THE RITE OF SCOTTISH KINGS, Episode 9.

Realizing the boy his wife had borne was not his but Malcolm’s, Thorfinn the Black again put to sea.  His remaining years were spent on the farthest outpost of The Orkney’s, or aboard his longboat on excursions of folly in the Hebrides or Iceland, or further west.

At long last the god’s took him.  On an October night on the familiar North Sea with his battle-axe raised high in the air, Thor struck him solid with a thunderbolt and the sea serpent swallowed the boat whole.  The Valkyries would find no more worthy a warrior that day and immediately plucked him up from the depths to Valhalla.

Upon learning of Thorfinn’s death, Ingibiorg and Malcolm mourned as was fitting – they did both love him dearly in spite of it all – and then they joined together.  The feast to honor their union took place at the Great Hall of Dunfermline, and guests included Malcolm’s sworn brother Tostig, the Earl of York, who was experiencing his own family issues and had taken refuge in Scotland, as Malcolm had so long before indicated he would allow.

Waltheof was also present, fresh from being awarded the Earldoms of Northampton and Huntingdon, and he found that he and his former nemesis Tostig shared a common foe – Tostig’s brother Harold Godwinson, right hand of the English King.  After buying Waltheof’s fealty from any claim by the Exiles, Harold tripled the taxes he exacted on Waltheof’s new realms.  York was left vacant when Harold banished his brother, collecting all exactions for himself while Edward the Confessor lay ill.

This was all dry kindling for yet another firestorm of plotting and scheming against the Crown of England, and Malcolm was amused by it all, remembering the rude rebuttal by Edward to his fair proposal of marriage to the fair young Margaret.  Wessex may have found such a union beneficial right now, Malcolm thought to himself more than once.

The nobles assembled in a side room to drink and admire the view of a castle under construction nearby.  The tower was well above the tree line and the men agreed it was an ideal vantage point on the Firth of Tay.  The erection of the newest tower, it’s seemingly magical growth from the hillside, had become the sole focus of Malcolm’s young son.  Now an energetic five year old, Donnchad stood near the window all hours, watching workmen across the river climbing and carrying, and sometimes yelled calamitously as scaffold and bucket collapsed into a cloud of dust.  On that day he gladly explained the building process in elaborate detail to the amusement of the Earls, Thanes and Noblemen in the room.

“The stones are barbed in from all parts of my father’s kingdom,” said the boy.

“You mean ‘barged in’ Donnie Boy, do y’no’?” asked his uncle Don Bane, but the lad was still talking as fast as any scolding sparrow.

“An’ the stones weigh more than ten men, but ‘tis the finest mortal that locks them t’gether,” said the boy as old Thomas Rede and his cousin Brian smiled and chuckled at the boy’s enthusiasm for the subject.  “Uncle, ‘tis so, is it no’?” asked the little prince.

Don Bane laughed aloud and said, “Mortals indeed, Donnie Boy.  Mortals indeed.”

“The Normans have a claim as well,” said Waltheof to another conversation at a long planked table.

“The Normans will never budge from the comfort of their vineyards,” countered Oswulf, a nobleman of lower standing.

Copsi, who enjoyed slightly higher standing and adorned himself in the metal finery and feathers that suggested a station well beyond his reach, added, “The Normans have the strongest proposition, and we should back Duke William’s standing.”

“Neither his brother Odo, nor any of the French will ever cross the Channel to help William,” replied Oswulf, “One must not be moved by Norman bluster and blow.”

“What of the Ætheling, is he not rightfully heir apparent?” said Ælfgar of Mercia.

“That is complicated,” added Thomas Rede as he walked into the discussion.  Thomas was deep into a strategy to help his client win an alliance with Scotland, and thence the Crown of England.  He offered compelling arguments for alliance with the Exiles.

Tostig could take no more and said, “I will make my own claim, and soon.  I have friends and accomplices,” but that is all he would say, leaving the rest to speculation as he left the room.  Close behind followed his understudy’s Paul and Erlend, the grown sons of Ingibiorg and Thorfinn the Black.

Soon came soon enough for Tostig, for within a month, at Epiphany in 1066, Edward the Confessor died.  Interrupting the Holy Mass at Westminster, Harold Godwinson gathered the Witenagemot and all of his Southern Earl kinsmen in attendance for the Feast of the Epiphany, and had himself crowned King of England.  This infuriated Tostig.

It also infuriated the Normans, whose Duke William understood himself as heir apparent, a pact made with the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, in the early years of the Confessor’s reign.  And then there were the exiled Wessex heirs.

Tostig enlisted the help of Hadrada of Norway, whose substantial navy unloaded most of its mercenary force on the eastern coast of York at Fyley, joining Tostig’s recruits at Stamford Bridge.  The other boats sailed to the Humber and raided up the River Ous.  But Tostig’s brother Harold surprised them all with a four-day march from London and decimated the joint forces of Tostig and Hadrada, who both lost their lives in the battle.  Brian Rede of Morpeth lost his life and more that day – the Sword of Old Tom Rede, the family heirloom.  Paul and Erlend Thorfinnson, along with Hadrada’s son Olaf, were guarding their own ships on the coast and escaped unharmed, returning with Olaf to Norway.

The following year saw nothing but tumult and turmoil amongst the old English nobility as the Normans exerted their pressure after their stunning victory at Hastings.  By 1068 many northern Earls were defiant in their opposition to Norman rule.  Gospatric joined others in encouraging the fifteen year old Edward Ætheling to make his play for the Crown, while William seemed content with rule from abroad as he sent his half-brother Odo and his closest friend Guillaume fitzOsbern to torment the English.   When young Edmund landed at Bamburgh, Thomas Rede and Waltheof were there to meet him, having worked tirelessly for a month to arrange support.  Edward was accompanied by his mother and sisters, Cristina and the very grown up Margaret.

Two days later Malcolm arrived by boat from Dunfermline, lured by the persistent interchange from Rede as an intermediary between all of the parties.  All but the Normans, of course.  The meetings began straight away – who would back the Ætheling, how many horse, how many foot soldiers, where to attack, and so forth.  Thomas Rede sensed that the Scottish King was less than fully supportive of the venture but Canmore’s distraction proved to be simpler.  Margaret was all that Malcolm Canmore could set see.

“I must confess of my happiness, my joy that you remember me, Princess,” Malcolm said as they walked from the docks, lingering behind all of the bustle of the workmen recruited from the construction to carry luggage from the boats.  Margaret’s family was already in the Manor House that dominated the scattering of buildings around Dunfermline.

“Even as but a child one does not forget being wooed by a King, my lord,” she replied with a modest smile.  At twenty-three, Margaret was no longer a naïve child and her beauty was beyond compare.  Make no mistake, she had her share of suiters on the continent.  A steady stream of Marquis’, Counts and Dukes vied for her attention during her family’s exile from England.  But none suited her, and she hoped still daily for romantic love to ensnare her like a willing rabbit, though time was running out before the nunnery would beckon.

“But how was I to know?” asked Malcolm, his cobalt eyes catching the sky as he helped her up the platform, hands on her waist.

With a quiet gasp, her hands on his shoulders in mock protest, she replied, “Know what, Malcolm?”

Surprised and excited at her forwardness, Canmore told her, “How could any know then that such beauty could increase beyond the hosts of heaven, dear Angel?”

“Hush, my lord, you flatter me as a blasphemer,” she said in stronger protest and a small frown.

“Forgive me, Princess, but like a man holed away in dungeons’ cavern, who finds himself suddenly in a field of heather and daisy’s, I lose any arrest on my tongue and am likely to say anything,” he proclaimed to her widening smile.

He walked her to the wing of the Manor set aside for guests, where her family was settling in and moving others around.  Waltheof and Edmund were arguing over the largest suite, the former having resided there for a fortnight, the latter attempting to pull rank.  This stalemate was ended by Thomas Rede the Younger who suggested that Waltheof share his suite, which included an unused room and a large closet, and two windows.  The Younger was already his father’s equal in negotiations extemporary.

Later, in the meeting room where the view of the construction was best, Malcolm again found Margaret alone.  As they spoke of small things as if they were important – the varying colors of the stones, the laziness of the water – the meaning beneath was clear, and their closeness grew.  Then Donnie Boy ran into the room.

“Are they all working? Do you see the new skiffilts?” he asked, out of breath.

Smiling, Margaret stooped down to his level, “My goodness!  But who is this pretty young man, so full of life and questions?”

“Scaffolds, Donnie Boy,” said Malcolm, then, “This is my son.”

Margaret forced her smile to remain as she kept her gaze on the boy and stood, “Your son? But I did not…who…,” then looking face to face with Malcolm, “You are married?”

“She is ill, in bed for months – ,” he tried.

Turning toward the window, holding her dignity and tears, Margaret only said, “Married.”

“Go play with your cousins,” Malcolm said to his little boy, who ran off like a dart.

“No, it is not like that.  It was more Danico, we were not wed in the eyes of the Church…” said Malcolm, his voice rising in pitch by a triplet.

“Oh please, do not add the sin of lies to your blasphemies.  Your penance will overwhelm you, m’lord,” she said.

“No! Yes…no we are not truly married, but for the boy…” he stopped as she stepped through the doorway, her green cloak whipping around behind her as if in a gesture of insult one makes with a backhand.

This did not fare well for Thomas Rede’s negotiations, nor for Malcolm’s surrendered heart.  Margaret, older than her brother Edmund Ætheling and bolder than her mother Agatha, insisted the entire party return to the continent.  Flanders, in fact, where a certain Count had expressed a deep devotion.

*****

The end for Ingibiorg came soon, at last slipping away in her sleep after the illness had so tormented her waking hours.  Malcolm spent the next several months trying to forget about Margaret again, and about the passing of Ingibiorg, often by skirmishing with his one-time friend Gospatric over lands in the Cumbria.  While at camp near the Tweed with his best fighting horses and guard, Canmore heard of a shipwreck just as it happened.  Running his horse at full gallop, Malcolm arrived to see luggage, driftwood and bodies scattered about the beach.  There was also a water logged group sitting on an overturned skiff, worn and weary.  It was Edmund Ætheling and a handful of thanes loyal to old Wessex, and a single crewman.

“Edmund!” cried Malcolm as he dismounted before the horse could stop.  “Edmund, are you well?  How many ships were you?  Why was I not informed of your passage?”

“We were blown off course,” said the teenage Edmund, coughing and gasping for breath, “Only two ships, bound for York under Gospatric’s protection.  The other ship…it may have succeeded on course.”

“Your family?” asked Malcolm, clearly terrified at the thought of the unthinkable to him. Edmund shrugged his shoulders and Malcolm scanned the beach up and down with wild eyes.  Looking south, a mile or better away, he could see indistinct figures, upright and moving, where the foamy sea retreats between waves.

Oh, be not ghostly apparitions here to torment, nor the souls of our dear loved ones seeking the Angels Trumpet, thought Malcolm, ever more desperate.  He began to run along the surf toward them.

“Malcolm!” he heard her call out, “Malcolm, help us.”  It was Margaret, her sister and mother, bloodied and bruised but alive.  Malcolm caught her in his arms and would never let go, even unto death.

They were indeed married soon thereafter, and lived in truth and equal measure, and true love.  And they enjoyed many children, with very Saxon names following the Wessex tradition.

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