A King's Meeting
June 1286, Near Oban
Lord Aonghas Mór
Word had filtered through to Aonghas Mór, the Lord of Islay, of King David’s royal progress. The usual tidings had come, the king was being smart and travelling through his kingdom showing his people that he knew they were there and that they existed, and that he cared for them. From the rumour that Aonghas had heard, it seemed many of the nobles had attached themselves to the King’s court as it travelled hoping to gain some favour or influence with the young king. Those lords that had fallen from favour during the reign of the king’s father looked to sway the young king to their banner, and so on. To Aonghas it was slightly sickening that such men would resort to playing games, they had a duty to their king, and that should not be something that was used to buy leverage from said king. Aonghas could still remember the bitter taste in his mouth at having to serve the Norwegian king during the war with King Alexander, that was not something he had wanted to do and yet he had done it, and he had hated that fact ever since. The king had now come forth toward the northern part of his kingdom and it was here that Aonghas with his sons Alexander and Aonghas met the king, Oban was in the distance, and Aonghas could see it, and yet his attention was squarely focused on the young man before him.
The king was a young man that much was for certain, if Aonghas remembered correctly he would have just seen in his fourteenth year, he was a boy in truth, and yet the way the king held himself was more reminiscent of his grandfather the great King Alexander, the second of that regal name, rather than his father. The king held himself like a warrior of old, true, strong and stubborn, his hair was cut short and fit snugly underneath the plain crown he wore. His clothes bore the royal lion of Scotland that William the Lion had made his own, and his manner suggested a man who meant business. Aonghas found that he was already beginning to like this king. As the king looked at him, Aonghas and his sons dipped their heads. “Your Majesty,” Aonghas says. “It is an honour to see you. Congratulations on your engagement to the Lady Isabel Bruce, I am sure she will make a fine queen.” Aonghas said the words but found that he was not sure if he truly meant them, the Bruces were a powerful family, but there was something about them that irked him.
“Rise Lord Aonghas.” The king replies in his deep voice. Aonghas raises his head as do his sons and he sees the king looking at him intently. “These lands are beautiful. It has been too long since last I saw them.”
Aonghas considers this for a moment and then remembers the progress that King Alexander had made some six years ago. “Aye, it has been a long time Your Majesty. We are very happy to have you back here once more. And we hope to aid you as best we can.”
Truthfully, Aonghas would rather have greeted the king in Islay himself, but the king gets what the king wants, and this king it seems is determined to make a strong showing of himself. His voice is soft when he replies. “Aye, I remember your service and hospitality from when I was a boy my lord. I have not forgotten, and when this progress is done, I shall return and pay a long visit to you. But tell me, my lord, your lands they keep well? There has not been any trouble from the other islanders?”
Aonghas considers this a moment before replying. “All has been well so far, Your Majesty. They are all acting as they said they would when the agreement was reached. None have given me cause for concern.” Aonghas hesitates for a moment wondering if he could or should mention the King’s ruling on the Sinclair matter.
As if sensing this, the king says. “I sense that you have something more that you wish to speak about. Go ahead, speak my lord.”
Aonghas takes a deep breath and then says. “I think you made the right decision in deciding to give the land to the Sinclairs Your Majesty. They are an old clan steeped in the old way, the Mackay and Macleods are young bloods who do not truly know what it means to breathe in the air of the highlands.”
Aonghas senses that the king is pleased by this praise, and he feels a sense of relief flood through him. “Your thoughts are much appreciated, Lord Aonghas. It is helpful coming from a man as experienced as yourself. The Sinclairs have sworn themselves to my service and I intend to make full use of that when the time comes. The Mackays and Macleods are loyal vassals but as you say untested. It would not do to remove them from my sight.”
Aonghas nods, seeing the sense in what the king is saying. “A wise decision Your Majesty. The Highlands are a place most staunch in support and will always remember a justice given to them, or an insult borne to them.”
The king nods and smiles briefly, before turning to look at Aonghas’s sons. “My lord, I fear we have both been remiss. For whilst we have been talking these two young lads have been sat here in this sweltering heat silently. Pray tell me your names.”
Aonghas looks at his sons and then says. “These are my sons Alexander and Aonghas Your Majesty.” His eldest son Alexander is a tall lad, muscular and strong, Aonghas knows his second son is the smarter of the two, and together they will be a strong force to keep Islay secure when he is gone.
The king nods at them both and says. “They are strong men, my lord, you must be very proud.” The king pauses then for a moment before turning to Alexander and asking. “Tell me Alexander, what you know of the MacDougalls.”
The question is a surprising one, and Aonghas can tell his son is not sure what to make of it, or how to respond. There is an awkward moment of silence before his son eventually says. “The MacDougalls are a strong clan Your Majesty. They are staunchly loyal to the crown and during the fighting with the Norwegians sided with Your Majesty’s father, King Alexander, and aided in the victory at the battle of Largs. Lord Alexander is a fierce man and his reputation is that of a bull. Strong, stubborn and unyielding.”
There is a moment’s silence then, as they all look at the king who seems deep in thought. The procession, which Aonghas can see stretches for a good few miles behind them waits for the king to move his horse. Eventually the king nods and says. “Good. You will have no problems then.”
With that the king puts the spurs into his horse and begins riding off, leaving Aonghas confused before he catches onto the king’s meaning, spurring his horse to try and catch up with the key he shouts a question. “Are we going to Dunstaffnage?”
The heat is almost overbearing, and Aonghas worries it will make him mishear, but the king’s reply is clear enough. “We are my lord. I intend to speak with you, Lord Alexander and Lord Ailean.” With that the king rides on, his horse galloping towards the castle, leaving Aonghas and most of the royal party behind in the dust. Aonghas notices that there is another figure riding beside the king, a tall lad, who must be the same age.
His son pulls up beside him and whispers. “That lad riding next to the king must be William Wallace.”
Aonghas looks at his eldest son and asks. “How do you know this?”
“Aonghas heard it from one of the king’s squires father.” Alexander replies.
Aonghas looks at his eldest son a moment and then looks towards the distance where the king and his companion have gone to, and sighs. “Very well, let us traverse. We follow the king and we ride fast so that we do not get lost within the confines of this court.”
His son nods and with that the MacDonalds spur their horses on to a canter, their men following, they ride past the court which is gathering speed to catch up with the king and manage to reach a distance that makes Aonghas feel comfortable enough to ensure the king’s safety but is also a respectable distance away from his royal person. The journey does not take too long from there, they arrive at Dunstaffnage by the mid-afternoon, and the rest of that time is spent setting up their rooms and accommodations. Aonghas spends his time ensuring everything is placed in order and in greeting old comrades from wars gone by. Once all that is done the summons comes from one of the king’s squires and Aonghas leaves his two sons to their own devices and walks to the solar where the king has taken residence for now.
The king is seated at the chair behind the big wooden table that serves as Lord Alexander’s desk, Lord Alexander himself is sat on a seat to the king’s right, Aonghas takes the seat to the left of Alexander, and finally Ailean, head of the Macruaris a family that were tinged in betrayal and suspicion for their part in the war with the Norwegians, the years might have gone by, but Aonghas would never forget that it was the Macruaris who fought willingly for that foreign scum. Once he is seated, the king speaks his voice filled with energy, despite the clearly long duration of the journey. “Thank you all for coming tonight. The hour is late I know, but there are many things that needed discussing with you all tonight. This progress has been informative for me, and there are things that will be sorted in due course. One of those, is the clearly diminishing Gaelic presence in our lands. As the descendants of the Dal Riata this is a shocking thing to me. And I intend to reverse it.”
Aonghas feels something akin to hope bloom inside him and he asks. “How do you intend to do so Your Majesty? The presence of the Norman lords is strong at court and has slowly become entrenched, how will you undo that?”
The king fixes Aonghas with a hard stare, one that Aonghas remembers the boy’s grandfather having. His voice is soft when he replies. “I do not intend to undo any huge changes that have occurred, not immediately at least. But instead there are other ways in which one can go about doing what I mean to do. The increased use of a royal singer, in Gaelic is one such thing that I intend to use. Stewart is already looking for one such singer, and I know there will be many here who intend to vie for that position. I am looking for recommendations from you three as to the course that I should take.”
Aonghas sensing an opportunity here speaks. “Your Majesty, if I might?” the king nods and he goes on. “There is a very good singer, of the pure Gaelic tongue on Islay, named Mael Coluim, who sings the songs of old as they were meant to be sung. His voice is strong and pure.”
The king seems interested, but Lord Alexander speaks then. “Your Majesty, whilst Mael Coluim might be good for the people of Islay, if you truly wish for a singer who knows the true language and is worthy of the court, you need look no further than Donald of Argyll. A man with a pure voice, and the heritage to show it.”
Aonghas bristles at this, and begins to speak, but is interrupted by the churl Ailean. “Your Majesty. All these singers are nothing compared to Bethóc, a woman with a sweet voice that makes the hair on the back of your skin stand up in shivers, her voice is that beautiful.”
Aonghas’ feels his anger boil at this and snarls. “That is a lie. No doubt the woman is some sort of spy from those lands across the sea of the north. You do not want her polluting your court Your Majesty.”
“Slander! The man slanders me once more Your Majesty. I shall not allow this to stand much more. It has been nigh on twenty years since Largs, and I have shown myself a true and trusted vassal of the crown of Scotland.” Ailean snarls.
Before Aonghas can reply, the king slams his fist down on the ground. “Enough! Enough I say. We are not here to bicker, we are here to discuss reducing the corruptive influence of the Norman peoples that came forth from England many years ago. I will listen to these singers when the time is right and make the judgement as I see fit. Now, you all know the old way as well as I do, it is not possible to bring it all back, but there are things that can be done to reduce the influence of the English here. That involves the clans as much as it does everywhere else. Gaelic shall be brought back as the first language. No more will we speak the French of the foreigners. We shall speak what our ancestors spoke, we shall follow their custom to an extent and we shall reduce those who refuse to do so.”
Aonghas feels hope bloom inside of him, for too long has Scotland forgotten her heritage, and now here sits a king who will reverse that. He goes to speak but before he can, Alexander the MacDougall speaks. “That will be a hard task, Your Majesty, regardless of whether you overthrow it completely or not. Those such as the Comyns and the Bruces might look to thwart you at every step, I would not be surprised if Comyn tried to do so, and after all it benefits him greatly to do so.”
Aonghas goes to criticise Alexander, but the king speaks first. “I do not think the Bruces will much of an issue. I spoke with Lord Robert before we arrived here, and he agreed that it was very much in the interest of the kingdom if we broke from the overlordship of England. We are a Gaelic people, the children of Scota herself. We have always been steeped in our own ways, and it is time we embraced them.”
All are silent at this, and then Aonghas asks. “How might we be of service my king?”
The king turns his hard gaze onto Aonghas, and he can feel his heart begin to hammer in his chest. Eventually the king speaks. “These reforms will come through soon enough, when there is a gathering of the earls and lords, you shall all support my proposals. And when the time comes, I will not forget that you have.”
King Edward I
It was swelteringly hot, Edward wiped his forehead with a cloth and cursed the changing English weather, only the other day it had been raining thunder, and he had been convinced that perhaps the Thames would burst its banks as it had been threatening to do for many months. Now though, now the sun was out and it seemed that it was determined not to leave for some time. He turned to look at his wife Eleanor, she who was the love of his life, she seemed to be coping well with this heat, but then she was from Castille, a kingdom where heat was a way of life. She smiled at him as she saw he was looking at her, and Edward smiled one of his rare smiles at her. Finally after so many years of trying they had an heir, an heir who looked as if he might live to adulthood. Edward, his only surviving son had overcome some early fears of illness, and it seemed he would remain healthy, gods willing he would, Edward did not think he could stand to bury another son, the memory of Alphonso, sweet Alphonso haunted him still. Eleanor as if sensing his grief took his hand under the table where they sat and squeezed.
Edward smiled another rare smile in thanks before turning to his councillors and looking at them. John De Warenne, a trusted advisor and commander was sweating profusely though his breathing was even, a complete contrast to Cressingham the treasurer who had become fat with greed, he was breathing heavily and was sweating even more so than De Warenne was. Then there was his uncle and trusted advisor, William De Valence, a man whom Edward trusted more than most other men, he seemed perfectly at home in the heat, and smiled when he saw his king looking at him. Edward nodded, and then turned his attention to Robert Burnell, his chancellor the man seemed to be considering a great many things. Finally after making his observations Edward spoke his tone straight and narrow. “It has been nearly three months since our brother by marriage Alexander died, and there has not been a report from Scotland. We are beginning to grow concerned at this lack of information. Our nephew sits the throne, but our nephew is a boy, we would hear what the council has to say about this matter.”
There was a shifting of papers and a silence that grew in length, but then eventually Cressingham speaks his voice rising and falling as he does so. “It would seem Your Majesty, that His Royal Highness King David has been preoccupied with the arranging of his marriage and his royal progress.”
Edward looks at the man and notes with some pleasure that he shifts uncomfortably. “Marriage? We were not aware that our nephew was getting married to anybody. Do you have the information on whom the boy is marrying?”
Cressingham nods. “I do Your Majesty, His Royal Highness is marrying Lady Isabel Bruce, daughter of Robert De Bruce, Earl of Carrick. It seems this was a marriage that was arranged by his royal highness’s father King Alexander before the man’s death. Our sources have only just been able to formally confirm this, considering the slight upheaval we faced in light of the king’s death.”
Edward cocks his head then and stares straight at Cressingham. “What upheaval, and why were we not informed of this last we met?”
Cressingham shifts even further in his seat. “I apologise for this lapse Your Majesty, but it seems that His Royal Highness King David has begun taking steps to begin removing all sources of information to our people at his court. He removed Adam from the role of the king’s cup holder. A position that Adam has held since he was a mere boy. As such our main stream of information has been negated. And so we needed to find other ways of gathering the information that was required. So far we have struggled.”
Edward looks at the man his displeasure growing. “And why have you been struggling? It should not be a hard thing to ensure that we have people in the correct places to ensure that information still makes its way down to us. That is not a hard task.”
Edward feels his wife squeeze his hand, and he looks at her out of the corner of his eye, and is pleased to see a smile on her face. Cressingham looks discomfited. “I… I apologise Sire. It has been a hard task but I shall endeavour to try harder to ensure we have people in the places where information will most definitely reach us.”
Edward nots. “That is acceptable to us. Now, Isabel Bruce comes from a powerful family with lands both on this side and that side of the border. A smart move has been made there, and it is one that could be beneficial for us as well. For the Lord of Annandale is an ambitious man, but his son even more so. The son hungers for what the father has.” There is a shift in the room then, Edward knows his advisors are listening intently now. He turns to his chancellor Burnell and says. “The Bruces have been paying for their lands in the south have they not?”
“They have my king. The income from their lands has been going towards their taxes in its full amount for some time now. They have never missed a payment nor have they ever required an extension. They have been true to their nature.” Burnell replies.
Edward considers this a moment. “So long as the Lord of Annandale lives, they will continue paying on time and that will ensure that they remain toeing the line. And yet should the Lord of Annandale fall, there is nothing stopping the Earl of Carrick from rushing into doing something that he would be better off leaving. The man has always been willing to try and prove himself to me, and that is something that could be used.”
John De Warenne Earl of Surrey spoke then his voice soft and conscientious. “Sire, I know it is not my place to question your wisdom, but would it not be wiser to perhaps simply allow this marriage to go on as planned. The Bruces are loyal to both crowns and the more placated they fell, the less willing they will be to try and cause trouble on their own.”
Edward goes to rebuff the man, but Eleanor speaks then her voice strong. “The Earl is right my lord,” she looks at him then. “From what I have gathered, the Bruces do not appear to hold any defining loyalty, this marriage between our nephew to Isabel is a good move for us as well. For it ensures that we are all family. There is no reason to try to undermine it. Rather allowing it to flow would be far better, for then we can continue this relationship of peace.”
Edward considers this a moment, he can see what his wife is saying, the Bruces are powerful, and his nephew is the king of Scotland and is a boy, someone who can perhaps be put through the rings and made loyal to the throne of England. No need for any aggression or subtle plots, only a need for continued family presence and unity. Had it been the boy’s older brother, there might well have been a need for more affirmative action, Edward remembers meeting his eldest nephew by Margaret, Prince Alexander was a hot headed, quick to anger, and quick to forgive, far too unpredictable to form a working relationship with, and a man grown as well, that was something that might have made things difficult for what he has planned. Feeling the eyes of his advisors on him, he speaks his voice calm and composed. “My queen makes a good point. And I too believe that this is the right course of action. Send our regards to the newlywed couple and express our apologies for being unable to attend their wedding. We shall visit Scotland when the time is right.” He pauses and then looks at the letters in front of him, one coming from his cousin King Philippe of France, his lip curls into a snarl at the thought of that little boy demanding things of him. He holds the letter up and says. “This letter from our cousin has greatly displeased us. The boy makes demands he knows he cannot truly make. He does not yet have the crown formally atop his head and still he makes bold claims on us for things he does not yet completely understand. Action shall be taken soon enough but we must first have the resources to be able to fund such a campaign.”
Burnell speaks then. “It would seem we have ample funding for action against the French sire. But we do not yet have cause for such action, for King Philippe has not yet made a hostile move against Your Majesty’s territories in France. And until such time he does, there cannot truly be support expected for a final venture.”
Edward considers this, the boy sitting the throne of Charlemagne is just that a boy, as of yet untested in battle, but from his brief interactions with the lad, he knows that there is a fire there, a strength that his father did not possess. It might well be wise of him to tread lightly around the French King until such time that things are clearer in Scotland and within the realm as a whole. Deciding that this is the right course of action he speaks. “We shall not prepare for war, not yet. The King of France has not yet made a move that displeases us. He is young yet and there will be time enter an alliance with him when the time is appropriate. If not then we shall take the right action. Until then send word to our lords in Gascony and tell them to prepare their keeps and holds for the winter that is to come and for any possible aggression from France.”
Burnell makes a note of this and then looks up at him and asks. “Is there aught more sire?”
Edward shakes his head. “No there is not, you all may go.” He watches as the men of his council rise and bow before departing. Once the last of them has gone, Edward looks at his wife and says. “They wish for peace, with France, but so long as we hold Gascony there can never be peace. The French will always want our lands, and we will always want our independence from them.”
His wife nods and asks. “What will you do? This constant state of wondering from day to day about whether or not another war might break out is not good for the health. A solid decision must be made my love.”
“I know that,” Edward replies. “I am not my father to go pandering after something that is a distant dream. The empire is a fading memory from all and sundry. It was far too expensive a venture to retain for too long. But Gascony, that is where I must spend most of my energies. Philippe will not rest until he has all of France under his control, this letter is proof of that. Such audacious demands from a boy his age and he knows where to use this power. I will have to answer his demands sooner rather than later.”
“You cannot mean to bend to that child?” his wife exclaims. “Your lords and magnates will never let you live that down should you do so. Philippe is but a boy as you have said, there has to be another way to get him to see reason without giving into his demands which are extortionate at best.”
Edward looks at his wife and says. “I do not intend to go just yet. I intend to remain here for a time, securing my position for a better day, a more opportune day. Your nephew King Sancho wishes to make good on a promise your brother made to me long ago. And I intend to make use of that.”
His wife nods in approval. “An alliance with Castille is exactly what is needed to quell Philippe’s ambitions.”