An epic poem set in seventh-century Northumbria on the eve of the Synod of Whitby. Brother Oswin (who first appeared in Beagrie’s Leásungspell) travels to Streanæshealh across a wild landscape steeped in magic and folklore. There he is shunned as a boggart, elfking, merman and the cursed puck responsible for spreading the pandemic that rages through the kingdom. Meanwhile the politics of faith, fealty, liberty and power play out through the lives of the people he encounters. Written in a hybrid of Old English and Northern vernaculars, the book conjures a sense of place that runs deep into the collective imagination.

Cover image: Paul Summers, Hewer

Sample Poem


Fæ muccel tides ealle þon woruld wæs hír;
þá grinden o’ hir watters
þá swégan o' hir heorte
þá fléot-seglede clout o’ hir wamb, 
gréne æfenglóm o’ mi stream-ham
fisċebánful, scrapful o' wealgifts; 
for héo beo couþþu an’ afeohred
bie alfolcs giét belýfed bie swá feāw;
þá Gadderer, þá Hréodtess, þá Riverwif.

An’ i wæs náht giét æn o' hir gaddered 
trinccets, ungestréon, betimbrede –
gelic Jonah wiðin þá gutten o’ þá hwæl;
mealtan int’ ealle þá grete turnens an' singungs
o' þá hæppeden ðæt seten o’ hiþerness nú.

From swollen tides all the world was her,
the grinding of her waters
the brine-sealed robe of her womb,
evening green gloom of my stream home
full of fish bones, scrap-riddled fear-gifts;
for she be familiar and afeared
by everyone but believed by so few:
The Gatherer, The Reed Witch, The River Wife.

And I was nothing but one of her gathered
trinkets, ill-gotten treasure, remoulded –
like Jonah within the belly of the whale;
melting into all the great swirlings and singings
of the happenstances that fixed the present.

i séon þa peerans o’ Angelcynn an’ inboren
yond sċeadwast o’ trēowes an’ leáf-twiges, 
món-rippell, friþcandel-scīne, steorr-glenten,
an’ þær lust an’ willnung for þys dræd-stead;
an’ i hlalhafd æf mi buttucs fæ þær splitness, 
níþe ‘em þær eorðbúend freodom te mi þralldom. 

Dyde þæge witnys min niðeweard unscrýd crēopen?
Dyde þæge heorcian min brynewielm bewailen?

Giet, aswellan o’ burnen an’ byren o’ lifen 
swá Helletess Peg’s wreccan níedling 
æn dai, swá héo slépeth i slipest hir line, snícest 
fíor æf fræ hir horpytt an’ bedd, upcyme fleótan,
toweard frumleoht, fersċ erlyft an’ briddsang
beweorpen þa spellion o' Stoccholm gylt.

I saw the spying eyes of Angles and natives
beyond the reflections of trees and branches,
moon ripples, the glimmer of candles, starlight,
and their lust and desire for this dreadful place;
and I’d laugh my arse off at their quandary,
envy their earthbound freedom to my captivity.

Did they witness my lowly unclothed creeping?
Did they hear my fiery waves of wails?

Yet, swollen of burnings and befitting of living
as Demoness Peg’s wretched slave
one day, as she slept, I slipped her tethering, snuck
far off from her mudhole and bed, floating upward
toward the dawn light, fresh air and bird song
casting off the conspiracy of Stockholm Syndrome.

Brecung þa watter’s scimeren hȳd
te gulpen a gobful o’ hunig sun-brēowed geþyll, 
swéte swá Lindisfarne meodu,
fingors ġefaren fea lyfthelme 
an’ scrabbel toweard þa undēopra
an’ oferslincen hyngrede sucen stencen gyra 
til fyrma grund canne upheald þa bodiġ’s wyht,
roccs scæfe scinbánes an’ anclēowes;
i macan fea þa becmūþa dreflian int’ ealdlic stream,
slippian on mud an’ oferclimben lōges,
níedgripen tréow wyrt an’ togung on þúfes o’ rieds,
te craeft a hwyrftweg, gién þa sunnbéames flēahon 
dimme cwic-winds swæpen þa laguflód, 
bemænan and grommelen, sócn wiðin æfre núcc,
áþerscan bulruscas, hweopan þa watters te hrycges,
an’ i cunne Cwen Peg hæfd onwōcen befinden mi gan.

i scúdan æt hir wylfen hlynnen, hir streng o’ cursas, 
hir unbletsung snér o’ wyrgung ġefeallen lic regn, 
an’ cuðe mynd hir gristbite an’ scripen næglas, 
ēagan clinced storm-blast tíht swá heofonfyr cracast 
þa uplyft an’ þa wapelaþ cymme lic a wealhháfoc.

Breaking the water’s shimmering hide
to gulp a gobful of honey, sun-brewed air,
sweet as Lindisfarne mead,
fingers reaching for the sky
and scrabbling toward the shallows
and sliding over hungry sucking, stinking slime
till firmer ground could support this body’s weight,
rocks scrape shin bones and ankles.

I make for the beck-mouth pouring into the stream
slipping on mud and clambering over logs,
gripping onto tree roots and tugging on tufts of reeds,
to craft an escape, but the sun beams fade
to dimness, quick winds sweep the river
moaning and growling, searching in every nook,
thrashing bullrushes, whipping the water to ridges,
and I know Queen Peg has awoken to find me gone.

I shudder at her wolfen howling, her string of curses,
her hexes’ snare of condemnation falling like rain,
and picture her gristly bite and scraping nails,
eyes screwed storm-blast tight as lighting cracks
the skies and the downpour comes like a war hawk.

Belīefen hit wīs te clymme út o’ þa becwatters
fæ þa déadlic clyċċaþ o’ þa stream-dēofol 
i wræstian wyrmlic onte þa drencan eorð,
ofstageran int’ þa þiccetes te hunccor, schiferen
undra blǣsted, hlining tréowboles ābīden þa stormfiell
an’ gehilden þa puddels swellen, brædan an’ spillen.

An’ wiðin þa rippelan runnells i seo mi an’ Iohannes 
swá twa snot-nebbed baerns splaccen an’ bewylwen
ymbut in swelc puddels æfore geten a cleot ymbut 
þa lugs beo ower wrāþan mōdor fæ cumen hām smittan 
in clām, an’ i wundor hwæt hæst becum o min bróðor?

þæs puddels risc lic ælfisc int’ þa bersten fǣme 
o’ þa cyrnen bec swá if te niedfinde Cwen Peg.

Hwíltídum héo hæfd traht mi wið cyndnes, 
callian mi Polwigge, stroccaþ mi, aswebban 
an’ féding mi truffes o’ frocgaleges, 
bíetles, snægeles, scrimpe, an’ seawyrt.

Hwíltídum héo smothred mi in sibbecosses
an’ swéte bletsunge þonne rād mi lic a lufiend.

Hwíltídum héo wæs sorgful, grorn, 
an’ brynetéar-méðe. Hwíltídum héo wæs oféstlic, 
gilpsceaðan in oféstnesse, an’ bite an’ scripe mi 
sæyen héo mōst gobblen mi úp, snæd bie snæd, 
an’ scodst héo beġinst wið an earfingor?
Scodst héo rēofe út min tunge oþþe bettra 
te rende æf a flǣsċclympe fea mi buttucs?

Mi mynd beo a misthelm o’ didderens 
an’ i wundor hū lang hæfd i beon hir plæg-þinge? 

Believing it wise to climb out of the beck waters,
from the deadly clutches of the river devil
I writhed like a worm onto the drenched earth,
staggering off into the thickets to hunker, shivering
under blasted, leaning tree trunks to wait out the storm
and watch the puddles swelling, co-mingling and spilling.

And within the rippling runnels I saw me an’ Iohannes 
as two snot-nebbed bairns splashing an’ rolling about
before getting a clout about the lugs by our irate mother 
for coming home smeared in filth, an’ I wonder 
what has become of my brother?

These puddles rush like eels into the bubbling foam
of the churning beck as if coming home to Queen Peg.

Sometimes she treated me with kindness,
calling mi Tadpole, stroking me, calming
and feeding me titbits of frog’s legs,
beetles, snails, shrimp and seaweed.

Sometimes she smothered me in soft kisses
and sweet blessings then rode me like a love fiend.

Sometimes she was sorrowful, agitated,
and weary from weeping. Sometimes she was bitter,
arrogant in spite, and would bite and scratch me
saying she must gobble me up, piece by piece,
and should she begin with a little finger?
Should she rip out my tongue or better
to tear off a fleshy lump from my buttocks?

My mind is a fog of tremors
and I wonder how long I have been her plaything.

Amangst drippian þýflas ont’ bedd o’ fællen leafs 
i séce te mimboran þa lifu i hæfd lǣd beforen
i becymest þa feend-gyrele’s galdorspun wætling,
þær wære glowerans, plaeces, healf-hoerd swégas,
a ród, a fyr, a godwif, an æld mann, a Hāliġ Mōdor, 
þær beo wæ mægden, þa bera wealdan a wyr-æxe
gíet þæge wære dreamlic dwimor an’ gliderunge;
hwæþþre æn glieword stil hrang ymbut min héafod
lic þa cnyll o’ þa circanbell callian æll te weorðscipe;
Streanæshealh. Streanæshealh. Streanæshealh.
þa abbodríce o’ herigendsang setan heáh ont’ hwít clifs 
fleótan ont’ efenhléoðor, friðu an’ glengful wið godwebb
belócian þa bai hwær þa Esk métes þa brimflód;
an’ i cūþe in mi breosthord ðæt beo hwær i níedgan.

Among dripping shrubs and a bed of fallen leaves
I seek to remember the life I had led before
I became the fiend-girl’s enchanted wetling,
there were flickerings, places, half-heard voices,
a cross, a fire, a good wife, an old man, a Holy Mother,
there was a young maid, the bear wielding a war-axe
but they are dreamlike phantoms and slipperings;
although one word of joy still rings about my head
like the knell of the church bell calling all to worship;
Streanæshealh. Streanæshealh. Streanæshealh.
The Abbey of Praise Songs set high on white cliffs
floating on choral voices, peace and adorned with flags
overlooking the bay where the Esk meets the sea
and I know in my heart that is where I need to go.

Lætemest þa reġn wæcens 
þouh hlynnen windas stil blāwe.

Niðer wiðin þa wudu dene 
þær beo næ landmearcs te aline minsylf, 
þouh þa wendan bec beo ġewiss te beflōw 
fæ úplonds fortreding fea þa hyllas. 

i heor min hungor grollen
intone wið þa glubben becflod.

Suðanlic a drumblebeā cymmes fimblen 
þurh þa tréows te tirgan ymbut mi, 
fǣtt furbeall sprecled wið blōstmcrums
gaddered for swéte frummeolc
beflēahen nēah, þonne setlede 
ont’ min forearm swá sefteful swá ælfcosses. 
i wilcumen þa hunig-mægden wið a hwispra
æfore hit eftfléow int’ lyft 
gíet hit stæððan clys, flíetee nēah 
wiðin hits tumbian drāne,
seglung eaf ænlic te eftcyme
hweorfan an’ trendelan ymbut mi. 

þrigtide hit gan flíeten i ġeċēose 
te fylgaþ hwærþæra hit dwilst.

At last, the rain lessens
although howling winds still blow.

Down in the wooded dene 
there are no landmarks to align myself
although the winding beck is sure to flow
from highlands running from the hills.

I hear my hunger grumbling
in tune with glugging beck song.

Suddenly a bumblebee comes fumbling
through the trees to buzz about me,
fat fur ball speckled with pollen
gathered for sweet flower milk
flying close, then settles 
onto my forearm as soft as elf kisses.
I welcome the honey maiden with a whisper
before it flits off into the air
but it stays close, flying near
within its tumbling drone,
sailing off only to return
whirling and wheeling about me.

On the third time it goes flitting I choose
to follow wherever it leads.

Hit cymmes bæcc te mi swá i wæf þruh þa wudu;

þær beo a bygantide hwen i dyde tenden þa hýfe
helpien æld Wunstan tilian þa mynster’s swearm
gaddering þa hunigtéaras on wearme Sumer ǣfennas,
sweðedlen þa hýfe in scipwullfleos fea Winterhrīm.

i mimboran Wunstan sprǣcen þa drumblebeās,
tellian tídungs o’ æl þa cymmens an’ gannens,
swiþost ænig seócnes oþþe deáp wiðin þa friþgeard.
Hwen i āscod hwi, he dyde locian ymbut in beweredon
þonne sæd inan smylt hwicta swá næ oþþre sáwol miht heor, 
‘Beās ābær ærendspræc betwuxl þa cwicc an’ þa deád.’

i mimboran anoþþre beā ðæt stang a wæ laddie
hwo cymme rinnen te mi wiðin a wylmas o’ téaras,
þa deád beā hylde in brádhand an’ i swæpende hi úp
tellian hi æll wolde beo fullhál, þouh i willnæ þenc 
on ðas tímnes næ on hwæt becyme o’ mi bearns.

‘Hwær ðu lædnes in yower wagian weg wæ Clæfercwēn?’

It comes back to me as I weave through the woods;

there was a bygone time when I tended the hive
helping Old Wunstan manage the minster’s swarm
gathering the honey tears on warm Summer evenings,
swaddling the hive in sheep’s fleeces for the Winter’s ice.

I remember Wunstan speaking to the bees,
telling them news of all the comings and goings,
especially of sickness or deaths within the sanctuary.
When I asked why, he looked about warily
then said like a gentle breeze so no other soul might hear,
‘Bees bear messages between the living and the dead.’

I remember another bee that stung a small boy
who came running to me in waves of tears,
the dead bee held in his palm and I swept him up
telling him all would be well, although I will not think
on those times nor on what became of my bairns.

‘Where do you lead in your wending way little Clover Queen?’

Wé gelísedon ofer swaðes o’ stencen hramsacrop,
beorht clystres o’ gylden ǣġwyrt, ofer fixene fótspor
an’ forlætan feþra læcced ont’ twigu lic bansegns
hwen wé cymme te an altare hydden in þa graf  
bewarenen wið blōstmas, trincets, smiþcræfted heorts
ídola offrunga an’ crúcas āhēngen ont’ bēn bedes.
þa hearga hringende beo weaxcandel stybbas
þa tréowrind cyrfen wið ruh heawan rúnstafas.
Amangst þa wyrt æt þa fōt a hlided clǣġ pott. 
i mynd þys beo a memborangung te a luf forloren,
perhappon æn hwo selfmyrðered hi fea gnornsorg.

i wæcc þa drumblebeā ċirculflíet þa pott
wiðin hwilc i befinde þrig hunig crompehts
hwilc þa heargan’s cargást wylt næ cearu if i feriġe
te eáþnes min gnagen hungor, swéte te swæcc 
if a miccel drie, i þanc þa Clæfercwēn for héo gyfte.

We slipped over pungent swathes of wild garlic
bright clusters of golden dandelions, over fox prints
and discarded feathers caught on twigs like banners,
when we came to an alter hidden in the grove
adorned with flowers, trinkets, hand carved hearts,
idols, offerings and crucifixes hanging prayer beads.

The shrine was ringed by wax candle stubs
the tree bark carved with rough-hewn runes.
among the roots at the foot a lidded clay pot.
I suspected this was a memorial to a lost loved one,
perhaps one who slew himself from deep sorrow.

Watching the bumblebee fly in circles around the pot
I opened it to find three honey cakes
which the shrine’s ghost would not care if I foraged,
to ease my gnawing hunger, sweet to taste
if a little dry, I thanked the Clover Queen for her gift.

i steartl æt a scrycc an’ huncor niðerung amangst 
þa undragrowð glæran ymbut te seo þrig bearns 
ont’ trod giopian lic gefrosted gawccs in fryhtu,
þa lytlum gyrele gewailen, héo gob lic geopen græfhús,
ēagan lic fyllmona, þa middlen, a lad gehywllan út,

‘Bogart! þær beo fȳlþie hob-fiend befúlian fæder’s hearga!’

Hwil þa ieldest, néahlic a mann, pýcdede úp a sticca
an’ hurlen hit æt mi gyllen, ‘Begannen dēofolcyn!’
þonne te hys bróðor an’ wæ sweostor hé barccest,
‘Flíehest ham cwicc swá ðu mōst, bringest þa wergang.’

i nied næ heor nænig mára swá dyde ofsceót 
hléopen þurh þa tréows lic a huntoþ héahdéor. 

I startle at a shriek and hunker down low among
the undergrowth glaring about to see three bairns
on the trail gawping like frozen gorks in fright,
the little girl wailing, her mouth like an open tomb,
eyes like full moons, the middle one, a lad barking out,

‘Bogart! There is a filthy hob-fiend befouling father’s shrine!’

While the eldest, nearly a man, picked up a stick
and hurled it at me yelling, ‘Begone devil-kin!’
then to his brother and wee sister he barked,
‘Run home, quick as you can, bring the men folk.’

I didn’t need to hear any more so shot off, 
leaping through trees like a hunted stag.

Æfore lang i heor þa beorcan o’ hundas an’ wer
an’ cunne hie beo ont’ mi spor, þa sunu beorht
an’ hát, bacen þa lond ðæt stéams æftre þa storm. 
i feol min scinn byrnen undra þa fýrleóma
swá i snyre þruh speccals o’ leafsċeadwe
swóretten an’ orðen an’ scudian úp þa ghyll
an’ oferhleipen tréowefeall, næ wyrġen ymbut
netel stingas næ pricþornes scripen æt mi.

Þonne þa lond sméðnes ūt an’ þa stréamfaru slāwaþ
widian te a smyltpól þrangen bie héah hréodes,
i ġestille te læcc min brǣþ æt þa glimwatters brēost, 
seo in wælgryre min sċēawere int’ sunscín stricel:
þa frocgalic boggart wið speccalan grénescí,
blegne te scealu, wið starian blōdscottan fisclic ēagan.
Næ wunder þa þrig bearns scrycced in frytu.
Agæst i am æt þa yfelweorc Peg hæfd dón on mi.

Wið þa blæst gannen nēahra i ġewade int’ þa pól, 
félnyss cólness aswefe min drie byrnan scinn, 
strocce min werig lims swá i gliddre niðer 
amangst þa stemnas o’ liliflodwyrt 
te ræst an’ abide til þa huntans oferleóran,
sċylded bie þa daroþlácende flyht o’ dracaflégan

Before long there’s the barking of hounds and men
and ken they be on my tail, the sun bright and hot, 
baking the land that steams after the storm
I feel my skin burning under the fiery rays
as I hasten through speckles of leaf shadow
sweating and panting and scrambling up the ghyll
leaping over fallen trunks, heedless of nettle stings, 
briers and sharp thorns raking my bare skin.

Then the land smooths out and the stream slows
widening to a calm pool thronged by high reeds,
I stop to catch my breath at the water’s glimmering breast,
see in horror my grim reflection in the sunlit fount:
the froglike boggart with speckled green flesh,
blistered into scales, wide staring blood-shot fisheyes.
No wonder the three bairns shrieked in fright.
Aghast I am at the evil work Peg has done on me.

With the uproar drawing closer I wade into the pool
feeling its coolness ease my dry burning skin,
stroke my weary limbs as I glide deeper
among the stems of waterlilies
to rest and wait until the hunt is abandoned,
guarded by the darting play flight of dragonflies.


‘In the mischievous spirit of Christopher Reid’s Katerina Brac or George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman Papers, Beagrie’s invented codex rollicks along the whale-road into the reader’s heart.’

Martin Malone

‘Erudite, engaging, attuned to the pulse of the past and the voice of the people, prepare to be challenged and enthralled by this monumental landmark collection.’

Ian Parks

‘Historically informed, politically aware. Beagrie has clearly marked out his territory: his timeslip-style and visionary re-imaginings do for his natal Northumbria what Alan Garner does for Alderley Edge.’

Steve Ely