THE CHILD’S WORLD CHANGED late one afternoon, though she didn’t know it. She lay at the edge of the hazel coppice, one cheek pressed to the moss that smelt of worm cast and the last of the sun, listening: to the wind in the elms, rushing away from the day, to the jackdaws changing their calls from “Outward! Outward!” to “Home now! Home!,” to the rustle of the last frightened shrews scuttling under the layers of leaf fall before the owls began their hunt. From far away came the indignant honking of geese as the goosegirl herded them back inside the wattle fence, and the child knew, in the wordless way that three-year-olds reckon time, that soon Onnen would come and find her and Cian and hurry them back.
Onnen, some leftwise cousin of Ceredig king, always hurried, but the child, Hild, did not. She liked the rhythm of her days: time alone (Cian didn’t count) and time by the fire listening to the murmur of British and Anglisc and even Irish. She liked time at the edges of things—the edge of the crowd, the edge of the pool, the edge of the wood—where all must pass but none quite belonged.
The jackdaw cries faded. The geese quieted. The wind cooled. She sat up.
Cian, sitting cross-legged as a seven-year-old could and Hild as yet could not, looked up from the hazel switch he was stripping.
He swished his stick. “I shall hit a tree, as the Gododdin once swung at the wicked Bryneich.” But the elms’ sough and sigh was becoming a low roar in the rush of early evening, and she didn’t care about wicked war bands, defeated in the long ago by her Anglisc forefathers.
“I want Onnen.”
“She’ll be along. Or perhaps I shall be the hero Morei, firing the furze, dying with red light flaring on the enamel of my armour, the rim of my shield.”
“I want Hereswith!” If she couldn’t have Onnen, she would have her sister.
“I could make a sword for you, too. You shall be Branwen.”
“I don’t want a sword. I want Onnen. I want Hereswith.”
He sighed and stood. “We’ll go now. If you’re frightened.”
She frowned. She wasn’t frightened. She was three; she had her own shoes. Then she heard firm, tidy footsteps on the woodcutters’ path, and she laughed. “Onnen!”
But even as Cian’s mother came into view, Hild frowned again. Onnen was not hurrying. Indeed, Onnen took a moment to smooth her hair, and at that Hild and Cian stepped close together.
Onnen stopped before Hild.
“Your father is dead.”
Hild looked at Cian. He would know what this meant.
“The prince is dead?” he said.
Onnen looked from one to the other. “You’ll not be wanting to call him prince now.”
Far away a settling jackdaw cawed once.
“Da is prince! He is!”
“He was.” With a strong thumb, Onnen wiped a smear of dirt from Hild’s cheekbone. “Little prickle, the lord Hereric was our prince, indeed. But he’ll not be back. And your troubles are just begun.”
Troubles. Hild knew of troubles from songs.
“We go to your lady mother—keep a quiet mouth and a bright mind, I know you’re able. And Cian, bide by me. The highfolk won’t need us in their business just now.”
Cian swished at an imagina
“One of the best novels, period.”—Dorothy Allison
“Truly, truly remarkable.”—Karen Joy Fowler
“Extraordinary...[Hild] resonates to many of the same chords as Beowulf, the legends of King Arthur, The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones.”—Neal Stephenson
“Hild is a book as loving as it is fierce, brilliant, and accomplished. To read it felt like a privilege and a gift.”—NPR
“Terrific… Griffith has taken what little is known of the life of St. Hilda and imagined a vibrant, if brutal, world... Hild [is] a pleasure to sink into.”—The Washington Post
“Sharp as steel, clear as garnet, essential and sensual and right, Griffith’s telling of Hild’s adventures offers us something far better than mere comfort: the lure of the sublime.”—The Seattle Times
“Splendid...I can hardly wait for the next.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“You could describe Hild as being like Game of Thrones without the dragons, but this is so much deeper than that, so much richer. A glorious, intensely passionate walk through an entirely real landscape, Hild leads us into the Dark Ages and makes them light, and tense, and edgy, and deeply moving. The research is flawless, the characters fully alive. If it wasn’t like this, it should have been—and I’m sure that it was!”—Manda Scott