Hild by Nicola Griffith
Hild the child that would become Saint Hilda of Whitby. Griffith's novel illuminates the person Hild might have been in her earliest years. The known is cleverly interwoven into the storyline. Hild's father, Prince Hereric, was nephew to King Edwin of Northumbria. He was poisoned. Hild was brought up in the court of King Edwin.
Hild's wyrd (personal destiny) is her path. She is 'Light of the World'. She carries a seax, a type of dagger, and she stands tall.
Her sister Herewith's wyrd is different. She will be a queen.
I found it hard to resolve the description of Hild in her very young years. She is marked as special from birth. A child heavy with her future wrapped around her. Even as young as three, Hild's clarity of thought and perception is prodigious, and later as still a child not yet come into her womanhood, her wisdom is more like that of a mature woman. After all wisdom is what Hilda of Whitby will become renowned for, along with having contributed in the christianizing of Britain.
In this fictional account of Hild's life, just as the Irish priest Fursey did, I found it sad that Hild was never allowed to be a maid, young and carefree. Her feet are set on her path from birth, thrust there by her wyrd and kept there by her mother, Breguswith.
Seer to a King, a prophet, Hild learns early to watch and understand many aspects of her world, be it nature, animals, the wind, the season for plants, the stars, the flow of the rivers. She studied behaviour, carefully watching people and identifying their tell-tail tags, gauging their interactions and reactions. Hild studies the languages of the various peoples of her land, including the roman priests. She learns to read and values the gift of communication it is. This all helps in her reaching to understand portents and possibilities.
Everywhere is the struggle for power by kings and their priests. The struggle for kingdoms, lost and gained, and of the old gods destroyed and a new god rising. Hild is ever concerned with wars and the business of kingdoms, their waxing and waning.
And always there is the mystery of her childhood companion Cian. Cian who is always more.
The difficult path she weaves between the various courtly interests, waring princes and her mother's intrigue is fascinating. Life at this time, especially for women, is relayed so realistically you feel like you are there. The role of women is clearly defined, yet as the King's seer Hild rides beyond that place. Later she becomes the King's Fist, at great emotional cost. And for Hild there is the waxing and waning as times change, and old enemies become new, old threats are revisited. Her search for her true self is painful. For Hild 'there were patterns everywhere.'
'Tumult in the river mouth', Hild sang to herself when but a child. Words that were a promise of the path her wyrd will take her down.
The more I read, the more I was drawn in.
A NetGalley ARC