June, 1292, Nantes
Queen Dowager Yolande of Dreux
Nantes was a great city, a place of glistening towers, and great cathedrals. It was a far cry from Stirling, with its grey and grim buildings of stone and rock. Yolande was not a young girl anymore, but she still found herself occasionally staring at her surroundings with childish awe and wonder. That Nantes was such a beautiful place, helped ease the pain of leaving her son behind. King David had been quite insistent on that point, her son was a member of the royal family of Scotland, the King had said, and he needed to learn what that meant. And so she had said her goodbyes to her son, kissing his brow, and promising herself that she would write to him. She had enjoyed her time in Scotland, it was an interesting place, King David was a good man, a firm one, and someone whom she felt comfortable leaving her son to. Still, her heat ached for her boy, little Alexander with his curiosity and his questions.
Her husband was Arthur, the heir to the Dukedom of Brittany, and a charming man, and one whom Yolande hoped she could come to know and care about. He had shown her around Nantes and other parts of Brittany before today, and she did find him good company. The thought of the wedding sent shivers down her spine. She was dressed for it, for the occasion, for it was happening today. A dress of silver and blue was what she wore, it was a sleek dress, one that brought out her curves. She was comfortable in it, but wondered whether it would be enough. The door to her rooms opens, and her escort comes. Her brother John, looks at her and then smiles. “You look beautiful sister. Sir Arthur is a lucky man.”
Yolande smiles at her brother, replying. “Thank you brother. Is it time?” butterflies float around a little in her stomach.
Her brother nods. “Yes. Come, it is time.” And with that he walks towards her, extending his arm, which she takes. They walk from her rooms in silence, little for them to discuss that has not already been discussed. They walk from her rooms, to the carriage that waits for her. Her brother helps her step inside and then he closes the door. A moment passes, then they are off toward the cathedral.
Her mind is blank of thoughts during the journey, there is no point over thinking things. She knows what she needs to do, and what she needs to say, and so she breathes a sigh of relief when the carriage stops and she is helped out. The cathedral glistens in the morning light, the sun beating down on all of them. She is momentarily surprised by the number of people waiting outside, she had not expected so many. They cheer and pray for her, as she walks into the cathedral, there is music playing and it helps to soothe her nerves somewhat. Her husband to be is standing at the altar, looking quite handsome in his doublet, she gives him a small nervous smile, which he returns. As her brother leads her to the aisle, she takes a breath and prays, prays for a good marriage and for many children. Eventually, her brother lets her go, and she looks at her betrothed, and he looks at her, and the priest begins speaking. “We are here today, to celebrate a most holy and blessed of unions. If there is anyone, man or woman, who believes that this marriage should not take place, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace.” A pause, when no one speaks, the priest continues. “Arthur, of Brittany, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I do.” Arthur responds, his voice strong and commanding.
The priest turns to her then and asks. “Yolande of Dreux, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
“I do.” Yolande replies, her heart quickening.
The priest nods, as if this was a surprise, though really everything had been set out beforehand. The man is silent for another moment and then he replies. “Very well. By the power invested in me, by Mother Church, I do now pronounce you man and wife. You may seal your marriage now.”
Yolande looks at her husband, and he looks at her, they smile nervously at one another, and then they lean in and meet in the middle. A chaste kiss, one that ends quickly, but a taste of what is to come no doubt. There are cheers in the cathedral at that, and Yolande sees her brother smiling, out the corner of her eye. Her husband takes her hand and whispers. “Let us return to the castle my lady wife. There is much feasting to do.” Yolande, merely smiles in response and allows her husband to lead her from the church, her hand in his. They go back to the castle in a carriage, listening to the cheering crowds. Yolande and her husband sit in silence for a time, but then her husband asks. “Are you well my lady? You look awfully uncomfortable.”
Yolande smiles nervously. “Well, it is quite warm outside, and this dress is quite something.”
Her husband smiles. “Ah I see. Well soon we shall be able to make sure you are more comfortable.” Her husband blushes then as he realises what he has said.
“That would be nice.” Yolande replies, looking at her husband and seeing the corded muscles of his arms through his doublet, and his shirt. She thinks of her hands roaming his chest, and quickly shakes those thoughts away. They sit in silence for the rest of the journey, eventually the carriage comes to a stop, and her husband takes her hand and leads her out of the carriage and up to the great hall.
The great hall in Nantes is big, very big, not as big as the great hall in Stirling was, but it is still quite big. She thinks for a brief moment of her first husband, King Alexander, and how he had tried to please her, he was a sweet man, but she did not think she could love him. She hopes she could come to love Arthur, he seems the sort, the loveable sort that is. As her husband leads her to the main table, where they shall sit, she sees her husband’s children sat nearby, looking at her with curious eyes. She hopes to be a good mother to them, though seeing them makes her miss her own Alexander terribly.
They sit at the table, and then her father-in-law stands up and speaks in his deep baritone voice. “My lords and ladies. We are here today to celebrate a union that is a long time in the making. My son and heir Arthur, a son any man would be proud of has married Lady Yolande, a former Queen and now our very own daughter. It gives me great pleasure to welcome her to our family. I hope she has a celebrated time today, and for the rest of her time with us.”
A cheer goes up around the room, and Yolande raises her glass in acceptance and thanks, then she takes a sip of wine and the meal begins. It starts with some bread and cheese, a speciality of the area, and then moves onto soup and more wine. Then the beginning course is taken away, to be replaced by duck in orange sauce, a rarity and something Yolande has never had before. She tries it, and loves it, and when her husband feeds her morsels off of his plate, the food tastes even better. After the main course has been taken away, her husband speaks. “How are you finding the food my lady?”
Yolande thinks that perhaps she should tell her husband to use her actual name, but something about him calling her ‘my lady’ feels right and intoxicating, and so she allows it. She replies after a minute. “Delicious. Very delicious.”
Her husband gives her a mischievous smile. “Is that so my lady?”
Playing along, Yolande takes her husband’s hand under the table and squeezes. “It would appear so, my lord.”
Her husband’s smile widens and his voice is husky near her ear. “Well, I cannot wait to see what happens later.”
Feigning ignorance, Yolande murmurs. “Pray forgive me, my lord, but I am not sure I know what you mean.”
Her husband grins then. A cheeky thing, that makes him look oh so very handsome. “Well, I am sure that can be rectified.”
Smiling once more, Yolande purrs. “Oh, I am certain of it. Especially in your capable hands.”
Before her husband can reply, the Duke stands up. His voice is as strong as it was this morning in the cathedral, though he must have had his fair share of wine. “My lords and ladies. The vows have been exchanged, and the feasting has begun. Before we move onwards today, I would like to raise another toast. To Arthur and Yolande, may theirs be a happy marriage.” The toast is echoed around the hall, and Yolande smiles.
July, 1292, York
William Wallace, Earl of York
York was a towering fortress of a city, it was far bigger than anything William had ever seen before, or was going to see afterwards. It was a place that had history, kingdoms had been ruled from here, and that he was now in charge of this fortress, this gateway to the south and England, and to the north and Scotland, was an honour. A true honour. Just as it was that he was an earl, not a mere lord. He owed the King a lot, truth be told, it felt as if this was all a dream, and he half expected the rug to be pulled from out underneath his feet at any point. Something about it all seemed too good to be true. That William had a wife and children, was another thing that surprised him. He had never truly thought about getting married, at least, not for a little while yet. His brother was managing his lands in Scotland, but William suspected that at some point he would need to give those over to his brother, or to the King.
The King had come south from Alnwick, where he had been staying with his family, to meet with William. What they were going to discuss, William knew, and yet still, he felt the old familiar sense of nervousness, at the thought of speaking to the King. The King might be his friend, his oldest one, but the man was still the King, and a King who had conquered as well. He was to be respected and feared in equal measure. That thought made William look at the man in question, who was sat opposite him, regarding him with little to no expression on his face. There was a silence, but it was not a tense one, filling the gap between them. Eventually, the King spoke. “I trust you are not finding the running of a city as marvellous as York, to be much of a trouble?”
William bows his head and shakes it. “No my King. York has proven to be very amiable to my rule, and that of my family.”
“Good.” is all the King says, and then he cracks a smile and jokes. “One of the benefits of being a veritable giant, eh William?”
William smiles wryly. “You could say that my King.”
The King guffaws with laughter, and then turns serious once more. “Now, whilst it feels good to be able to joke with you William, there are more pressing matters. I have come here, to speak with you about two things. Firstly, how true do you think the rumours are that Beck means to rally northern lords against me?”
William considers the question, as well as what he knows of Bishop Beck. Then without any sense of hesitation he replies. “I think there is a strong chance the man is trying to do something. What that something might be, I do not know Your Majesty. I have spoken with John Romanus, but the man has not given me any clear indication of which way he thinks Beck will go.”
William sees the King thinking over his response. His words are cautious. “Romanus, most likely wants something out of you, before he gives you a response. I want you to meet with him, and promise him something, something you think he would want. And he will tell you.”
The thought of talking to that slimy worm Romanus is not a thought that appeals to William, but still his King has asked something of him and he will do it. “Yes, Your Majesty.” He pauses a moment and then asks. “Do you think Beck will try and stir revolt then Sire?”
“I do William. Whilst I would like to think that Beck has learned his lesson, the chances are that the man was merely biding his time. Waiting and watching. There has been some muttering about Dunbar, and the way he is governing Durham, but there is not much that can be done about that without proper evidence. And you know what Dunbar is like, the moment something like that appears, he will likely try to get rid of it.” the King replies.
“Who do you think might be the culprits who would come to Beck’s call should he actually do anything other than posture Sire?” William asks curious, if the King asked him to, he would ride forth from York and destroy those rebels.
The King seems to be considering this with some thought, for a long silence stretches out before them. When the King does reply, his words are careful and measured. “I would say Percy and Neville might join with Beck, but neither like one another, and Neville has retained scars from his treatment from my uncle Edward. I do think there are other nobles within this region who feign loyalty to me, but are actually plotting.”
The amusement he hears in the King’s voice surprises him; he had thought the King would be furious about that. Tentatively, he asks. “Do you wish for me to deal with them Sire?” the thought of a good fight, soon puts fire into his blood, it has been too long since he swung a weapon.
He feels a sense of disappointment, when the King shakes his head. “No, though I thank you for the offer William, and shall not forget it. Until we know more about what it is Beck and his conspirators plan on doing we cannot move on them. No, for now, I want you to focus on something else of more importance.” William leans forward, listening intently then. The King is silent for a brief moment, before continuing. “I have received word from our sources in Wales that they mean to rise up against English control. They wish to establish their own independence, and whilst the English might have succeeded in tailing the French, they cannot have the strength to deal with a full scale Welsh revolt. I do believe, we shall be riding to war once more.”
William listens intently to the King, and when he has finished speaking, he asks. “So, does that mean that you mean to extend the kingdom further southwards Your Majesty?” The thought is an intriguing one, though he does find himself wondering if they have the power to do so.
The King laughs and shakes his head. “No, not expand it. I merely want to lessen English dominance over the islands. We shall provide support for the Welsh, through men and arms. And we shall give them a figure to rally behind as well.”
His curiosity getting the better of him, William asks. “Who might that be Sire? If I remember correctly, Llewelyn is dead, as is his brother. He had not children that can be recalled, and his brother’s sons are under lock and key are they not?”
At this the King smiles. “Llewelyn and his brother might not have sons who can actively succeed them. But they do have one brother, who has been forgotten by the English, though the people of Wales remember him. Rhodri ap Gruffud. He is a known warrior, a man who can swing a mace and lead men. He would be a good man to have on our side when the time comes.”
William considers this and then asks. “Do you wish for me to meet with the man Sire? To see if he is worth expending time and energy?
The King nods. “I believe he would be worth time and effort. But, he shall be coming to you. Not now, not yet, not with the English still so hot after their victory over that insipid French King. No, he shall come to you in around a year. And when he does, I want you to assess him, and ensure that he is worth our time.”
William looks at the King and senses that there is something more to all of this, that he is missing. Still he asks. “And if he does not meet the needs of the kingdom, what should I do with him then?”
“See him off William.” The King replies simply. “We cannot afford to have someone walking around, that the English might be able to use. I do not want them trying to best us. Not in this.”
William swallows slightly, uncomfortable with the notion, but nodding all the same. “Very well, it shall be done Sire.”
The King stands, and William stands with him. “Good. Thank you William.” The King nods to him and William bows slightly, before walking with the King to his chambers, and informing him about the feast that is to be held that evening. All the while he finds himself wondering what the future will hold, and whether the King’s ambition will be realised or not.