Meet Me at Comic Con, Columbus Ohio!

I'll be on two panels:

Friday - 7:00 - 7:45pm (B234)

Sunday - 1:00 - 1:45pm (B234)

I'll also be set up at booth 333. Stop by and say hello!
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A Conversation with the Authors of ISABELLA UNASHAMED

Today, I'm speaking with the authors of Isabella Unashamed, an AU historical novel. For those who don't know what "AU" means. it's history re-imagined. It's the ultimate "what if?" for those who love history and want to explore what might have happened if things turned out just a little bit differently.

Isabella of Castile is known as Europe's first great queen. Renowned for her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon and birthing of modern day Spain, Isabella is also known as the queen who launched the Inquisition, completed the Reconquista, and expelled the Jews from her nation.  Not long after her triumph in 1492, her dynasty came apart and unraveled, and it was whispered by many that the Trastamara line was cursed. Her children either died prematurely or had horrible ends. Her most famous daughter, Catalina, became known as the ill-fated Katharine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII of England's unfortunate six wives. 

But what if Isabella had been wiser and not expelled the Jews—some of the very people who ironically helped put her on the throne of Castile? What if Isabella had had more foresight and had her successor be Catalina, who, although the youngest, was the most like her and the wisest of her children?  How would the power balance of 15th and 16thcentury Europe have shifted if Catalina had been the powerful queen regnant of Spain and not one of the 'merry wives' of Windsor?

With a joint effort Isabella Unashamed is written by two authors from very different cultural backgrounds who have nonetheless, joined together to create a haunting portrait of Spain's most famous queen, as well as a glimpse of what might have been had Isabella been wiser. 


The three of us had a great discussion about history, fiction, and how we judge historical figures through our modern eyes. 

Lissa: What motivated you to write this novel?

Helen R. Davis—I respect Isabella but I don't admire her. I have mixed feelings about her. I respect her stance on the Reconquista, but I wish she hadn't kicked out the Jews. I also wish Torquemada had not been in her life, or had been in it less. If he hadn't, she would have had a reputation mainly for good and not a mixed legacy. Thus, as with my Cleopatra Unconquered series, I decided Isabella should have a chance to shine as a bright light.

Carolina Casas --I have always found the Reconquista period fascinating and with Isabella and Helen and I were eager to delve into this subject.

Lissa: I have always had the same ambivalence when it comes to Queen Mary I. I intend for my next novel to be about her, but I’ve never been able to decide if I dislike her or pity her, or possibly some combination of the two. She had amazing qualities as a person and as a queen, but she did terrible things… Just like Isabella. Isabella has always impressed me as the female half of the “Catholic Kings” – a woman holding the throne in her own right and dealing with her husband with a level of equality almost completely unknown in that era.

H.R.D: That’s the thing. Either extreme paints a picture that is inaccurate. We need to give these women their dues and not judge them by modern standards, yet we cannot excuse them either.

C.CIt is very easy to see history as a black and white issue, especially this era. Isabella was a complex individual, a woman of her times who had no qualms about doing what was necessary to defeat her enemies, and justify it through her faith.

Lissa: And why did you choose this particular event?

H.R.D: I already covered it in the first stance. I also feel that this is a time period where our culture is under attack and we need to choose where we stand and not try to please both sides. 

C.C.: Curiosity. I have always wondered how big of an impact it’d been if Isabella had taken a different approach following the taking of Granada.

Lissa: That’s always a beautiful moment as a writer, when your imagination takes flight based on that wonderful question “What if…?”

H .R. D: That’s the same thing that inspired my CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED series. I imagined her winning and not losing and a whole new world was born.

C.C: That is the wonderful thing about AU. It offers a world of infinite possibilities, and the people who engage in it, are the ones who do most research because they want to make it look as plausible as possible. It’s the same with historical fantasy -yes, there are supernatural elements, but there is also a lot of research involved in the making of that novel.

Lissa: Isabella is such an iconic figure in late medieval and early modern history, what made you become interested in her?

H.R.D: It was a book called Jewel of Castilla by New Mexico author Carolyn Meyer. It was a young adult novel that painted Isabella as a teenage girl I could relate to. I loved her interest in learning and could kind of relate to the suitors pushed on her but her wanting to choose her guy that she knew she was meant for. She was a 15th century woman, but the fact she chose her own husband in a time when women weren’t supposed to do that and she rejected all the others is one that shines to me. You go girl!

C.CShe was the first Renaissance Queen who set a proto-meritocracy which had never been seen before in addition to encouraging female scholarship and taking control of her own destiny at a time where women -even in Castile- were supposed to be subservient.

Lissa: Margaret Beaufort, grandmother of the man who would one day be Katharine of Aragon’s husband, was given a similar opportunity. She was told she could choose between two Tudor brothers. She said she’d pray about it, and the next morning, said that a vision of a saint had told her which brother to choose. I always wondered if that was her concealing her decisiveness under the guise of piety.

H.R.D: That’s not impossible but I do truly believe in her spiritual side of things and I believe in that aspect of human nature is timeless.

C.C: Religion and politics were intertwined back then -more so than now- and as such, you had people who were extremely devout, using their faith as a tool to justify their actions or, in the case of Margaret Beaufort and Isabella I of Castile, make their ambitions come true. It can be seen as deceptive. From their point of view however, it made sense and offered them a boost in their self-confidence.

Lissa: That’s something that’s always piqued my interest about Isabella – she was never able to get much of a formal education herself, but she had a deep and abiding respect for learning and saw to it that her own daughters had the classical education of princes. Erasmus was stunned when he saw the depth of Katharine of Aragon’s education – not only for a woman, but for any person.

H.R.D: Yes, Isabella was a pioneer of women’s education. As such, it would be somewhat ungrateful to hate her.

C.C: Isabella’s actions tell us a lot about her ambitions and what she hoped Spain would become. She wanted Castile to be its leading voice; the best way for Spain to remain relevant is by becoming recognized as the center of education, exploration, and other (then) scientific pursuits. Under Isabella’s reign, you had two notable female scholars who translated several classical works into Spanish, and taught some of their daughters.

Lissa: Do you think that Spain’s prosperity would have lasted more if she had not issued that edict that expelled the Jews from Spain?
H.R.D.: Absolutely. I have no doubt about it. 
C.C.: Definitely! The Jewish population contributed a lot to Spain, especially to Castile. They were amongst the most prepared and hardworking individuals who prior to their expulsion, had supported Isabella over her niece when she crowned herself Queen.

Lissa: And therein lies a puzzling aspect for me. As intelligent as Isabella was, she didn’t see how catastrophic this could be for her realm’s economy. She essentially removed one leg of a table without planning for replacing it or supporting the industries that would collapse.

H.R.D: Well, hindsight is always perfect. Not just for Isabella, but our own lives as well.

C.C: No doubt she was warned about what would happen if she kicked out a productive section of her population away, but by the time she’d taken Granada, she was so sure that god was on her side, and feeding on her spiritual insecurities, Torquemada and others warned her that if she wanted to keep this winning streak, she had to resort to more drastic measures. It was a clumsy move -one that seemed good at the time because of that winning streak but as time went on, Spain began to suffer the consequences of her actions. 

Lissa: What do you think was Isabella’s major contribution to the modern world and has your view of her changed since writing this novel with your co-author?

H.R.D. --I cannot condone everything she did, but my opinion of her has become more positive, although not entirely negative. Mainly I am pleasantly surprised and delighted to know she promoted women's education and she really was, for all her flaws, the bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

C.C. –While researching her, my view of her slightly changed and I see her now as a complex individual, someone who wanted to bring her kingdom and her husband’s into the new world, but who was still a product of her time. If I had to pick just one, it would be embracing the ideals of Christian Humanism more fervently than any other monarch at the time. This went hand in hand with promoting women’s education, including her daughters’.

Lissa: I think a “bridge” is a good way to describe her. She wasn’t quite “modern” but she wasn’t quite “medieval,” either.

H.R.D: That’s another thing that needs to be understood about her. I love bridges between eras.

C.C: Isabella is the best representation of that transition. She was born at a time when tensions between countries and faiths couldn’t be higher, and people’s school of thought regarding that and gender were changing. She grew up embracing much of the old world but welcoming some aspects of the new.

Lissa: Are there any misconceptions about Spain or the time period you would like to clear up? 

H.R.D.: The machismo surrounding Spain was not from Castile, but from her husband's nation of Aragon. Castile had twelve queens regnant. It was also from Andalusia.

C.C.: Isabella was not an ignorant queen who was subservient to the church and a traditional wife. Her relationship with the church was turbulent from the moment she took the crown, and while she loved Ferdinand with all her heart, she was far from docile and never shied away from voicing her disagreements to him.

Lissa: What was it you think made Isabella love Ferdinand? How do you think she would have felt about what happened to Katharine of Aragon after her first husband’s death?

H.R.D.: Come on, what’s not to love? They were perfect for each other in so many ways. I don’t blame for going for Ferdinand! As for Isabella and Katharine of Aragon’s first husband, i think Isabella grieved over her daughter’s loss. That’s one thing that never changes regardless of era-- parents do love their children, at least good ones.

C.C.: She wanted to be an agent of Spain. She needed a strong partner who could help her rule and defend her crown, but she also wanted to be an agent of her own destiny. Ferdinand was handsome, smart; he had the love of his people and was his father’s favorite, on top of that, he was almost the same age as her.

I think Isabella felt grieved for her daughter. Both her and Ferdinand cared for all their children deeply, but they seemed to have a special connection with Catalina, so naturally they would have felt her loss the greatest. Catalina was still a stranger in a stranger land, and even though she had won her mother-in-law and most of the court over, she was now stuck in a political limbo. Isabella knew what that meant, which is why she worked hard to get her that papal bull.

Lissa: Have either of you been to Spain? If so, how did this help? If not, would you like to go?

H.R.D.: I have been to Castile, and it and Galicia are the parts of Spain I either liked or would like to visit. I don't care to visit Aragon or Andalusia, but if those doors open someday, I'll take the chance. I have been to the palaces mentioned in the novel.

C.C.: I haven’t. I hope to go there someday and visit all the iconic places I’ve read about and that my co-author and I wrote about. I imagine it will be like going back in time.

Lissa: I haven’t been to some of the locations in my books, but I feel like I’ve “lived” there through my characters, and I have this feeling that when I step into those buildings someday, I’ll feel like I’ve been there before.

H.R.D: Yes, I’ve not been to Egypt, but when I was in Israel, I got a feel for the era.

C.C: I have had the feeling ever since I was a little girl of three and my dad read to me the death of King Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory. I felt like I was there and when I had my first history lesson and my professor talked about England and Spain, I felt like I had been swallowed by a black hole and landed on those realms during the early modern period. It was magical, and while writing this book, I felt like I had gone back in time once more. And I have never been to Spain - I’d like to visit there someday, but reading about these places since I was a child, makes me feel like I’ve been there countless times.

Lissa:  Isabella is not as covered in historical fiction as someone such as Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, or Cleopatra. Why do you think she is ignored by historical novelists?

H.R.D.: She is a figure that is a thorny subject. People either go to the extreme of venerating her or turning her into a medieval Hitler. While this novel is not a hagiography, it doesn't shy away from her warts.
C.C.: There are still many myths surrounding her and people prefer to swing from one extreme to another, rather than see her as the complex figure that she was. This novel didn’t shy away from bringing to the fore her attributes and her flaws.

Lissa: Sometimes, the flawed characters are the most interesting characters! Of course, some of the things the people in the 15th and 16th century considered “flaws”, we consider character strengths. No one would blink today at a woman disagreeing with her husband or being firm and decisive, but those were not desirable traits in a woman of those days. I think the bold spirit of some of these historical figures led to historians viewing them with distaste for hundreds of years. We’re still living with the shadows of those perceptions coloring our history. 

H.R.D: Women like Isabella have always existed. Our modern ideas of gender equality didn’t exist back then, but that didn’t mean there were not spirited women. The Cleopatras and Isabellas make history books interesting. 

C.C: I know, right? I am interested in real people not caricatures of them, and Isabella is one of those people who get put on a pedestal or thrown under the bus. Isabella’s story is nothing short of astounding and as Helen has pointed out, there have been so many other women like her in history who became relevant because they decided to take the reins of destiny into their own hands and forge their own paths. 

Lissa: You are both from very different cultural backgrounds. How do you think knowledge of both helped shape this project?

H.R.D.: My background is English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish, so I could appreciate Isabella's spirit. I also felt I was in a land that, while warm and sunny, was the polar opposite of mine. I also love France -a nation Isabella didn't care for. In a way, this is an ironic twist of fate for me.

C.C: I am Hispanic. I grew up in Mexico and as a result I have been taught about these events since I was a child. This history is very close to me and the older I got, the more interested I became, especially in Isabella. 

Lissa: Here in the US, we usually only hear of Isabella in the context of funding Columbus’s voyage to the New World. (The old myth of her pawning her jewels crops up from time to time.) I became familiar with her as Katharine of Aragon’s mother because of my particular interest in Tudor history. It’s so sad that we miss out on learning more about this fascinating woman! 

H.R.D: I think part of it also is that, as I said before, she’s not a figure modern people feel comfortable with. 

C.C: I wouldn't know about basic education in the US except from what I hear from my cousins who've studied here and my college experience. It seems to me that it has to do more with simplicity and making things easier for students to understand. It is a real shame because young people are smarter than their teachers give them credit for, and I am sure many of them wish to know the full story.

Lissa: Tell us some interesting trivia about Isabella (like her perfumes or something like that, little things that will make her seem human, like Cleopatra bathing in donkey's milk).

H.R.D.: Her favorite scents were civet and musk. She also learned Latin. I find that interesting as it is supposedly one of the languages Cleopatra, the subject of one of my other alternate history novel series, did not speak. 

Lissa: Learning Latin in those days was essentially learning the language of knowledge itself. It was almost a “secret language” of learned men because it was a dead language, spoken only by scholars and churchmen. Women were starting to push their way into that world. 

H.R.D: That is so true.

C.C: Yes, and that opened doors for women of other social backgrounds less than a century later. 

Isabella grew up not having the luxuries a person of her station would have, as a result when she became queen, she always made sure that she looked the part. She loved to wear the finest things, and was up to date with the latest fashions, even imposing her own as well! But it is her desire to further her education that I find most interesting because it is what led her to have her daughters’ an education nearly equal to princes.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way people used fashion to send silent messages, not only about their status, but about their political leanings. And it particularly interests me how France – even when they were the “enemy” – always seemed to be the one who set the fashions.

H.R.D: France. A land I have always loved. That is an area Isabella would have debated me on, I am certain!

C.C: France was a realm synonymous with refinement and even Isabella had to recognize, that they were THE trendsetters.

Lissa: Tell me something in particular that you learned while writing the book. When I started writing about Anne Boleyn. I discovered things during my research that surprised me and changed my mind on some things. Did you come across anything like that?

H.R.D.: I did. I identify with her strong faith that I had no clue she possessed. I also found it interesting she gave so much to charity and no one was burnt at the stake while she was queen.

C.C.: Yes, I did. I found her pragmatism really interesting and a facet of her character that is rarely seen. She would say one thing and do the opposite, and she had no qualms about breaking sacred oaths if it meant protecting her family.

Lissa: Ooh, what you just said about “sacred oaths” fired my imagination! We all know that Katharine of Aragon defended her marriage to Henry VIII, swearing that she had never been intimate with her first husband Arthur Tudor. Do you think that she was “her mother’s daughter” in this aspect, and would have had the will to lie if it meant fulfilling her destiny to be Queen of England?

H.R.D:  I do think Katharine of Aragon was politically astute, but I do believe she told the truth about her and Arthur. Besides, this is Henry VIII accusing her. I will take the word of Katharine or Anne Boleyn over Henry any day!

C.C.: I think she was but being the youngest daughter and having seen her parents at her finest, she also wanted to live up to a stronger ideal than what was expected of her. You look at her siblings, and they were all expected to have bigger responsibilities -some of them weren’t prepared for that; Maria for example chose not to be a political consort, the eldest Isabel fell into a deep depression after her first husband died, and the third one (Juana) tried to rule but wasn’t up to the task. Catalina seems to have been very different and take on a more pragmatic approach like her mother, but she did take on her religious devotion more seriously, therefore I don’t think she would have told a lie of that nature.

Lissa: What is your favorite image of Isabella?

H.R.D.: The best image of her is “La Virgen de la Mosca”, where she has her hands on a book. Some have said that it is a depiction of St. Catherine, or her posing as this celebrated saint. It is simply iconic and beautiful, and a testament of her religious conviction.

C.C.: My favorite representation of her on screen has been by Michelle Jenner in the Spanish series “Isabel”. She brought out the best and worst of Isabella and made her seem human. My favorite portrait of her is the one where she proudly wears the Castilian crown and is holding the royal scepter. The look of her face perfectly exemplifies Isabella’s attitude -She was charismatic and approachable, but she was also a master politician who was good at her game.

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Thank you so much for the great conversation, Helen and Carolina! 
You can find Isabella Unashamed here.

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The Final #TalismanTuesday The TALISMAN CHRONICLES Episode 6

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It's the final #TalismanTuesday - and release day for PRISON - The Talisman Chronicles, Episode 6, by T.M. Franklin. (If you haven't read WINDOW yet, be sure and start there!)

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Chloe Blake knows a battle is coming. She’s seen it—over and over—in her living room’s mystical picture window.

But she’s also seen something worse.

Chloe and her friends are The Order, gifted with powers to fight the dark chaos that’s descended on Lamsden and is bent on wreaking havoc not only there, but around the world. They’re prepared to fight, but fighting may not be enough.

And if Chloe’s visions are right, they might not all emerge from the battle unscathed.

Or even alive.
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Grab PRISON today on AMAZON!

And if you haven't started The Talisman Chronicles yet, what are you waiting for? You can download them all to your Kindle right now!

Don't forget to enter the Giveaway for a Kindle Fire, Signed Paperbacks, or an Amazon Gift Card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

T.M. Franklin writes stories of adventure, romance, & a little magic. A former TV news producer, she decided making stuff up was more fun than reporting the facts. Her first published novel, MORE, was born during National Novel Writing month, a challenge to write a novel in thirty days. MORE was well-received, being selected as a finalist in the 2013 Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Awards, as well as winning the Suspense/Thriller division of the Blogger Book Fair Reader's Choice Awards. She's since written three additional novels and several best-selling short stories...and there's always more on the way.

Connect with T.M. Franklin

Web Site |Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Google+ | YouTube |Email

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Valentine's Day #Giveaway of DOMINION #dystopian #romance #EOTWAWKI

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! In honor of the holiday, I'm giving away an autographed copy of DOMINION!

A generation has passed since the pandemic known only as the Infection ended the world as we know it. In a little town in the Appalachian Mountains, Taylor has known only a harsh and brutal struggle for survival in a land littered with the rusted-out remnants of a lost world. By day, she labors in a coal mine. In the evenings, she tends a secret collection of beehives, and uses the honey to pay for lessons in survival skills, such as hunting, fishing, and collecting herbs. Her home is a single room in a crumbling old motel, and her only companion is a pet box tortoise named Go she’s had since she was a child.

When her town is destroyed by a vicious gang of raiders known as the Nine, Taylor escapes with Dylan, the son of the mayor. Their only plan is to head south and escape the Nine’s vast territory, avoiding areas contaminated by meltdowns and industrial pollution where mysterious illnesses plague the residents.

Dylan has never known hunger or hardship and struggles to learn survival skills. He’s never known a woman like Taylor, either. He tries to pay her back by teaching her to read, and telling her the stories passed down from the world of Before.

They certainly didn’t plan on falling in love. Taylor fights it every step of the way, because in her world, any emotional attachment is dangerous. She’s been taught since childhood that love slows you down, makes you weak. But the feelings growing between them cannot be denied.

Taylor finds herself slowly breaking every one of her hard-learned rules of survival. She discovers that perhaps some of those things she’s always fought to avoid are the very things that make life worth living.

… And death shall have no dominion …

Click HERE to read the first chapter.

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US residents only

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#TalismanTuesday The Talisman Chronicles Episode 5 Releases Today

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It's #TalismanTuesday and today, SHIELD, The Talisman Chronicles, Episode 5 is now available!

When Dylan Kennedy finds himself standing in the rain on Chloe Blake’s doorstep, with no memory of how he got there, he has no idea that the weirdness in his life is just beginning. He opens the old wooden chest in Chloe’s attic and, with a flash of blinding light, he’s endowed with a unique gift—and made part of The Order.

But Dylan and the others face a growing threat—a darkness that feeds on pain and thrives on chaos. It’s getting stronger every day, and soon, they’ll have to fight it head-on, whether they’re ready or not.

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Wow! Things are getting crazy in Lamsden, WA!

Grab your copy of SHIELD today on AMAZON. And if you've missed any of The Talisman Chronicles, you'll want to make sure you've read WINDOW, TIMEPIECE< GAUNTLET and MANTLE first!

Don't forget to enter the Giveaway for a Kindle Fire, Signed Paperbacks, or an Amazon Gift Card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

T.M. Franklin writes stories of adventure, romance, & a little magic. A former TV news producer, she decided making stuff up was more fun than reporting the facts. Her first published novel, MORE, was born during National Novel Writing month, a challenge to write a novel in thirty days. MORE was well-received, being selected as a finalist in the 2013 Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Awards, as well as winning the Suspense/Thriller division of the Blogger Book Fair Reader's Choice Awards. She's since written three additional novels and several best-selling short stories...and there's always more on the way.

Connect with T.M. Franklin

Web Site |Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Google+ | YouTube |Email

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The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS Season Finale!

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fourth (point five) season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on twitter, #ShieldGeeks where and Sandi and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because we're wrapping up an amazing season!


Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

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Lissa: Hard to believe it's the season finale already. This has been an action-packed season, with some pretty significant plot developments, and we've said goodbye to some important characters.

Sandi: I have a list of dead people that I saw in this episode. Named characters, I mean. I'll add it to the end of this post. This has been a great second half of a season. So many were unhappy at the end of the first half of Season Four, but this half has really been very true to form, even if we aren't always thrilled with the directions Michael Hirst and History Channel have gone.

Lissa: This episode begins with a frail Ecbert rocking in his throne, obviously in great distress. I think the implication was that he somehow knew the battle was going poorly. We cut to the battle between Aethelwulf's forces and the Great Heathen Army, right where we left off. The Vikings have ambushed Aethelwulf's troops and after the bowmen pick off a large number of them from their position high on the ridge, the rest of the Vikings run in for melee combat.

The battle was a feast for geeky eyes: muddy, chaotic, and brutal. The History Channel excels in this regard, because I think it's pretty similar to how battle would have been for warriors of that era. Filthy, exhausting, a confusing, frantic tumult with the clash of steel and the screams of the dying piercing the chilly air...
Sandi: Ecbert's frailty has been more evident with every episode in this half of the season. It's as if he's aged years in the course of these months. I don't know exactly how long it's been, story-wise, but it hasn't been as long as his face and beard make it out to have been.

And, yeah. I really like how History Channel hosts a war. Even the clumsy fighting in Kattegat last week is indicative of how they understand the choreography necessary to make it work and work well.

Lissa: It's obvious the Vikings have the upper hand. Aethelwulf, lying in the mud, looks up wearily to see one of his soldiers cut down by a Viking shieldmaiden. Aethelwulf frantically shouts for a retreat.
Sandi: A retreat is not a bad thing for a battle commander to order, by the way. Some people think it's an indicator of cowardice, but Aethelwulf has proven himself already and his men clearly trust him. If he says to scoot, they scoot, and no one thinks ill of him as a result. After all, he's saving lives. Some, anyway.

Lissa: He reaches the palace and orders an evacuation, but Ecbert refuses to go. He says staying behind is God's will, and his own.
Sandi: Part of me sees this as part of the penance that Ecbert is planning for himself. As if by one great act of expiation, he can atone for all that he has done in his life.

Lissa: Aethelwulf is aghast. He can't leave Ecbert, the King of Wessex, behind to die. Ecbert calmly tells Aethelwulf he's going to abdicate. They both kneel before an altar and a bishop performs a brief ceremony, asking if Ecbert [long string of titles] intends to surrender the crown. It's the crown, @smidbeach reminded us, that Ecbert took from the tomb of the kings and queens of Mercia when Wigstan abdicated. The crown and scepter are passed to Aethelwulf.
Sandi: It's not Aethelwulf's fault the crown looks a lot like the one on the Burger King fellow in the commercials!

But seriously, here we see Ecbert doing this noble thing and giving his crown to his son. Still, would you expect Ecbert to ever do the right thing when he gained nothing from it? Right.

Lissa: That finished, Ecbert tells his son, “I know I have placed my kingdom in the safest hands. You go now, save yourself and your family.” The phrase "your family" wasn't lost on me. Judith and Alfred aren't really Aethelwulf's - they've been Ecbert's, and Aethelwulf has always revolved on the periphery, like a distant planet that eventually gets downgraded as being just one of the objects in the Kuiper Belt. But Ecbert hasn't just handed over his kingdom. He's handed over Judith and Alfred, the two people he cherished more than his own son. He tells Aethelwulf to gather his strength and come back to reclaim what is his one day.

Sandi: Thing is, even though these are the Last Words from a father to his son, I still don't see them as sincere. The most sincere things he says are what he says to Alfred—Athelstan's son. Because it is with the young man that Ecbert's hope truly lie. He wants his name and influence to live on and Aethelwulf is not the man in whom Ecbert sees that happening.

Lissa: The palace is evacuated and the royal family climbs into a carriage. Ecbert gives his son a kiss. He leans into the carriage and gives some hurried words of wisdom to Alfred about a Christian king's greatest virtue being humility.

Sandi: His words were hurried, reminding me of Bilbo Baggins giving Frodo advice before he set out to destroy The One Ring. Or of Polonius in Hamlet, giving his son Laertes the benefit of his wisdom. (And though we mock Polonius's manner on occasion, he's been an oft-quoted character through the centuries.)
Lissa: Judith thanks Ecbert for loving her, which struck me as a bit odd - and I wasn't the only one.
Sandi: It really began poorly, yeah. But Judith was not blameless, either, so I guess she kind of came to a sense of balance in herself.

Lissa: But I imagine over the ten-plus years of their affair, Judith came to see it as the best thing that ever happened to her in terms of personal freedom. Her husband has evolved from the prim, priggish fellow he was when they first married, but it's true that Judith was able to do much more in her life as Ecbert's mistress than she ever would have as Aethelwulf's wife.

Sandi: Very true. She had stepped from the confines her world and that freed her, even if she wasn't seen as "proper" any longer. This does not mean I advocate for adultery by any means, but it does show how some bravery and brass can help propel a person into different spheres of influence.

Lissa: After the family and troops leave, Ecbert embraces the bishop who remained at his side. The men retreat back to the throne room where they sit in silence and drink. All of us had the reaction that Ecbert was wishing it was Ragnar sitting there, sipping his wine.
vikings-s4e20-ecbert-and-bishopSandi: It was interesting that the scene was silent, essentially. There was nothing here that could be said. One presumes the bishop at Ecbert's side knows all his flaws so there is no coy conversation, no exploration of thought. Just two men who are facing the end of their lives. A silent drink is appropriate.

Lissa: The Vikings arrive at the city and are at first wary to find no one there to defend it. After they confirm it's empty, they run inside to pillage, cheering. In the crowd. Helga is tugging her Shiny New Kid along behind her as she runs to keep up.

Sandi: And we were sitting there, wondering how on earth Helga and Tanaruz (aka Shiny New Kid) had managed to get there. And we were still wondering why. There is a desperation to both of their faces, and one can't blame them.

Lissa: Floki - may God have mercy on his soul because I cannot - finds Ecbert's treasured library that Athelstan was translating and copying, and he... I'm having trouble typing it... He torches the scrolls.
Sandi: This was a wanton act of destruction, made for spite, because Floki knew what the scrolls were. He knew and despised Athelstan, but he wasn't ignorant of the man's work or anything. Floki was just abolishing something he wanted obliterated, though it posed no threat. Neither would it bring profit. And since he burned it then, it wasn't even going to be useful as a fire-starter in the future. Just . . . a waste, really.

Lissa: I hated this scene. Hated it because I knew it was true to history. So much knowledge and learning was lost down through the centuries when libraries were encountered by cultures who didn't appreciate the scholarship of those they'd conquered.
Sandi: And, our readers can ascertain, this kind of thing is a big deal to Lissa and me. The rampant destruction of such work just gets to us. Alas, it happened and cannot be undone!

Lissa: Helga leads the New Kid down a hallway in the palace while the fires rage and the murderin' is still going on. A flaming beam falls in their path and the girl screams. Helga kneels to assure her that she's safe and loved. The girl grabs Helga's knife. She stabs Helga before turning the blade on herself, driving it into her own heart. The kid dies instantly, but Helga is still clinging to life when Floki finds her. She tells him he's special, unique, and the world isn't large enough for him. He pleads with her, but she goes limp in his arms.

Sandi: This was an entirely unexpected death. All of us went into this finale with, I suspect, a private Death List we expected to check off. (One of those, I will say, I didn't check off, which surprised me.) At no point was Helga on my private list. (Cannot say the same about Shiny New Kid Tanaruz, however.)

Lissa: This was a terrible moment. When Helga was first injured, I was wryly joking about Helga needing to find herself a new kid, thinking she wasn't seriously hurt because of the lack of visible blood. But by the time Floki found her, I realized that this might be the end of Helga's story. It made me sorrowful, not only because I liked her so much - both her character and the skillful Maude Hirst who portrayed her - but because I felt it was an unworthy way for Helga to go. Helga was essentially felled by her ovaries — her unhinged (and abruptly introduced) longing for a child led her to kidnap a deeply traumatized girl from her homeland, like a tourist scooping up an exotic animal they have no idea how to care for.

Sandi: It really was a terrible way for Helga to go. Her devotion to Floki, to all that he is and all that he's done (save for the murder of Athelstan), has been a hallmark of her character. If she had died for him, it would have been fitting, in my opinion. Or even dying for Ragnar or Björn. A sacrifice of herself for someone she loved/honored. But murdered by a child whom she had kidnapped and held captive? I don't know. It just . . . sits poorly with me.

Though I will say that Vikings did have captives and those captives certainly plotted to kill their "owners", I'm sure. At least, mine did! So, is this death a tribute to all those captives the Northmen acquired, perhaps? I rather think not, but one can wonder.

Lissa: We had previously speculated that the Shiny New Kid might introduce Floki to the Islamic faith, about which he'd shown curiosity and given a measure of respect. They seemed to be on their way to building a small rapport in the last episode. But the storyline was not destined to be so complex. Tanaruz was just the means to Helga's death.
vikings-s4e20-floki-dead-helgaSandi: This makes me wonder if Floki's fascination with the Islamic faith will appear again in this show or if that, too, is abandoned like the light in the man's eyes?

Lissa: Floki gives his beloved wife a lovely burial, laying her out on fine furs before surrounding her with beautiful grave goods. He lays a necklace on her chest and puts a stone in the hollow of her throat.

Sandi: This is a lovely example of the traditional burial. Such sites have been found in Great Britain, so it's great that History Channel included one here.

Lissa: Later, Björn comes upon him and tells him he's sorry about Helga's death. He'd known her since he was a child. Floki says he's dead, too. The first part of him died with Angrboða. The second part with Ragnar, and now Helga's death has taken the last. He is an empty vessel that the gods may do with as they may. He will drift upon the current, rudderless, drawn by their winds. He tells Björn to take care of himself, rises to his feet and heads down the hallway. His silhouette fades away into the light, as Ragnar's did when Ecbert said goodbye.

Sandi: I really want to hope that Floki will return to himself after a period of deep mourning.

Lissa: As the fire nears the throne room, Ecbert decides he's had enough. He leaves and heads out into the courtyard where Björn and the other Ragnarssons are watching the carnage. Björn recognizes Ecbert and stops anyone from harming him. The bishop doesn't fare so well. He's slain while he's asking the Lord to forgive the Vikings because they know not what they do.

Sandi: Ecbert's appearance must have surprised Björn a bit; he's a far cry from the man he used to be. And he looks like he's wearing a nightshirt or something. The bishop does not try to save himself, it seems. He and Ecbert had both accepted their fates and that was all he wrote.

Lissa: The brothers confer together while Ecbert hangs in a cage above. They're not sure what to do with him. Ivar wants to give him the Aelle treatment. Björn says there are bigger political issues at play. Ubbe isn't sure of the wisdom of killing Ecbert, either. He still wants to realize Ragnar's dreams of a settlement, and Ecbert might be the key to that, though Hvitserk protests that Ragnar never ransomed a leader.

Sandi: The points of view expressed here are all valid, which is good. No one is completely off script; it's just that making this a cohesive venture is looking less and less likely all the time. May I say, here, that having Ecbert in the dreadful cage is perfect, from my standpoint? I thought it apt for the circumstance and I believe Ecbert did himself.

Lissa: In his cage, Ecbert interjects and says he was able to understand most of their conversation, because he speaks a bit of their language.

Sandi: Awfully convenient, eh? No, I get it, because there's no interpreter and I rather doubt any of Ragnar's sons have taken the time to become fluent in Anglo-Saxon.

Lissa: He has an offer for them. He will give them legal title to lands they can settle. He leaves out the little fact that he's no longer King of Wessex. In fact, he brags he is the "king of kings" and no one could question their title. They ask him what he wants in return, but Ecbert won't tell them unless they agree. Once Björn decides to accept, Ecbert says he wants to choose the method of his death.
Sandi: And wow, didn't our band of #ShieldGeeks go off on that! "Wait, wait! He's not a king anymore!"

Lissa: Ecbert presents them with the document and pressed his seal to it.
Sandi: So, Ecbert the Crafty had one final trick up his sleeve. Historically, Ecbert was apparently obsessed with keeping the lands of the king in the hands of the king. He didn't distribute his lands the way others in other places did. He kept it all together. It is entirely in keeping with that historical rendition that Ecbert first gives the kingship to Aethelwulf then pretends to give lands to the Northmen.

Lissa: I was hoping that the tale of the sheepskin (or ox hide, depending on the version of the tale) would be introduced, because it's one of those charming little asides in the Sagas, but it seems that isn't going to be introduced.

Sandi: That would have just taken more time that they could use to, you know, kill people, right? *sigh* Really, I have to hand it to History Channel for covering what they do in this show. Sometimes even to excess. [I'm just the girl who loves the really long A&E version of Pride and Prejudice because so much of the book is captured therein.]

Lissa: Ecbert is given his final wish. He goes into the hot spring baths with Björn who silently offers him a choice between two blades. Ecbert chooses the smaller of the two. Björn nods and leaves the room. Ecbert disrobes and climbs into the bath. Like Ragnar, he experiences echoes of the past. Ragnar, Lagertha, Judith... He then lowers his arm into the hot water and slices open his veins with the blade. And so passes another "father" of this series. Wily Ecbert who always had layers of intrigues and manipulations, possibly so many that he got lost in his own webs.

Sandi: Björn was so merciful, here. So many things that could have happened to Ecbert, but he goes out in a manner of his own choosing, without even an audience to make sure he's actually dying. Trust? Foolishness? I don't know. But it was nice for us to get to hear Ecbert's Greatest Hits in his memories, even if we didn't get to see them as we did Ragnar's. A nice echo back to Ragnar as the episode and season was wrapping up.

vikings-s4-e20-bjorn-speechLissa: The Ragnarssons are outside in the burned-out courtyard, enjoying a feast. They're celebrating the fact that they now have farmland and can bring new settlers. Björn announces that now Ragnar has been avenged, his destiny leads him elsewhere. He wants to go back to the Mediterranean.

Sandi: This is actually a great way to wrap up the season. We get a victory party, the sons declaring their future intentions (for when/if we have a time jump before Season Five), and a summation of their goals and aspirations . . . and loyalties.

Lissa: Halfdan surprises his brother by electing to join Björn. Ivar wants to continue their push through proto-England. There's no one who can stand up against them. They will do it for the glory of battle and Odin All-Father.
Sandi: This must have been a surprise to Harald Finehair. He's got Norway in his sights and his brother has been his right arm for as long as we've known them. If Halfdan is wanting to split, what does that mean for his support of Harald's kingship. Historically, Harald does become king, so . . . what is this going to do to the Die-Namic Duo? (Sorry. It was just there.)

Lissa: Sigurd wants to fight onward, too, but he doesn't want to follow Ivar as their leader. He snaps Ivar is not even really a man, but a mama's boy, a snake that crawls on the ground. Ivar retorts that he's not even sure if Sigurd is Ragnar's son, given his penchant for music, and (ahem) enjoyment of male company.

Sandi: Yeah, because the whole End-Of-Season Victory Party wouldn't be complete without fraternal sniping. And hey, the Ragnarssons have given us that in abundance, so it's almost fun to watch. Bring popcorn.

Lissa: Sigurd bites back that Aslaug was the only one who ever loved Ivar. Despite Ubbe's efforts at peacemaking, the quarrel heats up and Ivar grabs an ax, which he hurls at Sigurd's chest. Sigurd pulls it out and staggers toward his brother, but he doesn't make it far enough to deliver a return blow. He collapses at Ivar's feet, apparently dead. I mean, we'll have to wait until next season to be certain, but he looked pretty-darn-dead to me.

vikings-s4-e20-dead-sigurdSandi: I'm sure I wasn't the only one watching to see if Sigurd blinked. I didn't see a blink, though. I'm thinking he's gone. Years ago, Ivar's first kill was with a thrown axe, so it is not surprising that he does it again. I don't have the sense that it was something Ivar planned to do—much as he didn't like his brother, they were brothers and I don't see fratricide as high on his To-Do List.

Lissa: This is another departure from history, because Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye married one of Aelle's daughters. His granddaughter married Halfdan the Black after he kidnapped her from her first kidnapper. (The fate of a blue-blooded woman in that era was never an easy one.) They were the parents of Harald Finehair.

Sandi: Well, of course, Harald Finehair is already with us, so it's possible that Sigurd was seen as expendable in this particular bit of historical fiction.

And yeah, no. I wouldn't have wanted to be a woman of noble birth in this era. They were chess pieces and that's not a fate I'd want for myself.

Lissa: We next see a priest, conducting burial rites while Saxons look on and weep. It's our first sighting of Jonathan Rhys Meyer, who has joined the cast.

vikings-s4-e20-jrm-sightingSandi: Okay, to be honest, I wasn't thrilled with this conclusion of the season. A more natural end would have been the fight amongst the brothers and the death of Sigurd. Sad, but organic. Introducing Bishop Heahmund is sensible from an entertainment standpoint, yes (new big name actor! new character! intriguing possibilities!) but it ended the episode off-key, for me.

Lissa: The widow comes up to thank him. She's wearing an intricate machine-woven black lace veil. Lace, of course, wasn't invented until the fifteenth century or so, and even then, the English were stuck with needle lace for at least another cent— Ah, never mind. #BootSoleFile

Sandi: ...yeah. Her veil reminded me a bit of a Spanish mantilla, without the height of the hair comb. Anyway...

Lissa: Anyway, she thanks the priest for the ceremony and says her husband is in a better place. The priest has his own idea of how to offer her comfort, and we next see the two of them together in bed. Beside the bed is a set of armor and a gleaming sword with something etched into the crossguard.

Sandi: You found it, too!

Lissa: From what I found online, it was an early medieval inscription/spell that was supposed to prevent poisoning, an acronym of the words, Antidotum Nazareni Auferat Necem Intoxicationis Sanctificet Alimenta Pocula Trinitas Alma' (May the antidote of Jesus avert death by poisoning and the Holy Trinity sanctify my food and drink). It's found on a 9th Century ring at the British Museum.

Sandi: This is an extremely cool detail from History Channel. Lissa loves finding the smallt truths often hidden, so I imagine, my friend, that you were very happy to find that.

Lissa: So, what's next for our heathen horde? Will Ivar face any consequences killing his brother? Where is Floki bound, and how will he fare without his beloved Helga? Will Judith and Aethelwulf build a good life together while he seeks to reclaim his throne? Where's Rollo and how's he doing with I-Forgot-How-To-Princess? And how is Lagertha now that the Finehair twins are out of her own artistically-braided hair for a while? I guess we'll have to wait until season 5 to find out!

Sandi: Indeed!

Lissa: Until then, ShieldGeeks, keep those axes sharp, and your hair braided for battle!

Sandi: And if you have any thoughts on this episode or predictions for next season, let us know!
And raise a horn of mead to honor the fallen in this episode:

  Ecbert's Bishop
  King Ecbert
  Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye

.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

Thanks for joining us! We hope you'll meet up with us again for season 5!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4
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