Thursday, 21 July 2011

An Excerpt from Chapter 16: The Exiles

      The Godwinsons have just heard that their kinsmen are to remain in Normandy as hostages for the Duke. Harold and his brothers are unhappy that their sister the Queen and brother Tostig, the King's favourite, are unwilling to speak up for the hostages for fear of compromising their position with the King.

            There had been no more to say. Hakon and Wulfnoth were to remain at the King’s behest in Normandy. It had not been expressly confirmed that they were part of a bargain between the King and Champart and then Champart and the Duke, but it did not have to be said. It was obvious, Harold knew it. The Godwinsons left the Council Chamber, deflated. The King had played his pieces well. He had written to the Duke, he claimed and he was happy to let the boys stay as hostages. They were being well treated and educated. What would be the point in disrupting their lives now? Had not he after all had a good Norman education?
 Harold locked himself in conversation with Bishop Ealdred as they walked along the open passageway to the Godwinsons apartments. His mother walked with them, her arm linked through her eldest son’s. Behind them walked her younger sons, Gyrth and Leofwin.
“What I do not understand is what Edward gains from this?” Harold was saying to Ealdred. He had come to view the older man like a father. He’d missed his wisdom and good judgement this past year when he had been abroad and was grateful the Bishop was now here for him to confide in.
“Apart from revenge on your father?” Ealdred replied. “A promise from Normandy not to harbour pirates and allow them to use their ports to raid our shores?”
“There has to be more.”
“That he would consider William as his heir?” Ealdred answered as if he were making a statement rather than a question.
“Then why send you abroad to find the Exile and his family? Why agree to allow me to go with you to the Holy Roman Emperor’s court to fetch another contender for the throne when he has already promised his crown to William?”
Ealdred shrugged his sturdy shoulders as they turned into their apartments. The room was furnished with cushioned stools and chairs, a stone hearth in the centre of the room and tables at which to sit at. A wicker partition divided off the sleeping areas. Like Harold and Eadgyth’s apartment, it was lavishly furnished. Her family all knew that Edith’s pride forbade her not to provide the best trappings of comfort.
“I have a theory,” Ealdred began, “I don’t believe that Edward ever really meant to offer the Duke his crown. I believe it was a whim that came to him when the tide had turned against your father. I believe that he regrets it now and would prefer to steer clear of any discussions with the Duke about the return of the boys for fear of re-opening the dialogue about the succession. I don’t believe that Edward is so stupid that he does not realise William of Normandy would not be a popular choice but at the same time he would not want to risk angering him by reneging on the bargain.”
“And so, our monarch prefers to ignore the situation and hope that it will go away. But it will not go away unfortunately and that could put our boys at risk also,” Countess Gytha added emotionally. “Oh Lord in Heaven why did that devil Champart take them away from us!” She slunk down into the nearest chair and clasped her head in her hands. Her maidservant knelt beside her to offer her comfort.
“Edward would rather play along with Duke by saying nothing. I wouldn’t put it past him to have not written Normandy at all and that he has fabricated the whole tale into the bargain!” Harold kicked the wall in frustration. “God damn them all, Edward, the Duke, my sister.... Champart!”
Gyrth threw his hands up in frustration. “This is beyond any logic, the King must do something. These boys are his wife’s family. Why does Edith care so much for all the wards in her care and not a jot about her own brother and nephew? And what of Tostig? Is he not currently flavour of the month?  I cannot believe he is not able to influence the King in anyway?”
            They were surprised when without knocking, Tostig opened the door to the chamber, just as Gyrth mentioned his name.
            “Talking about me dear brothers? Well here I am in person. You can say it to my face whatever it was.” Tostig stepped in and closed the door behind him.
            “Don’t you have your own rooms to go to, or do you sleep in the royal bed between the King and Queen? Perhaps Alfgar was right after all,” said Gyrth sourly.
            “I should watch your tongue, Gyrth. That Mercian dog wasn’t that difficult to get rid of, nor should you be, brother or no.”
            Horningsunu!” Gyrth shouted as he lunged forward and grabbed Tostig by the throat, slamming him into the wall behind him. “Do you only care about yourself? What about our younger brother and Hakon! Do they not deserve some bloody consideration?”
            Tostig pushed his younger brother in an attempt to release himself from his grip. “Get your hands off me you stupid fool! I could have you outlawed, just like that!”
            “Just like Alfgar?” Gyrth spat as he wrestled with him. He lashed out and Tostig caught his arm and thrust his free fist into his stomach.
            Harold shouted at them to stop. The Countess was crying and pleading for them to desist.            “Why must it always be so with my children!” she cried.
            Harold cried out for Leofwin to help him separate them and Ealdred grabbed one of Gyrth’s arms to assist. Harold grasped Tostig by his shoulders and pulled him away. He had caught Gyrth in a head lock, but Harold’s action forced him to release him. As they were separated, Gyrth managed to free his arm from Leofwin’s grasp and swung out one last punch at Tostig. Harold pre-empted it and caught it with the palm of his hand deflecting it.
            “What are we, animals, or men?” shouted Harold. He pulled Tostig out of Gyrth’s reach.
            “You men are not fit to be earls! If your poor father, God rest his soul, could see you all now, he certainly be turning in his grave!” Gytha had risen to her feet and was wringing her hands in anguish.
Harold grabbed hold of Tostig and dragged him behind the partition and into the sleeping area.
            “What the hell are you doing?” he shouted. He saw that Tostig was shaking. In the other room, they could hear their mother berating Gyrth in between loud sobs.
            “Mother is upset,” Tostig said. “I did not come here for this.”
            “What did you come here for then?”
            “I came to join my family. We are still family, or so I thought. Now I realise that you are all against me.”
            “And what makes you think that, brother?”  Harold found that he too shook with anger. He paced before Tostig, gesticulating furiously. “Why on earth would you think we are all against you? Tell me what leads you to that conclusion?”
            “I cannot for the life of me know Harold, what it is that I have supposed to have done to make all of you behave thus with me. I came here to tell you that I promise that when the time is right, I will speak for Wulfnoth and Hakon. I endeavoured before the King to tell you that it was not a good time to speak of the matter. Edith tried to tell you also. The trouble with you is you never listen to anyone but yourself!”
            Harold was astounded. “You manipulative bastard! You think I am stupid enough to think you are telling the truth? You intervened because you want to keep his favour, not because you care a jot for our brother, nor Edward for that matter! Time for his afternoon nap indeed!” He paced the room, then stopped and folded his arms, glaring hotly at his brother.
            Tostig looked wounded. “Why is it so difficult for you to believe me Harold? We are brothers! Does that not count for anything?” Tostig threw him a beseeching look. “What has happened to you brother, that you are filled with such suspicion of your own flesh and blood?”
            What has happened to me? Nay brother, ’tis you who are the changed one!” Harold threw his head back as if he were seeking aid from the heavens. There were words on the tip of his tongue that he did not want to let loose should he forever regret them. Instead he breathed in deeply. He knew Tostig was lying, for he had turned his face and would not look him in the eye.
            “The boys are safe, Harold. I do not know what all the fuss is about. They are receiving a good education amongst the Normans, you heard what Edward said.” Still Tostig refused to look at him.
“And what will happen to them when William finds out that Edward is dangling his crown in front of others? He has been doing so with Swein of Denmark for some years and Ralph for that matter.”
“They say that William is a devout Christian. We must hope this is so and that they will come to no harm. They will be treated well, William is an honourable man, this much I do know.”
“Just how do you know?”
“Are you forgetting his wife is my Judith’s own kin? Besides, it would be futile for William to harm them if he is keen to get his hands on the crown. They are his surety, after all.” Tostig sat down on a coffer and folded his arms defensively. “Whatever you think of me Harold, I do care about our brother....and Swegn’s boy. I am not so ambitious that I would put myself before their welfare.”
Harold leaned against the opposite wall facing his brother. He sighed heavily. He wanted to believe his brother, but he knew that when a man did not look you in the eye, chances were that he was lying. He gazed at Tostig. His brother was looking at the floor.  In their silence, their mother   could be heard still arguing with Gyrth who fumed about Tostig’s ‘selfishness’. Harold had not realised how much of a hothead his younger brother could be. As the thought came to mind, he remembered what Gyrth had said earlier when he had been fighting with Tostig; “Just like Alfgar?!”
            “What did you do?” Harold asked as the significance of what he had heard dawned upon him.
            “Alfgar. You set him up didn’t you? You said ‘That Mercian dog was easily got rid of!’ What did you mean by that?”
            “Come on brother, it would only have been a matter of time before Alfgar got himself exiled. His behaviour has always been arrogant and dishonourable. He was not fit to wear the office of an Earl.”
            Harold found Tostig’s own conceit deplorable. He shook his head and shifted uncomfortably. “So I was right in my suspicions. You contrived the whole thing. It was you and Ralph wasn’t it? God knows I had not wanted to believe it!”
            “And so what? Do you think there is a man in the whole of Englalond who cares?” Tostig rose to his feet. His expression was dark.
            “Do not be so sure, brother, that there isn’t. Can you not see what this means for the kingdom?”
            “Aye, I see a brighter future!” Tostig smirked.
            “Jesus, Tostig, do you think that Alfgar will be idly twiddling his thumbs somewhere on an island, living his days out quietly in peaceful retirement?”       Tostig shrugged and sat back down. He was still smirking and that riled Harold even more. “Bloody Hell, Tostig, your arrogance offends me. Get out of my sight before I do something to you that I would regret.”
            Tostig stood to his feet again. “I did Englalond a favour, Harold, if you would but see it! Do not worry, I am leaving. I would not want to sully your presence with mine!”
            As Tostig moved to leave, Harold caught his arm. “Alfgar went with a band of followers, Tostig.... and money. I have heard that he went to Ireland to seek aid and gather forces. What do you think will happen if he succeeds?”
            “Then we will fight him, brother and rid ourselves of him once and for all!”
            “What if he allies himself with Gruffydd, it would not be the first time as we know!”
            “Then we kill two birds with one stone!”
            Tostig pushed past the petition and Harold let him go. When Gyrth saw him, he leapt to his feet with his fists at the ready. Harold and Leofwin restrained him.

“No Gyrth, leave him be. He is not worth it,” Harold muttered. He waited for Tostig to leave the chamber before he released him.
            “I cannot believe how close we once were,” Gyrth said bitterly when Tostig had gone.
            “What has happened to him to make him like this?” Leofwin asked innocently.
            “Edith happened to him,” Gyrth replied.
            Ealdred laid gentle hands on Harold and Gyrth’s upper arms. “My sons, we should pray for him.”          


Si Skellon said...

I wish I could nail characterisation as well as you do, my chaps all seem a bit bland and too similar... You give me something to aim for yet again.

Anonymous said...

thanks si, I'm sure that you do!