June, 1287, Stirling Castle
Sir John De Warenne, Earl of Surrey
Scotland, there was something about this place that did not agree with John. Whether it was because he was growing older or if it was because of the weather, he did not know, but he truly did not like Scotland. It was cold, it was wet, or if it was not cold it was boiling hot and there were insects prowling the ground outside. John did not know how the King of Scotland or his people were able to do anything here. It was truly something that they managed to survive here, in this land of many woes and problems. Truly it amazed him that this was considered a kingdom, and yet when he looked at the Scots, he supposed they would not know any better and so, what more could one expect from them.
Yet the King it seemed was determined to make the most of his journey to Scotland. His old friend was not the youngest of men anymore, and it was beginning to show. Where once his mane of hair had been blond, it was not turning completely white, silver in the light of the sun. The droop of the eye that the king had inherited from his father was getting progressively more noticeably as he aged, and his broad stature was making his shoulders begin to stoop slightly. It was not completely noticeable, John was only able to make out these changes because he knew the king well, or at least as well as anyone other than the Queen could know King Edward. Though the king would not speak of it, John knew there was some worry in him about only having one male heir, the way he acted and spoke of his son, Prince Edward who had come with the royal party on their journey north, was something of a confirmation for John. His old friend, he knew was concerned over what might happen should Prince Edward die from the ailments that had struck to remove his previous sons, all of whom apart from Prince Henry had been of a healthy disposition until they had been struck down by the hand of God.
This was something, John was convinced had become more of a worry for the king as he had looked at his young nephew. The king of Scotland, King David was a young man barely into adulthood, and yet he was young, strong and confident, everything King Edward himself had once been. King David had had a son whom he had named Kenneth, a strange choice considering the previous names of the rulers of Scotland since the days of Malcolm Canmore. It was something that John had noticed, this king of Scotland was making a break from the established precedent it seemed. For there was a more glaringly obvious change in that whilst his father’s court had always had warriors in attendance, they had been in the minority, scholars and artists had been the main attendees of court. Since they had been here, John had noted that most of the more notable members were warriors, men who had developed reputations to go with their names, Aonghas Mor was one who stood out, and then there was that savage Jón Magnússon as well a man who did fealty to two kings, a strange twist that John thought. It was a worrying thought for him, and something he knew King Edward was slightly concerned about as well. Yet there was little they could truly do about this, without trying to possibly offend the King of Scotland, and John knew that would not be a wise move to make, after all their host was still King Edward’s nephew, and to offend the King’s nephew was to offend the King himself, and that, that was something that John did not want to do.
Despite this thought, John and many of the other nobles of the court who had come north, men such as William de Valence, and the Earl of Lincoln had noted the apparent savagery that had been present in courts of the northern kings during the days before Canmore were coming back. It seemed that the Gaelic traditions that King David’s father and previous kings before him had been trying to suppress in a sense were coming back. The songs that were sung at feasts were sung pre dominantly in Gaelic, the stories told were mostly in Gaelic, and the court spoke mostly in Gaelic when not having to speak in French. That was something John and he knew his fellow lords felt the same, was something strange and barbaric. It was frightening almost, the sudden change with which the court of Scotland had undergone, one did not have to think too far back to notice that the cultured tone of King Alexander the third of that most glorious of names court had had, had been subsumed by the more martial and almost backward tone of his son and successor’s court. This was most shocking and worrying for John, it seemed there was some illicit intention behind all of this, and yet John did not truly wish to think on what that could be, for to think on it would be to mean an end to the peace. A peace that had long been in place, and there was no true reason that John could think of, that could lead to King Edward’s nephew from breaking it. It just did not make sense to him.
Then again there was much about the Scots that he did not fully understand, such as their penchant of either adopting the culture of their true overlords, or in their willingness to follow a boy of untested strength through the shifts he was bringing in. that was something he did not understand, did they not realise what such changes could bring for them? What it could mean for the peace they had all worked so hard for? Were they truly so willing to allow a mere boy to bend them to his will, something that might well be so misguided as to be almost childish in its true nature. John was not sure how willing he was to believe this of men such as Robert Bruce or of Alexander Comyn or even John Comyn, there were things that just made no sense to him, as if there was something going behind closed doors, and he was determined to find out what it was.
However, this was not the main point of focus for why he was here, no, shortly after learning of King David’s marriage, King Edward had begun to make plans to have his own son and heir betrothed to Princess Margaret of Norway, and it was John’s purpose to find out how the Scottish nobles would receive this, particular those with lands within England itself. That was why he found himself speaking to Robert Bruce, the lion of Annandale. John had fought alongside Bruce during the Barons War of King Henry’s reign and looked up to the man. And so it was with some nervousness that looking at the man he asks. “Tell me, my lord, what do you know of Princess Margaret?”
The Lord of Annandale is silent a moment before replying. “I know that she is a young girl, not yet seven summers old, and that she is a much doted on child. Why do you ask my lord?”
John considers this for a moment and then responds. “I am merely asking that is all my lord. After all she is young, and with the King having a son and a new brother, surely one might think Scotland’s succession is somewhat progressing toward being secure. Though there might be the traditional worries, it seems Lord God is looking favourably down upon the royal family of Scotland, after the tragedy of King Alexander’s death.”
Almost as expected, Bruce’s face changes into a guarded look. His voice is curt when he replies. “Be that as it may, she is only a child, not yet right for speaking of further tidings for her. That is for her father, King Eric and for her uncle King David to decide upon.”
John notes the harshness of Bruce’s tone, and wonders at it. “Surely there must be reason for this though my lord?” he asks innocently. “After all, would it not do some good for the three kingdoms, once bitter enemies, to be tied together through familial bonds?”
Bruce looks at him questioningly. “The princess is a child, barely a babe out of swaddling. This is not the time to be speaking of marriages for her. Not if one wishes to remain within good grace.”
Warenne is silent a moment, wondering just how much he can say, he admires Bruce, but there are somethings one does not betray from a King’s confidence. Eventually he decides on giving a little. “So you would not be in favour of seeing the Princess married to someone within England then my lord?”
The Lion of Annandale’s face becomes a mask then, hard to read, hard to analyse. His tone is neutral when he replies. “It is not for me to mind, this is the decision of King Eric and King David. I cannot sway either man from their course.”
Noting the man’s constant referral to King David, John wonders at this, if there is some deep secret within the court, it would not be like Bruce to make such an obvious hint of it. And so John asks. “Surely it would be more King Eric’s decision, after all Princess Margaret is his daughter, King David is only her uncle, and therefore does not hold all the cards when it comes to her future?”
The man is silent for a long time, a glint in his eyes, and then he says. “There are some things an uncle can hold sway over that a man such as King Eric might well listen to. After all they are good friends and brothers through marriage. That does carry some weight. Now why all this talk of Princess Margaret John? It is not like you to speak of something unless there is a specific purpose behind it.”
John hesitates a moment, wondering how much to say, before eventually saying. “I was merely curious is all my lord. After all, Princess Margaret is King Edward’s great niece, there are somethings that King Edward values highly, and family is one of those things. I was merely ensuring all was well with the princess.”
Bruce looks at him a long moment, and then says. “I would be careful of what you ask during your time here my lord. This is not England, there are no flatterers here. If they believe you are asking a question that goes against the grain, they will tell you as such, and there might well be consequences that not even King Edward would be able to bring you out of.”
John is surprised by the gravity of Bruce’s tone, and so says. “Is that a threat my lord?”
Bruce shakes his head, the mane of his moving in rhythm. “No threat my lord, a mere statement. This is not King Alexander’s court as I am sure you know. This is a new king, with new promises and intentions. Tread carefully.” Bruce stands up and walks then, John sees a man from King David’s household waiting there, and when Bruce walks with the young man, John is left mulling over what he has just been told. An interesting development, God alones knows what this might mean for King Edward’s plans.
John stands up then, his knees creaking with the effort, it takes him a moment but eventually he manages to get his balance right and begins walking back toward where he knows the king’s rooms are within Stirling Castle. Before he gets very far though he hears a man calling for him. Stopping, he turns around to see Alexander de Balliol, the new chamberlain of Scotland approaching. “My lord,” the man says quickly. “A moment if you please.”
John stops. “What can I do for you Sir Alexander?”
The man takes a moment to get his breath back before he says. “I could not help but see that you were speaking to Lord Robert just a few moments ago.”
John looks warily at the man. “Indeed I was. What of it?”
The man looks at him and says. “A risky decision that my lord. I know yourself and Lord Robert know each other from many years past, but Lord Robert is not as keen to King Edward’s cause as he once was.”
John looks at the man in wonder. “What do you mean?”
“Since his granddaughter was married off to King David, Lord Robert has spent more time considering his position within the royal court and making moves to ensure that he and his family are in well with the royal family. Since then, he has not been doing as one might think he would to King Edward. Such a drastic change can only mean one thing.” Balliol says.
“And what is that thing?” John asks, though he suspects he already knows what it is.
Balliol takes a time to answer, but when he does, John gets the feeling he knows why the man is saying this. “He wants to ensure that his family get what he believes is rightfully theirs my lord. Princess Margaret is but a young child, there is time yet for her to be wed and betrothed again and again. But Lord Robert will look to ensure that his family get to her first. King Edward might well not be so fortunate.”
“And you believe King Eric would reject King Edward’s offer?” John asks curiously.
At this Balliol goes suddenly tight lipped, as if unwilling to say more than he already has. And yet he finally says. “Because, there are plans in the works that might be more beneficial for King Eric. That is all I can say now, but please do remember this when you speak with King Edward.” With that Balliol bows his head and turns and scuttles away, leaving John with much to think about.
After much thought, he continues on his way to King Edward’s rooms he knows the King will want to hear these tidings no matter how stringent or strange they might be. When he arrives at the king’s chambers, he sees two guards standing rigidly at attention they announce him and when he is told to enter they allow him to pass with a nod. Upon entering the king’s rooms, he sees that the Queen is picking up Prince Edward, he bows before her and she nods before leaving. The king is sat at a desk reading through something or the other but he stops when he sees John. “What are your findings?” the king enquires.
John takes a moment to collect his thoughts and then he responds. “It seems, Your Majesty, that the majority opinion to a marriage between Prince Edward and Princess Margaret is one of hostility. The feeling I got from speaking to Lord Robert, is that the nobles of the court, particularly those close to King David, believe such a thing would be against the kingdom’s best interests.”
“More than likely they believe it would be against their best interests.” The king says. “What did Bruce have to say regarding this particular matter?”
John is silent a moment and then he says. “He was not willing to give too much away sire. But from what he did say, I gathered that there is something most definitely going on between King David and King Eric. It would not surprise me if there was an alliance of sorts going on there. Princess Margaret is the key to that, and that might well be why the man was not so forthcoming.”
The king nods. “So it would seem that the Lord of Annandale has finally shed his cloak. This marriage between his granddaughter and my nephew might well have finally confirmed his loyalty. A shame then that his son is not in power, for the man is more willing to bend to my will than anyone else who has lands in England here. Tell me what more did you find?”
John is silent a moment and then he says. “I do believe that we might well have found ourselves an ally here within this treacherous kingdom Your Majesty.”
The king looks at him inquisitively. “Someone came to you then did they my lord? To speak of things that they might well not have done.”
John nods. “Alexander de Balliol Your Majesty, the chamberlain to King David. He came to present a warning of probing too deeply into this matter especially with Bruce. It seems the man is looking to gain your favour.”
John sees the king deep in thought, his face a mask before he responds. “It would seem that at least one family within my nephew’s kingdom remembers where they got the chance to come here from. I want you to ensure that whatever information Balliol has, he is more than willing to give it to you.”
John nods his head. “Yes Your Majesty. To what extent should I begin pushing for more information?”
The king is silent a moment and then he says. “Do not push so hard that it becomes obvious that this is what you are doing. Balliol came to you today of his own free will, ensure that that remains the case. The moment anyone begins thinking you are doing something that might be considered against the grain, stop. We do not want to begin unnecessary hostilities.”
John bows his head then. “Of course Your Majesty.”
“Good. Whilst doing that, make sure you are also finding out what else has changed within my nephew’s court. They are preparing for something, it is time we learned just what that was.” The king says, John bows once more before being dismissed.
Alexander Comyn, Earl of Buchan
As Alexander looked over the proceedings from court for the past few months, he could not help but think about just how different things were becoming under King David, then they had been under his father king Alexander. King Alexander had always been more inclined toward showing the more culturally diverse aspects of his great kingdom, whereas his son and the new king was more inclined to showing the more martial aspect of the kingdom. That was something that Alexander had noticed about this young king, with all the potential for the vultures of the court to come swooping in, the young king had begun surrounding himself warriors, men who knew how to follow, not men who could scheme to remove him. That was something that Alexander could appreciate about the king, he knew how to think ahead, and he knew where he was weak in a sense. That was deserving of respect, and the king, the king was determined to ensure that whatever weaknesses that the kingdom might well have were seen to and developed and improved. Alexander could most definitely respect that.
There was one thing that worried Alexander about the new king, and that was his tendency to favour the more Gaelic nobility within court. It seemed the king was looking toward going to the old way, but in a new approach, and that could well mean the favouring of the old Gaelic lords who were still in place in certain places. Alexander was smart enough to realise what that could mean for him and his family, considering that there were still descendants of Merleswain, the second son of Alexander’s own ancestor Colbán of Buchan were around and gaining favour. Alexander knew that to ensure the king did not begin looking toward removing him, he and his kin would have to begin courting his favour hard. That was not something that should be too hard, considering that they had always done well behind the throne, and with the king’s planned conquests coming to fruition quite soon, Alexander wondered whether or not they could begin making headway now.
It was to this end that he had come to meet with his cousin John Lord of Badenoch, the man was a towering giant, bigger almost than Alexander, and that was saying something considering Alexander was not a small man by any means. As they sat down in Alexander’s allotted solar, he took a moment to look at his cousin, the man seemed tired and gaunt, but there was still a strength to him, and that was what Alexander was hoping to use, that strength. He took a moment and then says. “It seems Sir John has begun making his own overtures toward King Edward cousin.”
His cousin looks at him a moment. “How did you come to know of this?”
His cousin often plays the game well, but with him, it seems that Alexander knows how to read his cousin known as the Black Comyn, better than he himself knows his own person. “People speak cousin. And it does not take a complete genius to see how much time Alexander de Balliol spends with the Earl of Surrey. They are planning something and I want to know what.”
His cousin is silent a moment, and then says. “I am not sure exactly what it is my brother in law is planning but from what I gather he wishes to remain within King Edward’s good graces. Not a bad plan, considering the actions one has learned the king is to be taking.”
Intrigued, Alexander asks. “What sort of action. What have you learned cousin?”
His cousin is silent a moment and then says. “It does not take a smart man to realise that with King David having had a son, and with Queen Dowager having had a son, the succession is somewhat secure, and yet it is not completely secure until they are in adulthood. King Edward no doubt is beginning to think about looking toward marrying his own son and heir to Princess Margaret.”
Alexander feels something akin to contempt for his cousin then, but keeps it hidden as he replies. “That would certainly be a smart move on King Edward’s part cousin, and yet one must wonder, is that truly for our own benefit? We cannot allow such a thing to occur, otherwise who knows we might be ruled by an Englishman. For neither of us are foolish enough to believe that anything else would or could occur.”
His cousin is silent before replying. “But should King Edward succeed in this, those who ensured the venture went well would be rewarded. And regardless cousin, we have always done well as the power behind the throne. Should this marriage go ahead, we could advice and counsel both Prince Edward and Princess Margaret, and gain more advantage for our family.”
Alexander looks at his cousin then and sighs. “This is a foolish course of action to take cousin, and one I am surprised you are even considering. Doing something such as this would put our entire family at risk. King David is not someone who wishes to see his only niece wed off to someone from England, he would rather face the wrath of hell than something such as this.”
His cousin looks at him with a fierce gaze. “King David wishes to bring about changes that might well threaten our family’s existence cousin. Surely you can see that? We must ensure that we have a foot in both camps. There is nothing wrong with looking after our own interests. You have a position on the king’s council, you are looked on favourably. Use that, and see what you can gain.”
Alexander shakes his head then. “This will not get us anywhere cousin. King David is set in his ways. He is not like his father, there will not be time to try and shift and mould his thought process. We can only hope to gain favour by proving ourselves committed and loyal. Trying to play both sides will end only in disaster.”
“Then are we to wait then cousin? To wait for the day King David decides we are not worth the time nor the effort? If you will not use your position, then what use is it to have such a position? There is nothing that can be done to change what happened with King Alexander, the man is dead and gone, but his son remains, as does his granddaughter. We must try to influence either one or both.” His cousin says.
Alexander sighs, running a hand through his hair. “It is not just a case of that cousin, we must consider the state of the realm. The Bruces have power now that Queen Isabel is married to King David, we cannot afford to be seen doing something contrary to the king’s need or want, and otherwise you can be certain Bruce will be whispering in King David’s ear. Right now, we must ensure that we have both King David and his wife happy, otherwise we shall be facing difficulties.”
The Lord of Badenoch looks at him, glowers at him more than likely. “What has become of you cousin. Why are you not willing to play this game that we all know you can play, the best one out of us all to play it, and you are unwilling to do so. What has changed?”
Alexander sighs. “Nothing has changed, but right now, with two kings under the same roof, we would be made to try anything this openly. Let Balliol play what games he wants, when he founders he will look to be built back up, that is when we can use our influence on the king.”
His cousin smiles then. “Now there it is, there is the old Earl of Buchan that I know. So tell me cousin, what would you do in my place? My brother in law is playing a dangerous game, and he wishes for my support.”
Alexander looks at the man before him, remembering when his cousin was a young boy and then a young man, determined to make his own mark on the world. Smiling slightly he says. “I would give Balliol some tacit support. Let your brother in law know that you are willing to support him, if and only if, he is able to get some solid ground work done with King Edward. Unless he can get that done, you will not commit your men and your political skill to his cause. Balliol is a man who knows where his weaknesses are he will not approach you again until he knows he can get that.”
The Lord of Badenoch nods. “And if he were to get these things? Would it be right to ensure that support is given? Considering what you have said cousin, it would seem that perhaps the most prudent court would be to avoid getting involved with Balliol whatsoever.”
Alexander can feel his eyes begin to water, he is not sure whether the old age is getting to him now, or whether it is merely tiredness. Regardless he looks at his cousin and sees his eyes looking at him intently, coughing slightly, Alexander is silent a moment and then says. “Balliol is a man who can be useful. He is pliable, and he could well be a good tool to get King Edward and King David speaking should the need arise. Of course I would hesitate to fully commit to him, for I am never sure where that man will go. Of course, one must be wary of Robert Bruce, for that man, that man might be a lion to some, but to me, to me he is most definitely a snake in the grass, weaving a spell over those who would otherwise have sense.”
The Lord of Badenoch speaks then. “Bruce is indeed a snake cousin, you have that much right. That King David is wed to the man’s granddaughter is something that one must worry about. But then there is the man’s son, the Earl of Carrick is known to have very strong English sympathies, perhaps one might be able to create tension there between father and son.”
Alexander considers this a moment and then says. “It is most definitely something that should not be ruled out, though I would use caution when treading down that path. Carrick might be someone who is very strongly within King Edward’s camp, but should an attack come on his son, you can be sure the Lord of Annandale shall retaliate just as strongly. Although…” Alexander trails off then as the thought comes to his mind.
“Although?” the Lord of Badenoch asks his cousin. “What are you thinking dear cousin of mine? I can see something has begun forming do speak of what it is you are planning.”
Alexander looks at his cousin. “There was something mentioned during the council meeting before King Edward came north. There was talk about the man who tried to kill the King and his queen, and some thought that perhaps Carrick might have sent the man. Of course such talk was dismissed as complete nonsense, but there is lingering dislike for Carrick that the king harbours. That might be used to our gain.”
“Interesting, very interesting. Of course we shall need to have something of a strong reason for why King David should be more suspicious of Carrick than he already is. And I do believe I might know what that reason could well be. After all, the man has only one son named after the previous King, his elder son is named after King Edward. That is something that could well be considered an ill omen, especially for King David, a man who admires his father deeply.” The Lord of Badenoch says.
Alexander nods and knowing that his time to meet the king is coming, says. “This is all well and good. But for the time being we must remain strongly within the King’s camp, we must be cautious of what we say and do, and whom we interact with. For now there are many who would try to bring us down.”
“Of course.” His cousin says, rising as does Alexander, they clasp hands briefly and then Alexander turns and walks out of the room.
Alexander walks down the hallway, his mind spinning with all that has been discussed with his cousin. He knows that the game they are playing is a dangerous one, and yet it is one that must needs be played. They cannot afford to lose their position within the royal court, and that is something that can be averted, perhaps not by targeting the Lord of Annandale but his son? Alexander is certain there is nothing the King would like better than having a reason never to see his father in law ever again. Smiling, Alexander knocks on the door and when he hears the king’s voice call him in, he pushes open the door and bows before the king.
The king is sat at his desk reading through something or the other Alexander notices, but his tone is straight and to the point when he speaks. “You have done as asked.” It is a statement not a question.
“I have Your Majesty. My cousin will not begin working on Balliol as you intended.” Alexander replies.
The king nods. “Good, that is very good. You have done well Alexander. Now tell me, what you learnt from speaking to your cousin.”
Alexander pauses a moment to think through all that they discussed, upon deciding which bits would be most useful for the king he says. “John confirmed that Alexander De Balliol approached the Earl of Surrey with an offer. The man did it thinking he was doing it for himself as well as his kin. The issue arises though is that he might well have provided a direct warning to the Earl about your intentions, or at least Bruce’s intentions Your Majesty.”
The king’s face remains expressionless, something that he shares more with his grandfather than his father, had this news been presented to King David’s father, the man would have been bellowing for reparations, whereas King David remains cool and impassive. His voice is calm when he says. “Balliol does not know the full extent of what is being planned, I have kept that deliberately vague for this reason. They are an ambitious family, who stand to lose much with what I have planned. Let them speak to Surrey and my uncle, let us see what moves they make. When the time comes they shall suffer the consequences.”
Though he is loath to ask the question, for he suspects he knows the response he will get, Alexander asks. “Sire, forgive me for asking, but do you not think it might be wise to at least consider this proposal that King Edward will undoubtedly make. Seeing Princess Margaret betrothed to Prince Edward is the not the worst thing that could happen. It would mean that King Edward is satisfied and has no reason to keep looking to our lands to see what it is we are doing.”
“It is also a sure fire way to ensure that my uncle does not leave us alone. Once he has my niece, he shall not let her go. There is not a chance that I will be able to put my plans into motion with my niece so tied to the throne of England. My uncle knows this, and though he does not know exactly what it is I have planned, he is no fool, he knows that there is a reason for all that he is seeing. I will not allow my niece to fall into this game he plays. I simply will not.” The king says, his voice filled with passion.
Alexander sighs then, nodding. “Then what do you propose Your Majesty. For we both know that the time will come when these plans cannot be hidden any longer. There are men already working for King Edward, desperate to find out what you are doing, desperate for some reward or the other. How can we keep this away from scrutiny for as long as you suggest?”
There is a long silence then as the king contemplates that which Alexander has asked him. Eventually just as Alexander begins to think the king has no answer he speaks. “There will come a time when my uncle cannot focus his attention on us alone. Already word is coming through that King Philippe, my uncle’s cousin is making moves that might well undermine my uncle’s position in France. His alliance with Castille is not as strong as he might like it to be. He has other concerns that will come to the forefront after this visit. There will be time enough for us to plan and do as we said we would, for King Edward is not getting younger.” Alexander nods recognising the sense in his King’s words. There is another long silence, broken only when the king says. “Word has come from Brittany, it seems that the ruler of that dukedom wishes to forge ahead in an alliance.”
Alexander is surprised by this, things are moving much quicker than he had thought. Looking at the king he knows that the man has perhaps had this news for a while, and is only telling him now to see his reaction. Swallowing, and keeping his voice as calm as possible he says. “That is very good news Your Majesty, very good news. And it will certainly prevent any chance for King Edward from trying to use the Duke against you.”
The king smiles then, a rare sight. “Of course it is, which is why when this is all done, I wish for you to go to Brittany to get the feeling of this man and his court. It is important to have allies in different places, considering the snakes we deal with.”