Rotaida and the Runestone
Middle Grade Historical
Ages 10 +
In the time of Charlemagne, 12-year-old Rotaida is searching for the truth about her parents. When the story opens, Rotaida’s mother, who is dying, gives her daughter a runestone of protection. She tries to tell Rotaida the secrets of her past, but dies before she can. Rotaida also learns that Raoul, the drunkard she’d always thought was her father, didn’t sire her.
Distraught over her mother’s death, Rotaida finds help from one kind village woman–all the rest think she’s a demon because of her red hair–but the next day Raoul sells Rotaida to the cook in charge of the palace kitchens. Rotaida is happy about this because her mother once worked in the palace and she thinks her real father must work there still.
The cook, Truda, turns out to be a nurturing woman who teaches Rotaida much about cooking and everyday tasks. Rotaida makes friends with the other kitchen girls and Martin, the falconer’s son, while she seeks information about her mother. But not everyone is pleased by her questions. She finds out that her mother was the royal nursemaid and was banished by Queen Fastrada for spying. Fastrada, who died the previous summer, is haunting the castle and is referred to as the ghost queen.
But Rotaida is the only one who thinks Fastrada is alive and hiding in the palace. When the “ghost queen” speaks to her, no one believes it. But the evil Fastrada saves Rotaida’s life and makes Rotaida serve her by bringing her food in the middle of the night. As the mystery surrounding her mother begins to unfold, Rotaida is caught up in Fastrada’s plot to kill King Charlemagne and must use her wits to stay alive.
Rotaida and the Runestone is full of historical details–everything from 8th century cooking and falconry to a school Charlemagne started that included girls! I loved learning about the different languages, cultures, and prejudices that were part of life in Charlemagne’s palace. In Rotaida and the Runestone, Watkins gives the reader a detailed slice of history.