There is an intriguing story about Widukind, a real-life eighth-century Westphalian Saxon war leader and enemy of Charlemagne, and I am debating whether to use it in my next novel, with the working title The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.
Most of what we know of the historic Widukind comes from the Franks, particularly the writers of the Royal Frankish Annals. Nowhere do they say what he looked like. But a story gives him an unusual physical feature: heterochromia, eyes of different colors.
In this story, which cannot be verified, Widukind has one blue eye and one black eye. Problem is, I don’t know where this tale comes from. I’ve seen a reference to it only in passing, the most recent one in a book about Nazis. If only for the author’s note, I would love to know the story’s origin.
Today, we would explain heterochromia as a quirk of genetics, but in the Middle Ages, the folk would have seen it as a sign of the supernatural. On top of that, Widukind and his followers worship the pagan Germanic gods. There are no tales of Wodan having only one eye, but his Norse counterpart, Odin, does.
Widukind must have been a charismatic figure, and a sign of the supernatural could be a factor for why Saxons would follow him, even as the two sides inflicted punishing losses on each other.
Widukind is a secondary character in Ashes, which focuses on the fate of a peasant Saxony family sold into slavery (see kimrendfeld.com for my latest draft of the blurb), yet he mentioned throughout the novel.
Should I use this physical feature for Widukind, even if it likely is fictional and even if I can’t track down its origins?