My Favorite Bit: J Tullos Hennig talks about SUMMERWODE
J Tullos Hennig is joining us today with her novel Summerwode. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Summer King has come to the Wode…
Yet to which oath, head or heart, shall he hold?
Once known as the Templar assassin Guy de Gisbourne, dispossessed noble Gamelyn Boundys has come to Sherwood Forest with conflicted oaths. One is of duty: demanding he tame the forest’s druidic secrets and bring them back to his Templar Masters. The other oath is of heat and heart: given to the outlaw Robyn Hood, avatar of the Horned Lord, and the Maiden Marion, embodiment of the Lady Huntress. The three of them—Summerlord, Winter King, and Maiden of the Spring—are bound by yet another promise, that of fate: to wield the covenant of the Shire Wode and the power of the Ceugant, the magical trine of all worlds. In this last, also, is Gamelyn conflicted; spectres of sacrifice and death haunt him.
Uneasy oaths begin a collision course when not only Gamelyn, but Robyn and Marion are summoned to the siege of Nottingham by the Queen. Her promise is that Gamelyn will regain his noble family’s honour of Tickhill, and the outlaws of the Shire Wode will have a royal pardon.
But King Richard has returned to England, and the price of his mercy might well be more than any of them can afford…
What’s JTH’s favorite bit?
J TULLOS HENNIG
The meeting of Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart is the stuff of legend. It’s been told in ballads and books, portrayed in oils and watercolours, and played out in dim theatres—particularly on screen.
But with few exceptions (one being the excellent, atmospheric ITV series Robin of Sherwood), Richard is portrayed as the Illustrious Saviour King. He’s the one who returns from Crusade just in time to Right All Wrongs, vanquish the Evil Sheriff, and boot the arse of his sniveling younger brother Bad Prince John. He attends a ginormous kegger out in the forest with Robin Hood and the Merries, who’ve held the green bastions of Sherwood for her Rightful Lord. And he usually hands Marion over as a prize to the loyal outlaw leader.
Well, I’ve never been one to toe the party line.
But I do have to do Richard some justice. He was an efficient warrior with an undeniable magnetism. He must have loved his mother; the first thing he did upon ascending the throne was set her free from the prison where his father had kept her bunged up for years. Brought up a good son of Mother Church, mostly within the continental provinces of his Angevin family, he was well groomed in the predatory games and political marksmanship of medieval rule. Yet it’s likely his reign became a contribution to the already-downward Angevin slide. It’s also likely Richard had little use for the wet, green island where he was King, save as a war chest, or as Royal Forest to enclose and claim just in case he did decide to visit… a rarity.
It’s also pretty well accepted that he didn’t speak English.
Of course, few early medieval kings did.
But such contrary factoids writhe in a writer’s brain, burning. A King who doesn’t speak the language of his subjects. A Maiden who should be more than a mere prize. Even the inexplicable penchant for constructing a massive, impossible outlaw town in Sherwood Forest—one fit to support the aforementioned royal kegger—begged to be addressed.
So when I realised that “my” Robyn and the King were going to meet, I itched to dig in and transform that meeting from less of an exercise in implausibility to something more… well, genuine to my own sensibilities. And since the Books of the Wode were a subversive reimagining from the outset, (Robin, of course, long revered as the maestro of subversion), then why not twist this tail as well?
How can someone who truly believes they have chattel rights to everything—and granted by all-powerful god—be anything but a massively entitled piece of work? And if said person possesses remarkable charm and magnetism as well as that crown, then it just means they’ve an easier time convincing people of their puissance. Might makes right, all that.
And how can a Heathen peasant-turned-outlaw—one who’s garnered nothing but the whip and a burnt home as price for his existence, who has to watch as taxes and a literal king’s ransom not only beggar his land, but try to forbid him the forest he holds sacred—admire such a king? Robyn Hood is on a mission from his own god, by the by, and has no reason to trust Richard. He’s only fierce loyalty to his sister Marion and his lover Gamelyn. The first has to convince him to try for a pardon, and the second has an inheritance at stake that could provide sanctuary even for those branded wolfsheads, sodomites, and pagans.
Richard isn’t evil, but he’s certainly no peach. So the reality in Summerwode has to reflect how an entitled monarch usually gets whatever he wants—and has the power to either raise it above itself or destroy it.
And he doesn’t speak English! Which made for some necessary translators, twisty conversations, and volatile confrontations between the King of England and the very north English, very arsy King of the Shire Wode:
“He has always preferred the campsite and his men about him to any court. No doubt you, master archer, can understand such things.” Mercadier’s Anglic faltered, trimmed heavily with the nasal hum of Frank talk, but he spoke it well enough. Though he did seem to have more problems understanding Robyn than Robyn did him, and was much less patient than was mannerly.
“Nowt better than a clear night and a fire with t’ Wode all ’round,” Robyn replied, soft.
Mercadier paused in his application of wood splits below the roasting meat and frowned, parsing the words slowly. Richard, lounging with powerful arms crossed, spoke a soft patter of Frank to his captain, chuckled as he answered, spoke again.
It was Mercadier’s, this time, to laugh. “He says his half-brother the Archbishop of York is correct. England’s northern shires do speak a language unintelligible to all but their own.”
Says one who waint arse himself to speak any Anglic tongue, Robyn thought but did not say. Instead he let his speech curl even more into those “northern shires.” “’M fair upskelled tha’s nobles loosed milord King wi’ nobbut ussen.”
Mercadier blinked. Frowned. Robyn hid a smirk beneath a scratch to his beard.
“Again?” Mercadier demanded—and well, but Robyn had to give him that much for tenacity. “Slow, si’l vous plaît.”
No sense of humor, these Franks.
I hope the results are compelling—and genuine.
Many thanks, Mary, for your generosity in sharing your blog space for this newest instalment in the Wode books. Cheers!
J Tullos Hennig has always possessed inveterate fascination in the myths and histories of other worlds and times. Despite having maintained a few professions in this world—equestrian, dancer, teacher, artist—Jen has never successfully managed to not be a writer. Ever.
Her most recent work is a darkly magical historical fantasy series re-imagining the legends of Robin Hood, in which both pagan and queer viewpoints are given respectful & realistic voice.