The Danish King Cnut, who ruled over all of the English Earldoms, was on a pilgrimage to Rome while his first wife Ealfgifu managed to wring profitable havoc from her banishment among the destitute of Norway.  Left with his own gang of ruffians and no minders at all, their younger son Harald – called Harefoot for his ability to escape on foot from any adversary – was scattering his newfound adolescent freedom with tyrannical abandon upon the villages and farmsteads of Northumbria and the Scottish kingdoms.

Harefoot called himself a tax collector, but his accruals benefitted neither his father Cnut nor Malcolm II of Scotland, or even Earl Ealdred for that matter.  His pillage merely indulged the whims of a pack of teenage hooligans, and the Mormaers and Earls were willing to put up with little more of his tyranny.  Some conspired in secret concerning the lawless prince, and after one such conference at Dunadd, Crínán the Mormaer of Atholl, who was the loyal thane and son-in-law of Malcolm, made haste along with his eldest son Maldred of Allerdale to the high king’s court with a message of constancy against the oppressive English Dane.

Thane Crínán’s younger son Duncan likewise traveled, along with the Rede’s of Morpeth and their cousin Mildred of the Redeswood, toward the hillfort at Bamburgh in delivery of their united front for Earl Ealdred of Bernicia.  Thane Mildred remained at Redeswood when they stopped along the way, finding his wife had borne him yet another child, their third to survive, and Thomas, Baldwine and Duncan bade them love and happiness and continued on toward Bamburgh.

“So why do you think the blade was stolen by Thorfinn’s men?” asked Thomas from atop his black stallion as the three rode easily up the coastal trail.  Baldwine mumbled something in response, his mood still surly since discovering that one of his pair of ancient knives was missing from its ankle sheath.

“Why not that Brusi?  After all, he is not actually kin and likely a cut throat,” added Duncan as he steadied his marbled gray, his true love, while she pranced impatiently and nodded her jealous head at back at him.  “Maybe…whoa, whoa, pretty girl…maybe you simply dropped it,” said Duncan as his horse skipped past the brooding Baldwine.

Baldwine’s eyes nearly cracked like thunder at Duncan as he galloped by, then he hissed, “One does not lose one of Old Tom’s pieces.  They are known both north and south of Pict’s Wall as the property of the Rede’s.  It was robbery, and I will be avenged, kin or no’ kin.”

When they were close enough to Bamburgh to see it in the distance the trio came upon a lively and raucous camp on the beach.  There were several tented wagons near a crude corral assembled of driftwood in which twenty horses busied themselves with young shoots of sand grass, and beyond which a large fire pit roasted lamb and lit the faces of a lively bunch of minstrels and troubadours engaged in song.  The troupe continued without pause as a smiling boy run up to take their horses to the corral and another offered them a cup of wine, after which Baldwine began to break his melancholy mood.

Duncan immediately locked eyes with a raven haired beauty who smiled at him with her eyes as she played a cheerful song with a darkwood flute.  Any thought of continuing on to the hospitality of Ealdred at that late hour of the day was dashed to the rocks.  Thomas knew from the look on Duncan’s face that they would be staying with the actors until the morning sun broke its watery horizon.

“Welcome, goods sirs,” said a gray haired man as the song stopped and all faces were on the travelers, smiling and eager for their stories.  “Of the highlands or the lowlands?” he asked.

“Neither, fine host,” answered Thomas, “we are from nearby Morpeth, Thanes of the Earl – well myself and Baldwine here.  Our companion is – ,”

“A King!” shouted the lovely flutist and all laughed as Duncan’s face reddened at her attention.  “No? Not a King? Surely then a rascal and a nave,” she added to even more uproarious applause.

Wearing a smile he could not control, Duncan approached her as one would a princess, but he was blocked by two shirtless men with long golden locks who looked more like the gladiators of Commodus than minstrel balladeers.  She waved them off.

“M’lady, I am Duncan, son of Crínán the Abbot of Dunkeld,” he began.

“A pious young man, what a shame,” she mocked to the delight of the band of merry makers.

“AND my father is Mormaer of Atholl,” added Duncan with a grin and a reach to kiss her hand, which she offered with demurity and a smile.

“Better still, he is grandson to the King of Alba and all of Scotland,” said Thomas, more so to the crowd at large than to the young lady, and all of the actors bowed in overly dramatic fashion, chuckling and giggling at the fun they were having and the wine.

“And you, m’lady?” asked Duncan.

“Cilla,” she said.

“And these two giants are your husbands? Brothers?” asked Baldwine, sizing up as usual any potential adversaries.

“They have no names,” she replied, her eyes still locked onto Duncan’s.  “They do as they are told,” she said through a devilish grin.

As everyone enjoyed lamb and song throughout the evening, the trio learned that this band of actors had traveled a circuit of performances all the way from London and were to sing their northernmost songs at Bamburgh, then back through the midlands again.  Travel was dangerous, but as they were a combined pack of players, minstrels, jugglers and fools, they felt safe in numbers.

Cilla and Duncan shared laughter and stories and never left each other until it was time to sleep, and even then only reluctantly when the jealous marbled gray, who was known to slip the tightest tether, approached them and began nickering Cilla.

“She likes you,” said Duncan as he scratched the horse’s cheek.

“So your girlfriend approves of me, do you think,” asked Cilla as the gray nuzzled into her.

“We must meet in the morning,” was Duncan’s plea to her, wanting to solidify a friendship before they were separated in the hillfort by class and protocol.  The full moon had risen over the open water and Duncan thought it all seemed like a dream.

“In the morning you will find me standing between two enormous trees,” she said with a cryptic laugh before disappearing into the ladies tent.

Walking his horse back to the corral, Duncan could hear the Rede’s talking a distance away from the fire light.  Bathed in the silver of moon glow, he could make out their form and walked their way, hoping to talk about the girl who now occupied his every thought and wrestled under his belt.  They wanted to speak only of the business of Harefoot and how they would present their proposal in the morning.


Go To Episode 1  Chapter 4

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