, dignitaries, men of trade and note – and well acquainted with Bedwyr. He had flirted with almost every woman present, tossing flattering remarks, giving looks of appraisal. Drawing pink blushes to a maiden’s cheek and to the elder matrons’, pleased they could still draw a young man’s attention. Women – and husbands – exchanged knowing glances. Aye, the lad was one for the ladies! Gwenhwyfar felt suddenly sick with apprehension. Her stomach heaved to her throat, her body trembled. Too easy was it to read those sneering looks on people’s faces, to imagine what vileness they were thinking and murmuring. People would more easily believe the excitement of lies than accept the tedium of truth. Arthur had his back to the table, to her. With a slight turn of his head, he cast a sideways glance at her, looked quickly away before their eyes should meet. She blinked aside tears. Surely he did not believe these lies? Did not doubt her faithfulness… surely?
He was a few yards from her. Staring ahead, not looking at her, his fists were clenched tight, the nails biting into the soft flesh of his palms, fighting the uncertainty. Somehow, Gwenhwyfar managed to get to her feet, although her body was shaking, her knees threatening to buckle. She walked calmly and with dignity around the table. Faces and voices faded. Nothing, no one, mattered except Arthur. She stared steadily at him as she came, people parting to make way for her. What madness was happening here this night?
“My husband, you are my only love. We have our disagreements and our sadness, as do all partners of marriage, but never would I betray you or that love. Never.”
Hueil had followed Arthur, stood eight paces to his other side. He snorted derision. “Do you not expect her to deny it?” He was warming to this thing, the overspill of resentment frothing to the surface. “They are lovers. Both have betrayed you as king and husband and cousin. Neither of them is openly going to admit it.”
“Ask whether she denies allowing Bedwyr to her chamber when she is alone. Whether she denies meeting with him in the garden, embracing him.” Morgause was smiling, pleasantly, almost offhandedly. The odious bitch!
Gwenhwyfar flung back a taut answer. “I do not deny either. Bedwyr is my kin, he is as a brother to me.”
Morgause gave a low chuckle of amusement. “Yet, he is not, technically, a brother, is he?” Her voice carried very well, even at a soft murmur.
Saying nothing Arthur had not moved. Gwenhwyfar stepped closer to him, her hand extended but not daring to touch him. “You do not believe this nonsense! Do you?” Her hurt for a moment had flared into anger, was struck suddenly to fear when he, at last, met her eyes. “You do!” she gasped. “My god, you do!” She bit her lip, let her imploring hand drop; dared not reach out, lest he brush her aside.
Arthur bit his bottom lip. He was breathing fast, his nostrils flaring, chest heaving for air, fingers gripping the cold touch of his sword pommel. He dared not take a glance towards the walls, dared not look, for he knew they were closing in on him, surrounding him, waiting to fall and crush him. He wanted to run, reach for cool, sweet air, for the vault of unbounded, starlit sky. Nor dared he look at Gwenhwyfar, for fear that just this once she lied to him.
Their quarrels were nothing, heated words between two people with opposing wills, nothing more than sparring or sword practice, an edge against which to sharpen ideas and opinions. All right, he admitted, whores had shared his bed even when they should not, but they meant nothing more than a way to satisfy a need. And aye, she had left him for a while, and in his solitude, he had turned to Elen, but Gwenhwyfar had gone because of her grief, not because of their often exchanged anger. He loved Gwenhwyfar, above all life he loved Gwenhwyfar, and it hurt deeper than any battlefield wound that others could snarl these vile accusations at her. He ought to make an end of Morgause, make an end to this incessant stirring of hatred and malice, and that hurt more. It hurt that even to protect the woman for whom he would willingly die, he did not have it in him to kill Morgause.
Amazon Author Page (Universal Link) viewAuthor.at/HelenHollick