Father and Mother were dead. Gone, buried, in a hole in the ground. Or two holes, because Father had had the nerve to die in England, of all places. Father who had been so bold and demonstrative, who had seemed invincible, was gone, dead. Edward too. Edward, the brother Edmund had loathed and wanted to be in equal measure. Edward who always seemed as if he could not do anything wrong, who was always right in Father's eyes. It was always Edmund who did something wrong, Edmund who got the cane when something went wrong in their games. Father didn't even pay attention to other children he had with Mother, just Edward and Edmund. Such scrutiny was always going to do something to the objects, and it had left Edmund with a dee anger. Father had died, and Mother had followed him shortly afterwards, and now here they were, in England. In Carlisle to be precise, the town that William Rufus had built after expelling Father's Scottish troops from the area.
Carlisle was a big place, a town, with solid walls, with defenders on all the walls and other contraptions that were likely to kill a man before he even knew what was happening. Edmund sat in the solar of Ralph de Vesci, Earl of Northumbria, and waited. Vesci was some mix of man and woman, there were certain elements about him that made Edmund think he was not a real warrior, and there were other elements that made him think the man was a warrior. But he knew the rumours about de Vesci, about how he was King William's lover, and that was something, was it not? Briefly, Edmund wondered if he might find someone like that, and then he pushed the thought away. Such thoughts could not come to mind, especially after what had happened with his friend, Constantine, his screams echoed in his head still. He blinked as uncle Edgar coughed.
"You know we cannot continue waiting here, my King. We must do something and quickly." Uncle Edgar said. The man was broad of shoulder, blond of hair and blue of eye, he was an experienced fighter, and commander, and Edmund resented him. He looked at himself in the mirror every day, and found he did not like what he saw. Maud had chosen Alexander, his little brother over him! His uncle continued as if he thought Edmund had not heard him. "William Rufus is a dangerous man, much like his father, he will make you promise things that will later come and haunt you. It is not worth the risk." William Rufus was coming to Carlisle, to meet with him and to bring Edmund's distant brother Duncan north as well. Duncan had a Norman army, Edmund had nothing but the clothes on his back. Duncan also had the support of the English King.
"What would you have me do? Flee to Leinster or Munster? Flee to the Norse isles? I will not leave these lands, uncle. Donald Bane is an old man and he will not have the support of everyone. Duncan has the support of the English and the English King, that counts for something. It also means that Duncan will have an easier time of winning the throne. We both know that Scottish tribes cannot handle mounted cavalry. It was proven as recently as Alnwick, and before that in Carlisle and Cumbria and every other time my father invaded England. Donald might believe he can survive, but we both know he won't." Edmund said.
"And when Duncan is sat on the throne, what then?" His uncle asked. "He will bring his wife and son northwards, and he will name his son heir to the throne, and with the backing of the English it will last, as long as the man is alive. Once he has beaten and cowed the lords who support Donald Bane, he will sit the throne for a long time. What will you do then? Will you sit on the side, and cheer on a man who has little claim to the throne? Bastard as he is."
"Evidently he is not a bastard, uncle." Edmund said patiently, they'd had this argument countless times and it always came back to this, even if Edmund might've secretly agreed with his uncle's rationale, he would not be so foolish as to openly state this in front of the King of England and his army. "The church recognised Father's marriage to Duncan's mother, and they stated that it was fair and right."
"The Legate only recognised the marriage after your father threatened to have him hung. Rome was not brought to Scotland until my sister, your mother came. The marriage to Ingeborg of Orkney was not a lawful marriage, conducted as it was in view of the Celtic church." His uncle replied stubbornly.
Edmund groaned. "In which case, none of the previous Kings of Scotland were the rightful King of Scotland under the system which the Normans have adapted. And yet they are considered so by Rome and by Mother Church. Surely, you are not so great a fool as to suggest that I openly oppose Duncan before the King of England?"
His uncle ran a hand over his eyes, it was an expression that was becoming more and more common for his uncle. "No, you are right, of course. My apologies. But for how long will you willingly bend the knee to a man who has no knowledge of Scotland, of a man who seems more Norman the more we hear of him?"
"I must see what he does first, before I act. If I make a move and he actually seems to be doing a good job as King, I will look a fool, and no doubt I will be dead. I cannot achieve anything if that happens. Consequently, I must make sure that everything is set right before I do anything." Edmund responded. He thought in the Gaelic he had learned quietly, away from Father and Mother, but spoke in the Anglo Saxon that his uncle and Mother both spoke, and that his father had insisted be spoken. It was a hard process, but one that was needed.
His uncle nodded, there was some silence, then unexpectedly, Edgar, the fourth of Malcolm Canmore's sons spoke. "We are all under the assumption that once Duncan takes the throne he will keep the Norman knights who aided him to take the throne. Surely as a man who wishes to be King, he would need to dismiss those knights. Would that not then make him more vulnerable?"
His brother asked a fair question and normally, Edmund would be the first to agree with him, however, in this instance, everything he'd heard about his so called brother and King William suggested the opposite was more likely to happen. He said as much. "Our brother, Duncan, has spent his entire life in Norman hands, he is more Norman than Scottish. Consequently, do not be surprised if he keeps the Norman knights who he has known his entire life with him."
"That seems slightly counter-productive, do you not think?" Edgar asked. "Surely, to reassure the people that he is not some sort of foreign invader, he needs to remove the actual foreign invaders and ensure that he handles the local populous with more care. Just like our father did."
Edmund laughed. "Nobody could handle anything the way our Father, did Edgar. Father was a man unto himself who did what he wanted, when he wanted, and damn the consequences." Their uncle tutted at his words, and he apologised. "Apologies for my words, uncle, but it is true. Father did whatever suited him, be it keeping Englishmen at his court, abandoning those Englishmen, or invading Northumbria seven times. He never cared for the cost, he did it if it suited him."
Alexander the fifth son, of Malcolm and Margaret spoke then. "So, what do you think that this brother of ours will do? Keep the English around as a crutch with which to beat the Scots over the head with should they ever get too troublesome?"
"Yes." Edmund said.
There was silence for a time after that, and Edmund took that time to think over everything that had happened, and everything that was going to happen. Father and Mother were dead, Edward was dead, Donald had taken the throne and had the support of the great lords, Duncan would need the English to hold onto his throne, and to take it also. Edmund had some Saxon thegns and other warriors who had fled north with his uncle Edgar, he was not completely without means, but he could not take the throne with their support alone. He knew why his uncle had banished them from court, they were a reminder of the Saxon influence, an influence that had greatly angered many within Scotland. Edmund more than Edward ever had, represented that, due to his complexion and his words, and everything else. Not for the first time, Edmund grew angry with everything and everyone. He had not asked for this, he had never wanted this, but now it was his and he had no idea what to do with it all. He ran a hand through his hair and looked to his uncle and asked. "The Saxons with us, what is their take on this whole issue?"
His uncle's eyes widened slightly, but then returned to normal. "They are waiting for your instruction; they will follow your lead. They do not want to bend to the Normans, they remember what happened the last time the Normans promised them some form of peace and prosperity." His uncle's eyes closed briefly, as memories of the Harrying of the North no doubt played behind the closed lids. He shivered and blinked and continued. "They will support you regardless of the course you have chosen."
Edmund nodded reassured. Atholl, Angus, Fife, Mearns and Moray had all declared for Donald, Lothian was in the air at the moment, it seemed that Gospatric, Earl of Lothian had died at Alnwick but his body had not been found, his brother Dolfin claimed the title. Edmund suspected that Dolfin had done more to ensure a English victory against his father than he was letting them believe, and Edmund was tempted to suggest to this brother of his that he had never met, that Dolfin be executed. He was not sure how that would go over though, considering Duncan was to be supported by the English who had benefitted from Dolfin's suspected treachery. Edmund's brother, Edgar spoke then. "Will King William demand something in return for his support of Duncan? He already has Edith and Mary, and has refused to let them go. We know this to be true, he might ask for another, say someone such as Davie, someone he can mould to his own devices."
Edmund nodded, that was very, very true. "Perhaps it would be best to send Davie elsewhere then. Away from here. To the Isles or elsewhere, in case something should go wrong?"
"And how would you get him out of here? De Vesci has us watched constantly, there are most likely men listening to this very conversation right now in places where we cannot see them. No, it would be foolish to try and smuggle David out of the castle and the town now." Uncle Edgar said.
"So, would you have me let Davie remain here, and be taken as a hostage by an Englishman to be turned into what Duncan has supposedly become?" Edmund demanded.
"If you bend to Duncan that will happen anyway. Duncan is the head of the House now, and his decision is final. If he gives David up to the English, then David will grow up in England away from his family and the comfort that that brings. But don't bend to Duncan and leave now, leave openly and you can still protect your brother and your family, Edmund, the decision is yours." Uncle Edgar replied.
Edmund pondered this, but before he could reach a conclusion, the door opened and in walked three men, one bore a striking resemblance to Father, with auburn hair, thin cheeks and hard eyes, the man must be Duncan, the others were the King of England, noted for his crown and fiery hair, and a Bishop, no doubt the Bishop of Durham. Edmund, his brothers and uncle stood then and nodded and bowed. The English King gestured for them to rise, then looking at uncle Edgar spoke. "Atheling, it has been some time." The man spoke in French, clearly thinking that Edmund could not understand, he kept quiet though, let the Englishman think that he understood nothing. "Your nephews will have you to translate for me?"
His uncle nodded. "Yes, Sire."
The King smiled. "Good." There was a pause, and then the King continued. "The deaths of King Malcolm and Queen Margaret are most unfortunate, they were good people, and deserving of better." There was a pause as his uncle pretended to translate, really what he was saying was.
"The King smells of men." Edmund and his brothers nodded, biting back smiles.
"That your uncle had the temerity to declare himself King of Scots, is something most grievous that disturbs the basic understandings of what is right and what is wrong. I intend to rectify this." The King continued. Uncle Edgar translated that word for word. "I intend to place your brother, Duncan, the firstborn son of your father King Malcolm by his first wife Ingeborg, on the throne of Scotland. I trust that you shall all support him as is your duty."
That was translated, and Edmund nodded to his uncle who said. "They shall."
"Good." The King stated. "I wish for a formal declaration of fealty here and now, before we continue."
Uncle Edgar turned to them and in Anglo Saxon said. "He wants you to bend before Duncan now." Edmund raised an eyebrow, and Uncle Edgar continued. "Speak in Gaelic, and in Anglo Saxon, I shall translate." Edmund nodded, and got down on one knee, his brothers did the same, as did uncle Edgar.
Together they spoke in Gaelic, then in Saxon. "We, the brothers of the King, do swear with God as our witness that we shall defend and protect the right of Duncan, son of Malcolm, son of Cirnan, to the throne of Scotland. We acknowledge him as King of Scots, and we recognise that he is the rightful claimant to the throne. We shall protect him and his from the threat of all and any usurpers."
His uncle spoke the words then in French, they sounded odd coming like that, but when that was done, Duncan spoke in French. "I recognise these oaths, and I recognise the fealty to which you have given me. Know that I promise to protect you and yours from this day to my last, by God I swear."
Once that was done, the King of England clapped his hands and said in the thickest French Edmund had ever heard. "Now rise, and stand before us all, so we might discuss tactics." Edgar translated, and Edmund and his brothers rose. The King smiled, an odd sight, one that made Edmund's skin crawl. Looking at uncle Edgar, the King continued. "What can you tell me about this Donald Bane and how he thinks?"
"He is an old man, nearing sixty now, with only a daughter as his heir. He is clever and calculating, and no doubt has made some promises to those who support him, in order to keep a solid hold over the throne he now sits. He has experience in the field of battle, but is more likely to rely on younger men to fight the battles for him. He believes in a more traditional Scots approach to fighting." Uncle Edgar said.
"So, he will want to evade the knights and fade into the hills then." King William said aloud. "No doubt burning the lands around would merely push him further inland and now really endear Duncan to the local peoples."
"Indeed not. I would recommend going for Dunblane, the seat of power for Strathearn. Donald has a strange affiliation and affection for the place. He is more likely to move southwards, if you go for that place, then you can defeat him out in the open." Uncle Edgar said.
Edmund looked at his uncle then and whispered in Saxon. "Tell them about the ford." The ford was a dangerous position within Strathearn, which could well cause death by freezing for those not used to it, and to get to Dunblane one would have to cross the Ford. Surprisingly his uncle did not mention it.
"What did the boy say?" King William demanded, and Edmund stiffened at being referred to as a boy.
Uncle Edgar took a moment then said. "He merely said that Donald will definitely come running for Dunblane should it be under attack."
Edmund kept a snort down, but noticed how King William's attention briefly flickered to him and the shiver ran through him again. There was definitely something wrong with that man. the King continued. "Very well. We shall ride out in two days' time, I want the thegns and the huscarls that you have with you, to be prepared as well."
"Of course, Sire." Uncle Edgar said.
The King nodded. "Good, I shall leave Duncan here, to get to know his brothers. Assuming of course, that they can communicate." With that the King nodded once more, turned and walked out of the room.
There was an awkward silence, which was broken, when in broken French, Alexander asked their brother. "You are well?"
"Yes." Their brother replied briskly. There was another silence, then Duncan said. "I promise that when this is done and we have the throne, we need never meet again. You shall be given the Earldoms of those lords who fight for our uncle, and that will be that." Duncan nodded and then walked out of the room, leaving them all somewhat confused.
It was Edgar who quipped. "I don't think he wants to know us."
"That would appear to be the case." Edmund replied, his mind whirring as he thought of what to do about this new piece of information.