My fantasy series is called ‘The Weapon Takers Saga’. The general meaning of the title references the quest that the heroes take on, to find and ‘take’ the seven weapons of Madria. I thought it might be enlightening to explain what the word ‘weapontake’ means in a more specific, historical sense.
I begin the final book of the series with an epigraph from Tolkien’s Return of the King:
‘The king with his guard and Merry at his side passed down from the gate of the Burg to where the Riders were assembling on the green. Many were already mounted. It would be a great company; for the king was leaving only a small garrison in the Burg, and all who could be spared were riding to the weapontake at Edoras.’
The meaning Tolkien uses here is derived from a Viking term – vapnatak – for a meeting where weapons are taken. This could be seen as a muster of the fighting men from a particular region; or perhaps a meeting where the brandishing of a weapon entitles you to have a vote or say in the outcome of a legal dispute.
The term survives to this day as a unit of administration in those parts of England that were heavily influenced by Viking settlers and rulers – Yorkshire and the Five Boroughs, known as the Danelaw. In this region, counties were subdivided into wapentakes, whereas in the rest of England the term used was hundreds. Whether in wapentake or hundred, the people of the area would gather at a local landmark, such as a river crossing or large tree. Here they would discuss issues that affected them and be addressed by the representatives of the government of the day – be it Viking warlord or English bishop.
Well, I hope this little lesson is of interest to those who enjoy language and history, as well as helping readers of my series understand the use of the word, and the reason behind my choice of epigraph.