“Ahh, the impatient pathos of youth,” said Thomas Rede the Elder to the four young men who shared warm bread and frothy sweet mead with him at the front table. Thomas Rede always sat in the most prominent position possible in any establishment, especially at The Spotted Cock, always with an eye on the door to reel in business. Lawyering, he oft told his namesake son and apprentice, is firstly a commerce. We provide a service, and for that are paid handsomely.
The Younger was only fifteen but already had two visits to the continent to his credit, trips with his father to do business with their most important client, the Wessex family in exile. This was all kept as discreet as possible. Other clients included nobles close to the southern Earls, and even Harold Godwinson himself, who had no love for the exiles, to sort out a land dispute. Discretion was a matter of keeping one’s head.
“Yea, to be young and full of lust and hot outrage again,” Thomas repeated, raising his cup to them as did his son The Younger, wide-eyed and eagerly committing all to memory.
“We only want what is rightfully ours,” said Waltheof, bitter over his lost earldom.
They stopped when the hostess, a stout woman with red locks and sunny cheeks, poured another three hot loaves from her apron. “D’no worry, your secret’s safe w’me, boys. If I tolad all the plots I’ear, I would’no be in business, now would I,” and she walked back to the kitchen, yelling at her husband to get off his arse.
“So you wish to wrest York away from Tostig,” said Thomas, “You show the haste of your mother Ælfflæd – give her my well wishes when next you see her.”
“She speaks of you often, Sir Tom,” said Waltheof. Thomas looked down for a moment, considering his cup.
“And you, Don Bane, you want to plunder the lands of the Western Wall, the Cumbria now under Yorkist lordship, land you feel is Scot.” He and Waltheof nodded fervently.
“And you, young Canmore? What is it that you want?” asked Thomas, looking directly at the big man with the boyish face.
Malcolm Canmore paused, picked the last unbroken loaf from the table, and broke off a piece. “I want many things,” he said, offering the portion to his late father’s dearest friend. “I want to help my friends, uncle.”
“A truly diplomatic answer,” said Thomas, adding, “And to what end would you help your friends?”
Thomas remembered how he and his cousin Baldwine had helped Duncan gain his crown, and how helpless he felt upon hearing the news of Duncan’s death. He remembered how, on that foggy day atop Dunadd, they had been warned by Flandabra. Warned of MacBeth.
Canmore looked just as deliberately back into the lawyer’s eyes, “To the end of one whose name I cannot speak. Help us, uncle, to regain the Cumbria and Strathclyde, that we may use that as evidence for the support of the Mormaer’s.”
“Against the tyrant and his sorceress wife. In the name of my father Duncan, and his Crínán, and my namesake of old who in similar treachery were slain by these dark demons –,” Malcolm’s voice began to break as he trembled.
“Lady MacBeth a sorceress? Now, now, young man. I am a man of practical letters and logic, and believe in no magic,” said Thomas with a smile.
“She and her murderous swine have been feeding at the trough of ill-gotten fortune far too long, the honor of the Stone shat upon by their pretense,” said Canmore.
“She bathes in the blood of children,” his brother Dan Bane added.
“Talk of old fools and whiskered women,” replied Thomas with a sideways glance to his son, a knowing look related to a previous conversation on the superstitions of the Scots and ways to take advantage. Business, you know.
“What you speak of is treason on this side of the wall, young hotspurs, so my advice to you is speak low. And I – we,” Thomas said, pointing to his son, “are citizens of the English realm, and fall under the subjugation of Tostig of York. You know that. But I am also a lawyer and help my friends find remedies for their problems, no matter their side of the fence. And I have vast holdings of timber in the Redeswood, mind you, and would protect them from seizure by any Scottish Crown, even yours if it came to such a misfortune. Let that be clear.”
“Go on,” said Canmore, clearly now the leader of this triad of trouble. Don Bane looked around the nearly empty room, checking for prying eyes and ears. All he saw was a bubbly young girl with a very long nose chatting to a fat man, and an old seaman sitting alone but speaking aloud nonetheless.
The Rede’s and the three spent another two hours discussing achievable goals and stratagem, timelines, and other aspects of intrigue the young men had never before considered. In the end it was decided that there were better ways to regain an Earldom than pillage and plunder of the very land and people you wish to govern. It was also decided that Canmore’s succession to the Crown of Alba was expected, nearly certain, and that time was his ally if he could be patient and lay his plots well.
Thomas helped all he could behind the scenes, and waited only another two years, until 1057, to see financial reward for his counsel to young Canmore. The payoff from Waltheof’s advisement would take many more years, beyond the life of Thomas, but The Younger would realize its benefit.
The year 1057 was a year of profound change, a righting of the ship in the Scottish Kingdoms. It began with Malcolm Canmore’s visit to the Orkney’s to see his foster father Thorfinn the Black and his young wife Ingibiorg.
Late winter wind and snow was testing the will of seafaring men of the Isle’s to set sail, forcing them to wear a patient frock near the cook stoves and bread ovens indoors. Thorfinn and his old mentor Thorkel, who was himself called the Fosterer of The Black, spent their time at the forge, shaping new implements and weaponry, and telling the stories not fit for those clustered ‘round the weaver’s loom where the other side of the tales were told.
Malcolm Canmore arrived a week before from the port town of Thored on the coast of Caithness, joining Ingibiorg and her attendants in the longboat when the waters were calmer and the sky blue. She was glad to see him, noting that he no longer resembled the skinny boy she tutored just ten years earlier. Canmore said she looked as bright as ever, and he noted how odd it was that they suddenly seemed to be the same age. Their motives for the short sea ferry, however, could not have been more different.
Ingibiorg went to Orkney to implore Thorfinn to stay put, that he was too old to wage war against the usurper kings of Norway, that he should not listen to the old warhorse Thorkel. Too dangerous.
Canmore was there to recruit Thorfinn into another fight, against an old enemy and a cousin. A cousin who betrayed him once but kept his distance, and the peace.
“Stay, husband, let the old Norse fools be,” she asked, “Do not be their proxy.”
“I am no man’s proxy, and must stop them from any thought of taking my Jarldom,” reasoned Thorfinn.
“They have not yet beached your shore, good uncle,” said Canmore to his foster father. “But there is one who could out play you from within, who still fears your claim to the Crown of Alba.”
“Who? MacBeth? He knows I have no interest in Kingdoms beyond mine own,” said Thorfinn with a scoff.
“And do not be running south to fight, husband,” exclaimed Ingibiorg, her voice rising.
Thorkel, who had been quietly listening as he stoked the fire pit at room center, offered his assessment, “It has been said that MacBeth has been in talks with Norway, a treaty of some sort.”
“What talks? Who talks? Out with it, salty old sword,” demanded The Black.
“Salty old traders, back from the black depths of the North Sea, say that the Scottish King will support Olaf over the others as King of Norway, if…” said Thorkel as he poked at the fire.
“If what, damn you. What?”
“If they should eliminate you as Jarl of Sutherland, Caithness and The Orkney’s, putting in your place their own man, or one of MacBeth’s,” said Thorkel, not looking up. Thorfinn said nothing as he thought on this revelation.
“The solution for The Mighty Black is clear,” said Canmore, rolling out the plot he and Tom Rede discussed two years earlier. “You need an unshakable ally on the Throne at Scone. Eliminate MacBeth. Join my forces who will attack him by land from his north and east.” Ingibiorg wrapped herself in a bearskin and kicked open the door, her stormy mood matching the gale outside.
“Our horses are suited for pulling wagons, not waging land wars,” said Thorfinn with a look back, waiting for encouraging argument.
“You will surprise him by sea while he lounges at Dunfermline. From the east. He will be pinned in,” said the cock-sure Canmore.
And so it was, and so it happened. In August of the same year, as MacBeth’s forces were in retreat from yet another skirmish with the Confessor’s Men from south of the Wall, and Thorfinn the Mighty Black’s sea-horses blocked any escape at the Tay, Malcolm Canmore confronted his adversary on the field at Lumphanan. The battle was bloody, and Canmore found MacBeth wounded on the ground, shot with an arrow through the neck.
“Oh, adversary, how many things I have wished to say to you upon this glorious moment – words for my father and grandfather, words for theirs, words for all those you have trampled underfoot. But I have none,” said Canmore as he looked into MacBeth’s frightened eyes. The fallen Scottish King moved his lips in a vain attempt to speak some final silique, but only blood emerged with the gurgling sound of death. At that moment, Malcolm Canmore felt no more rage, no more vengeful hatred, only pity. He thrust his longsword into the throat of MacBeth, ending the agony and silencing the voice. But time would prove the name would never be silenced.
Malcolm’s spot on the throne would not come immediately. The Lady MacBeth had other plans, and quickly maneuvered her son Lulach “the Foolish” as Alba’s King, herself as defacto regent. Lulach’s arrangement lasted only until the following March, when the Mormaer’s of Argyll, Angus, Fife and Strathearn assisted Malcolm Canmore to his rightful place as Malcolm III, King of Alba and all of Scotland.
Lulach was killed and the Lady MacBeth ended her days alone in an abandoned stone hermit’s hut on the Argyll coast, covered with lice infested pelts and dependent on the generosity of nearby monks who knew not who she was.
This was all enough for Thorfinn to assert himself with some power over the weak kings of Norway, and he spent a good deal of time flexing his muscle in Norway. When he returned, he learned that Ingibiorg his wife had joined Malcolm’s Court at Dunfermline, for comfort. Sailing his longboats south, he entered the Tay and marched straight to the castle under construction.
There he found Malcolm and Ingibiorg. And a small boy running around her skirt who looked nowhere near as ugly as Thorfinn the Black.
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