A Meeting Of Kings
March, 1287 Caithness
King Eric II of Norway
It was cold here in Caithness, the place where his vassal Jón Magnússon held power, a vassal of both Eric himself as Earl of Orkney and of Eric’s brother by marriage, the young King David. The place which had seen the winter snows melt quite recently was picturesque, that was the best way Eric could describe it. A place where there was much history, and the squabbles of the two kingdoms had often come to blows over, and where that might man Thorfin the Raven Feeder had ruled with an iron fist. An interesting place for a meeting of two kings, but one Eric could well understand, there were still tensions between the two kingdoms that not even Largs or perhaps because of Largs, were still running high. As such he had been willing to come here to this island, in memory of his wife, who had held memory of her young brother before her passing. As he looked at the boy, who was now king, sat next to him he found himself intrigued.
King David of Scotland, the second to bear that most regal name, was a boy of fifteen summers, he was tall and strong, as his father and brother had been before him. And yet whilst there had been a certain harshness to both of the older men, in this young king, there was a strength of purpose, Eric could sense it in him. There was a determination there, a sense that nothing could go wrong, nothing would happen without him willing it. Eric did not know where such a feeling came from, whether it was from being surrounded by warriors, or whether it was because he was young and determined. But Eric knew there was a change from previous kings, and he found he liked it, respected it even.
It seemed his brother by marriage, was determined to show just how martial he and his people were. A great tourney, the like of which had not been seen in these parts for many years was currently underway. And the nobility from both kingdoms had been invited to attend and participate. Of course neither king was to participate for both knew the risks that could come from such a thing. As such Eric found himself watching intently as two men from both kingdom notched lances and prepared to ride. He looked at the man carrying a shield with the lion of Scotland emblazoned on it, and after a questioning glance to his brother by law, got the response. “William De Brus, son of my wife’s grandfather. A fine man.”
Eric nods and says. “How good a lance be he, to go against my own Haakon Sigurdsson?”
His brother in law is silent a moment and then he says. “Twenty marks says my man beats yours on the third tilt.”
“The third? Why not the first, if he is so good?” Eric asks casually.
Had this been with his wife’s eldest brother, not doubt the response would have been heated, but her youngest brother merely says. “I do not wish to insult Sir Haakon, his legend has spread far and wide these past few years.”
Eric considers this and then says. “Twenty Marks it is then.” They shake hands and then fall silent as the competition begins.
The herald announces both competitors and the rules, one man falls, another rises, so on and so forth. The crowd falls silent with anticipation, waiting for both competitors to begin their dance. Eric himself is waiting with bated breath, eager to see how things progress. The herald calls for the start and the men spur their horses on, Eric looks on in eager anticipation, and at the first past, both men miss, before wheeling round and coming back for the second, this time one lance hits the other man’s shield and a loud thump echoes through the silent crowd. Eric winces slightly but watches as both men turn their horses ready for the third tilt. He looks at his fellow king and winks slightly. The horses come charging down at one another, Eric waits with bated breath and then the two lances collide, shattering into pieces below their wielders. Eric looks at his brother by law and asks. “Twenty marks to me then I take it.”
David merely grimaces, before gesturing to a page to hand over the money to him, Eric gratefully accepts before giving it to his own squire Thorfin to keep until later. He turns back to watch the joust, as both men take up new lances, waiting for the herald, once the man calls for things to resume, the crowd falls silent once more. The two men are still, and then Haakon digs his spurs in and sends his horse cantering down the grass, Brus waits a moment before doing the same, their lances raised, they reach each other and with a shattering crunch, the two lances break once more. The crowd cheers a moment and then falls silent as both men stop to get new lances from their squires. Eric waits and watches, his hands twitching slightly, he itches to get onto the saddle and ride. He has not done so for some time now, being stuck in the ship from Bergen was torturous, leaving his daughter behind was also a pain, and it hurt to see her tears.
The two men begin their preparations once more, crouching in their saddles, before engaging once more. This time it is Brus who begins the charge, his horse galloping down the grass as if possessed, Haakon is still before he too moves with speed. Their lances raised, Eric watches enthralled, until at the last moment Brus shifts slightly in his horse and manages to hit Haakon on his right side. Eric’s man winces a moment, looks as if he will remain a horse, and then falls to the ground. His horse continues dragging him on, before coming to a stop thanks to the man’s squires. Eric looks at his brother by law and hands him the pouch filled with coins back. “A well-deserved victory.” He says.
David nods before saying. “Aye, though your man did well as well brother.”
Eric smiles and then stands and announces as per his right as the guest. “And to the victor the spoils. Well done Sir William.” The crowd cheers as Sir William does a lap of victory, moving onto the next round. Eric sits down and prepares for the next joust.
The jousting continues through much of the day, the air chilly as the last vestiges of winter fade from the kingdoms. Brus it seems has the luck of God by his side, winning many and more of the jousts he faces, Eric’s own chose knight, Sir Thorfin Haakonson does well as well, pushing his way through the throng, until both men arrive in the final round, with many speaking about the omens of this, after all Haakonson is said to be of kin to Eric, though how he does not know, he merely hopes the man does well is all. Brus it seems jousts with the urge of a champion, though he is old, he is skilled. A good contest it should be.
He watched as both men prepared for what was to come and then once the herald had announced them both they said their final prayers and then off they went. Their horses footfalls echoing in the silence, both men came charging at one another, their lances raised. They made passes at one another, once, twice, thrice, and then a fourth time before finally a connection was made, Haakonson’s lance hitting Brus’s shield. Eric hears the crowd let loose its own sigh then, the tension builds as they go for another three tilts, three tilts of near misses before finally another connection is made, lance on lance, shattering to pieces, new lances are picked up and the joust continues until finally there is a winner. With a duck and a feint, Thorfin manages to unhorse Brus, though it is luck in Eric’s mind, for Brus almost did the same but stopped at the last moment. There is a cheer from those who came to see the mighty Thorfin of Bergen joust, whilst the others, the locals who know of Brus’s prowess applaud politely. Both Eric and his brother by marriage clap and give Haakonson his reward, and then from there the ground is cleared and readied for the melee that is to follow.
Taking advantage of the lull in activity and the talking of the nobles seated in the royal box Eric turns to his brother by law and says. “It has been a fine day today. Truly, one would think summer was here.”
“That is very true brother,” King David replies. “There are many things about this year that have been most fortunate for us, the improved weather is just one of those things.”
Eric nods. “Aye. I heard of your wife’s pregnancy upon my arrival here. Truly my most heartfelt congratulations. It is a treasure to have a child, and one that should not be forgotten so easily.”
King David nods. “Very much so, and with God’s Grace myself and Isabel shall have many more to come.” the man pauses a moment and then asks. “And how pray tell does my niece fare? It is a shame that she could not come, but of course a voyage of such length must be too taxing for a child her age.”
Eric is silent a moment as he thinks of his daughter, and as he pictures her crying eyes on the day of his departure he feels his heart weep, his voice is firm though when he replies. “She is well brother, thank you for asking. She did so desperately wish to come, but of course such a journey can be harsh and unrelenting, and I did not wish to subject her to such a thing now. Perhaps when she is older, she might brave the sea.”
King David nods. “Of course, she would be most welcome, as would you Your Majesty. We are allies now and shall forever be so once this day is done.” The king of Scotland pauses a moment and then says. “It seems that things are ready for the melle, come let us watch and see who is the bravest of our men.”
Eric turns his attention to the field, where the competitors have come. Some thirty men have come forward today to put forward a stake to the ultimate prize, that of a place in either king’s household and some forty marks. It shall be interesting to see whom emerges triumphant. A giant young man wielding an axe with one hand stands out to Eric, and he notes that this must be the king’s friend, William Wallace, the second son of a minor lord. The young man and his friendship with Eric’s brother by law is a much talked about subject, looking at the young man, Eric thinks that might change today. William Wallace is a brute of a man, even at this young age, muscle and strength showing through. A look of pure determination sits on his face as the herald announces the beginning of the melle. There is silence and then the fighting begins.
The melle is a frenetic chaotic pile of men fighting and breaking one another. Eric finds it both intriguing and stimulating, he watches as the men fight and duck and weave, as if this were a true field of battle. The competitors fight with strength and zeal, none giving ground, or willing to concede the small patch they have gained. It is an absolute mess, and when the first man falls, blood spilling from his chest, none move to help him, the man soon dies under the stampede of bodies. Eric’s eyes follow the behemoth that is William Wallace, a man not hard to find given the smallness of all others when set next to him. He swings his axe as if it is nothing more than a table ornament, such carelessness masks the fierce devotion to which his intent shows. Eric can see that the man’s axe is covered in blood, more and more bodies are piling up on the ground, either through injury or through that final thing, death. It seems Wallace is impervious to them though, none are able to stand before him, falling to their knees or to their graves with his swings and cuts.
Eventually, Wallace is the last man standing and the herald calls the melle to an end. Eric stands as his brother by law does, and speaks. “We have seen many brave men fight today. Risking themselves for a chance at glory and honour. There was only one man who could succeed though and he stands before us all. William Wallace of Elderslie, you are hereby named champion.” A cheer goes up at this and the man himself bends his knee before the two kings accepting the praise.
Eric’s brother by law speaks then. “Friends, we have seen some brilliant activity today, a sign that Scotland and Norway are friends forever lasting. We now shall move toward Earl Jón’s castle and begin the feasting and merriment there.” An even louder cheer greets this, and as they move from the stalls toward the castle, Eric does not fail to notice that Wallace has moved toward King David’s side, speaking with him and then speaking to a handsome young man, whom Eric knows to be Tomás Mac Aielein another friend of his brother in law’s. The ride back to the castle is quite pleasant and Eric spends that time admiring the picturesque scenery, though the tones of formality are resumed once they arrive at the great hall. Eric and his brother in law are seated in the centre, two thrones decorated with the sagas of old placed there whilst Jón sits on Eric’s side whilst the man’s brother Harold sits on King David’s left. There is much talking and joviality, it seems the tourney and the melle have done their work. Eric stands after a while to give a toast. His wine cup in hand he speaks clearly. “A toast,” he says. “To our two great kingdoms, united in bonds of friendship and in marriage. Let us never stray down the dark paths ever again.” shouts of approval ring out from this, and then King David stands up.
“Let us drink to long years of peace and prosperity brought by our friendship.” The king of Scotland says. There are more cheers and then the feasting begins in earnest.
Eric eats and drinks and listens to the conversation around him, something he has always been good at. At various times he replies when needed otherwise he observes as King David speaks to his lords and nobles, as well as those from Eric’s own court. It seems the man has a way with people, there is a fierceness there, but it only comes to light when needed. Otherwise the king is polite, and Eric gets the sense that the young man knows just what he is doing. He is pulled from his thoughts by a look from a man he knows vaguely. “Pray repeat what you asked.” Eric says to the lion of a man.
“Forgive me if it is not my place to ask Your Majesty,” the lion of a man asks. “But how does Princess Margaret fare?”
Eric’s guard is up then, for he recognises this man through letters. Robert De Brus, the Fifth Lord of Annandale, an ambitious man if ever there was one. His response is guarded when he replies. “My daughter, the princess, does well thank you my lord. She wished to have come, but alas the journey is too long and taxing for a child so young.”
The man nods understandingly. “Of course Your Majesty. Perhaps she can come to visit the home of her mother in another few years? I know for certain my people would be most happy to see her.”
Eric nods looking at the man warily. “Indeed so. She shall come soon enough, when the time is right for her.”
The man nods once more, and then with a look to the King of Scotland falls silent. Eric’s brother in law stands then and says his voice firm and strong despite the lateness of the hour. “My lords, the hour grows late, and whilst I insist you all continue your revelry, there are many things that must be seen to. I shall depart your company for the nonce. But do continue, I want as many of you singing songs of this night for years to come.” the men cheer and yell things at this and Eric himself cannot help smiling. King David turns and walks down from the dais then, but not before looking at Eric, and Eric taking note waits a few moments before he too makes his excuses and leaves the hall for the night. Though some might murmur the older lords know what is to happen now. They have come here for some serious discussion.
Eric walks through the hallways, accompanied by Jón Magnússon and when they arrive at the man’s solar the man bids him a goodnight and then walks back, no doubt to his hall. Eric enters the room and finds David sat there a cup of wine in his hand. He rises as Eric enters, though Eric gestures for him to sit down, once Eric himself is seated he takes a cup and pours himself some wine, and then looks at his fellow king and speaks. “Today went very well. It seems our kinsmen know that things are going to be okay from now on.”
His fellow king nods. “Indeed it did. That is a good sign for things to come. for too long our two kingdoms have been wrought with difficulties and petty squabbles. The time is coming where we shall need to band together against a common enemy, we cannot afford to be divided when that time comes.”
Eric looks at the young man and says. “You believe that we shall be facing a true test to our alliance sometime soon.”
The man nods and responds. “I believe it would be deeply foolish to think otherwise. We are hounded by men who wish to further their own ambitions. My own uncle would look to make me his vassal if I were to allow such a thing, and no doubt he might well look toward Denmark and to the man who sits where you should sit. Though knowing him, he might well look to make an ally out of you.”
Eric nods, knowing as he does what had come through on raven’s wings just a few months ago. He looks at his brother in law and says. “Such a proposal did come before I left my kingdom. King Edward of England wishes for my daughter and his son to be wed when they are of age. He hopes to gain the throne of Norway and hence secure himself some naval power.”
His brother in law looks pensive at this. “And what did you reply with?”
“I told him that I would need time to think on his offer. Margaret is only young, there is time yet for her to grow and prosper at home before I send her off to a foreign land. I do not know how long I will be able to forestall the inevitable though, for I am sure you know that King Edward is not a man whom one can delay forever. Sooner or later I shall need to make a decision.” Eric replies.
His brother by law seems to understand his meaning, for he clears his throat and says. “Then let us not dither any longer. We both know why we have come to meet, it is time we discussed the terms of our alliance in a more formal setting.” The young king pauses a moment and then continues. “The treaty of Largs ensured that our borders were clearly defined, and for the nonce I am happy with those borders.”
“As am I.” Eric says, the young man might be impressive, yet Eric is still his elder.
The young king continues. “We both have our own goals and plans that we hope to implement. I have promised to give my niece her rightful inheritance here in Scotland, and I intend to keep that promise. I also wish to offer her a crown.”
Eric leans forward at this, his ambassador Thorfin had mentioned this before. “And which crown is that? There are no more kingdoms within Scotland, if there is a crown to be held it will be in England, unless you mean to look toward Ireland?”
The young kind nods. “Ireland is where our family comes from through many generations. It has long been a divided nation, but I know that our two families can united it together. My uncle wishes to impose his will and law on all the kingdoms of these isles, and I refuse to allow such a thing to happen. My niece, your daughter, with your blessing, and God’s will shall become Queen of Ireland and shall rule as wisely and justly as our ancestors of old did.”
“Your lords support this?” Eric questions. “It is a risky venture, that with which you propose to go through with. Edward holds the greatest army in the West that is nothing to laugh at.”
King David nods. “I know this, and yet there are those within Ireland who support this measure, the kings of Mide and Leinster are willing to support this venture, and I know that with the support of my lords, we can bring more men into supporting this and making it a reality. You wish to see your daughter a queen, this is how to go about it. With your ships and my men we can make this happen. Edward and our mutual enemies will be stuck, unsure of which way to turn.”
Eric considers this a moment, it is a tempting sight, the thought of his daughter as Queen of Ireland. It is something he knows his wife would have wanted, he wants it for his daughter. He does not want her wed to some grasping man from within his court, he wants her to be a power, someone to be reckoned with. And this alliance, it could well do just that, for he senses his brother in law would most definitely keep to his word. Eric looks at the young man before him and says. “You have a means of ensuring that King Edward is not as strong as he could be I trust. Otherwise you would not be so open about such a thing.”
The young man nods. “Of course. I am not such a fool as to make this offer without first ensuring that all is well within my own realm and that the means to ensure this are there. My uncle will not be able to fight a war on two fronts, not once I am done with what I have planned.”
Eric looks at the young man, considering all he has heard, and all that is there to consider and then he says. “Very well then brother. Let us make this official.” With that their talking stops and their respective advisors are called into the room to witness the signing of the document that is brought forward by Jón Magnússon.
Eric looks at the document a long time, knowing that by signing this, he is agreeing to something that he cannot hold back from. It will be a long hard path this road he is choosing to walk, but it is one he is more than willing to go through. If it means ending the threat that could be posed to his family, he will do it. He takes a breath, prays to God that he is doing the right thing, and then writes his name on the parchment. That done he steps back and looks at the King of Scotland who does the same, and then they clasp hands, sealing the pact.
June, 1287 Stirling Castle
King David II Dunkeld
He was a father, that thought was one with which he had struggled with over the past few months, ever since Isabel had told him she was with child. He had been happy, and then excited, and then finally nervous. He could still remember his wife’s screams as the child was brought into the world. His son, his firstborn son, named Kenneth after the great founder of Scotland, had his mother’s auburn hair, and his eyes. And this son, this boy of his was his pride and joy. He marvelled at looking at his son for hours, seeing how he smiled and gurgled. Their son had brought them closer together, he and Isabel. They spent a lot of time together, and they spent most of it with their son, watching him kick his feet and do those things that babes do.
He had returned from Caithness after signing the treaty with his brother in law, King Eric of Norway, feeling confident and reassured. There was no chance now that Eric would side with King Edward, not after that formal pact. Not after being promised his daughter would become a queen. David was quietly confident that this would all work, he had to be, otherwise it would all fall down around him, and that was not something he wished to happen. After the months without knowing who had sent that damned assassin after his wife, and still no news about it, this had been something for David to throw himself into, that and furthering the changes in the court, Gaelic had been confirmed as the official language of the court, and reports were coming in that other nobles around the kingdom were beginning to take up the practice. That pleased him that pleased him greatly. The singers were doing their duty as well, and slowly but surely the Gaelic language was coming to replace French as the dominant language within Scotland.
This was one of the reasons why his uncle, King Edward of England’s arrival to Stirling had so aggravated him at first. For it meant that he had to use French, that language which was so foreign to his home and to his people. It was something that did not sit well with him, and yet he gritted his teeth and sat through it. David had only vague memories of his uncle from when he had been a small child, and then his uncle had been a towering giant of a man, a sheer force of nature. Now as David thought of the man, he thinks of a man showing the first signs of old age, though still strong, King Edward was beginning to weaken, it was something that David took in stride, and for he knew that soon enough his chance to weaken his uncle even further would come. The court of Englishmen that King Edward brought with him was something of a matter of interest for David. There was John De Warenne the grandson of the great knight William Marshal, then there was William De Valence, the King’s uncle, and David’s own great uncle, a sly cunning man, and a skilled warrior. These were the two main people David had paid attention to during his brief conversations with his uncle before now, the others were slight immaterial, though his other uncle the Earl of Lancaster had arrived the day before last, and had made some of an impression on David.
Right now though he could not afford to think on such things, walking with the King of England through grounds of Stirling castle, their guards walking a close distance behind, David took time to gather his thoughts, waiting for his uncle to speak. After what seemed an eternity his uncle did finally speak. “Thank you for your hospitality nephew. It is most welcome. Stirling remains resplendent as always. I see that you have put great effort into maintaining it.”
“It is my home uncle,” David says simply. “I would be remiss not to ensure that it was kept to a high standard.”
His uncle nods and then says. “And pray tell, are the other royal estates kept as well as this one? Edinburgh that must surely be well done and looked after considering that it houses your father’s second wife.”
Wary of why his uncle has brought up Yolande, David says. “It is well kept and looked after, as my step mother wishes it to be. I know she prefers Edinburgh to Stirling for the air is more to her taste.”
“Interesting,” his uncle says. “And what of the babe? I know she bore a son for your father, a shame he was not there to see his son.”
David feels his hands clench at his sides. He takes a deep breath and then says. “My brother is well, thank you uncle. A strong healthy lad, and he will do well here in Scotland.”
“So you do not intend to send the lad off with his mother, wherever she might go?” his uncle enquires. “An interesting choice, and one that might be taken in a wrong manner by some.”
David again finds himself taking a deep breath. “My step mother knows my reasons behind keeping my brother Alexander here. It is only right that he grow up in the land of his birth. My step mother may keep in touch with him when he is old enough to write. But for now she shall remain in Edinburgh until the right marriage comes for her.”
He knows that some might wonder why he was being so open about this with his uncle, one of the most feared men in Europe, but David knows that his uncle will be waiting to take the bait, itching to get his hands on Yolande. Sure enough his uncle asks. “And you have not found a good husband for her as yet? That is most surprising nephew one would think that a former Queen of Scotland would attract many suitors.”
David hides a grin. “She has indeed attracted many suitors uncle, but it is more a case of finding the right man. She is not just any lady, but a former Queen, she deserves only the best that can be brought to her, anything less would be an insult.”
A silence falls between them then as they are both caught up within their own thoughts. As the silence begins to stretch on David wonders what sort of things are running through his uncle’s head, eventually, his uncle speaks. “There are many lords and Earls within England that would make a fine husband for your step mother nephew. There is no need to look so far away from our own isles, if that is what you truly desire.”
David looks at his uncle then, assessing the old man and trying to see where his thoughts are going. Deciding that perhaps it might be best to offer something of a question to him. “Did you have someone in mind uncle?”
There is a moment’s pause and then King Edward says. “Our nephew, your cousin, Thomas would be a prestigious match and would ensure that our two families are more closely united. It would also make it easier for son and mother to visit one another should they be so inclined.”
David wonders at that, he thinks the offer is meant to be well meant, but he knows that his uncle is plotting to have something done. He can already feel the curls of his uncle’s as of yet unmade demands beginning to bring their way into the conversation. Taking a moment before he responds, he eventually says. “An interesting proposal uncle, and one I shall bring before my step mother when next I see her.” He pauses a moment and looks at his uncle, waiting to see if there is anything such as a flash of irritation that will cross the man’s face. Unfortunately there is not, his uncle’s face remains impassive.
His uncle looks at him then, and David gets the feeling that the old lion is sizing him up, eventually he speaks and his tone is soft. “Tell me, did you ever discover who it was that sent the assassin after yourself and your lady wife?”
At the reminder of the failed attempt, David grits his teeth and then slowly says. “Unfortunately not. It seems whoever it was has managed to keep a very low image of themselves these past few months. It has been a frustrating time, but God knows I shall have my revenge on them.”
His uncle is silent a moment and then says. “If you wish nephew, I can have my men look into this matter. Whoever sent the assassin not only caused a grievous crime onto your and your wife’s persons, they also caused great harm to our isles. That is something that must be answered.”
David considers this for a moment and then says. “I thank you for the offer uncle, if there are resources to spare then do go ahead with what you wish. I shall of course be continuing my own investigation into this matter.
They fall silent once more, an easy sort of silence this, though David can feel his heart beginning to quicken in its beating. There are things beginning to push their way forward into his mind that he wishes would not, but he cannot help it, and so he keeps silent waiting for his uncle to speak. Eventually after a long silence his uncle does speak. “Tell me nephew, with the increasing presence of men such as Aonghas Mor at court, what is it you are preparing for?”
David hesitates for a moment uncertain of how to respond and then he says. “I thought it best to bring some of the more fractious lords to court, in order to ensure that they feel that there is exclusion going on. With the situation in the north always so fractious, I thought it best to ensure there are no tensions between the crown and the islands.”
“A wise move nephew,” his uncle says. “The islands have long been a point of contention for your people, though one must wonder at the reduced presence of men such as the Red Comyn at your court.”
Once more David is unsure of how to respond to this, but is saved having to answer thanks to the appearance of both his wife and his uncle’s wife. With them are their children, his son Kenneth who is merely a babe in swaddling, and the Prince Edward, the king of England’s heir. David looks at his uncle then and sees his face soften, a rare change in the old lion. “Let us go to our children uncle.” David says softly and leads the way toward their wives. He meets Isabel with a smile and kiss, and takes his son from his wife’s arms, looking down at the child, he feels such strong emotion.
He looks up when he hears his uncle say. “This is your son?”
David nods. “My son and heir, Prince Kenneth Mac Dabíd.”
He notes with some pleasure the expression of surprise on his uncle’s face at the name, but the expression quickly changes into one of mere interest. “A strong name, and an change from previous names chosen.” His uncle notes.
David is silent a moment and then says. “I thought it fitting uncle, Kenneth Mac Alpin was the founder of the dynasty to which I am a part of. And it is not so easy to forget one’s roots and some might think. In naming my son after the great man, I am remembering my heritage and setting a course of what I hope to achieve during my reign, and what I hope my son shall inherit.”
His uncle looks at him for a long time after that and David can feel his heart beating quickly inside of him. Eventually his uncle merely asks. “And what is it that you wish for your son to inherit?”
David is silent a moment and then he says. “A golden kingdom, one that my ancestor could be proud of.”