Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Moray, MacBeth held the tribute purses of all Alba save McDuff’s in Fife. MacBeth’s cousin Gille Frog employed fifty strong men as guard for their overland journey to Scone where they would meet Malcolm and Crínán. As the guard lofted late in a barn, the cousins argued about tanistry.
“Forget not our solemnity,” warned Frog, referring to their violent act against each other’s own fathers as young teenagers, “We have a pact, MacBeth.”
“A pox on your pact, you turd,” MacBeth answered with contempt. “Your boyish fantastics are tiresome. How can you expect to rule as king when you cannot even rule a house? Your son laughs at you,” said MacBeth to his furious cousin as they entered the barn. MacBeth locked the door behind them.
“Leave him out of this. It is not about him, my son Lulach,” said Gille Coemgáin, his last words. MacBeth pulled the elegant short-sword from the bag he carried, the very seaxeblade whose twin rested at the shin of Baldwine Rede of Morpeth, and ended Frog’s life. Worse yet, MacBeth lit the barn ablaze as he left, trapping the fifty in the loft above.
As the actors finished the show and the old gray whiskered fool collected a purse from Ealdred, Sigeweard was in deep conversation with Thomas regarding the Redeswood. “There is tall and straight timber suitable for a fleet, so I have heard,” said the Earl of York.
“Yes, some, pray but mine is marked by infestation. Now the oak and hickory of my good friend Mildred is a matter you must ask of him,” replied Thomas in the most evasive way he could. After all, if he aided the Earl of York in building a fleet, even if the Earl had sworn loyalty to Cnut, and then the same fleet was used to usurp the Crown, there would be no end to the troubles Thomas could face.
“My good Earl of York,” said Ealdred as he stood and all the room hushed.
Standing to a full head over his counterpart, Sigeweard rose and answered, “My good Earl of Bernicia, what say you?”
“Today we strengthen the friendship between our realms, two lands which have seen strife back to the days of Æbba and Penda, of Oswald and Æthelfrith,” said Earl Ealdred.
“Indeed those were barbarous days,” answered Sigeweard, the irony of his own Viking heritage caught by the astute Thomas Rede.
“Today our ties are strengthened by the bond of marriage between our houses. My daughter the Lady Ælfflæd will to-morrow be wed to Earl Sigeweard of York.”
“Hoorah!” yelled all in the hall, all except Thomas and the Lady Ælfflæd, who were stunned at this horrid turn in their own eventualities. Protocol dictated that Thomas quiet himself and stay for the ceremony, but he planned to leave immediately afterward. The Lady Ælfflæd cried quietly as well.
Following the wedding feast, Thomas and Baldwine readied their mounts for the short journey to Morpeth, while Duncan contrived to find a way to stay. As fate would have it, the Lady Maldred finally asked her leave and required an escort.
“I may go as far as Strathclyde, to my brother’s estate. You know Gospatric, right?” The Lady Maldred talked continuously and all ears at Bamburgh were eager for respite. She went on, “Of course the Lord Maldred, my husband, who I am sure misses me terribly, would want me back in Allerdale. But those highway robbers and raiding cutthroats are everywhere! And don’t forget that brute Thurbrand! Or the Welsh heathens,” she said, her breath finally expiring. Deep breath, “Or perhaps the Cumbrian frontier lodge.”
Cilla jumped at this opportunity, saying, “Perhaps I can caravan with you, a leisurely journey back to York, and…”
“Duncan took the cue, “I will escort you from Allerdale to your destination, m’lady. Oh, with your brother’s permission, of course.”
Sigeweard eyed them both warily. Cilla then said, “Of course Glædstan and Dunstan will escort me as well, good brother. And besides, you have a new bride to attend to now. Please fret over her and not me,” and all of the ladies in the room giggled in embarrassment at the implications. Sigeweard agreed.
Thomas bid his farewells at such hot irons to his ears, knowing he would have trouble forgetting her, and left the hillfort with Baldwine.
“So it has happened,” said Baldwine to his cousin. “The tryptic of loss is complete. Old Tom’s Blade was my loss, the horse Duncan’s, and now you have lost your forest nymph. The god’s frown on us this season, good cousin Tom.”
“Duncan regained his horse, and even so his girl,” Thomas reminded him, then spoke not for days.
“The god’s are fickle indeed, my sad companion,” sighed Baldwine to the surf below as they descended the hill in silence.
It took seven days’ travel for the caravan to reach Allerdale, another three to York by horse, but less by nine to coat like honey the hearts of Duncan and Cilla. “I will stand fast at your side, dear heart, until you are safely at home,” promised he.
“And then you will go for your grandfather’s blessing? He must allow us to marry, he must,” she begged.
“The King is a good man, as is my father just, having given my brother leave to marry Bernicia’s flower, so too is fate that I be garland with such a blossom of York,” said Duncan with his best sugared comfort for his Sybilla Soothen.
“Oh, my sweet,” she said, eyes teary as they rode side by side, she on the marbled gray, he the white stallion.
“I will shoot like archer’s arrow to them at Scone, and return as roses bloom to you as an eager bridegroom, else fall forever unfit for love or happy livelihood,” vowed Duncan.
“Be swift, sweet champion, lest wither will I and all the petals fall,” she cried as he raced off toward the Pict’s Wall and further north, to his father’s land of Atholl.
In truth they did get the King’s blessing and more, for within a year their first son, called Can-more – big head – was born. This very Malcolm Canmore eventually rested his very wide crown against the Stone of Destiny, as did his father before him, and was called King of Alba, Malcolm III of Scotland.
But MacBeth had other plans for Crínán, and Duncan never made it to his father’s side as planned. MacBeth arrived like a thief in the night at Scone, filling Malcolm with perjuries and slanders against the King’s son-in-law, his own uncle.
“Trust Crínán not, grandfather and King,” MacBeth told Malcolm in the shadows like a galley rat, “He is an assassin out to gain advantage for Olaf of Norway. Our allegiance with Cnut, through his good son Harefoot, is the wise path of truth.” MacBeth then convinced the King to grant him the banner as Guard of the Purse without peer, sole discretion as King’s Guard.
And so the plots were at full sail as MacBeth awaited Crínán in Atholl. Under the waning moon, just days before Duncan arrived to escort his father back to Bamburgh (with a full Scottish purse), again MacBeth used the stolen blade and Crínán lost his head.
MacBeth sat alone, the moonlight revealing only the blackness of blood. The Abbot gone and cast aside, and the Frog gone, too. Poor Frog.
Lady MacBeth now shall the widow be, and the son my son, like it or no’. And Malcolm is the next to go.
Are you listening, confidant? Do you not see the banner unfurl? The character of this bloody business is that truth is full of peril.
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