‘And what about Cnut?’ Malcolm asked. ‘Can he control Esbjorn?’
I shook my head. ‘I don’t believe so. I suspect he’s lived much of his life in fear of Esbjorn although I think that may no longer be the case. He is wary of his uncle but not, I think, afraid.’
Malcolm pondered this, cracking the knuckles of his hand as he did so.
‘We drew swords together,’ I answered. ‘I risked my life to save his.’
‘So he is in your debt?’
I shrugged. ‘I do not know if the Danes have such a sense of honour.’
Malcolm stood and stared out of the window. ‘I wonder why they are here?’ he muttered.
‘We will find out soon enough.’
He turned to me.
‘Yes. I have arranged a feast for them. You will be there?’
It was couched as a question but it felt like a command.
‘But not Anna, I take it,’ Malcolm continued. He sighed. ‘I understand now her reaction to the sight of the monster. How is she?’
I rubbed my eyes wearily. ‘She is troubled in her mind and heart. Hog is attending on her.’
‘She thought she would never see Esbjorn again,’I said. ‘It is a bitter blow.’
‘Then be kind to her, Edgar, be kind.’ He made to leave the room but then paused and turned to stare at me. ‘I know what your mother and sister think of Anna but I offer you this counsel. Hold fast to her until the end of your days.’
I smiled grimly. If Esbjorn were ever to find me on my own there might not be many days left to me.
Malcolm took great pains to organise the feast table. His place, naturally, was at the head of the table with my sister next to him. I sat next to her with Athelstan beside me. On Malcolm’s left sat Cnut and then Esbjorn. He would not allow any of the other Danes to join the feast but ordered them to eat in another chamber under the watchful eye of his soldiers. He packed the feast hall with his own followers and my guards.
‘That should be just enough to control Esbjorn,’ said Merleswein with a rueful smile.
I made sure that Anna was in our chamber with two maids to attend upon her. Willard and Hog sat by the door with half their men. The rest were outside by the window. All were fully armed.
Malcolm was careful to ensure that wine and beer flowed sufficiently but not copiously. He well knew that when the Danes got drunk they also got violent.
The food was excellent. Cnut and Esbjorn ate heartily as did Malcolm. I had no appetite and ate little and drank less. I wanted all my wits about me.
‘It is good to see you once again,’ Malcolm said to Cnut. ‘I am intrigued at the reason for your journeying so far north.’
Cnut dropped his meat upon the platter and wiped his mouth.
‘I have come with a message from my father, Svein, King of the Danes.’ His eyes twinkled and he leaned closer to make sure that I was listening.
‘My father wishes to make alliance with the King of the Scots,’ he continued. ‘And he also wishes to affirm our alliance with Edgar, King of the English.’
I started at his words. He had never called me king before. Cnut’s use of the title must have been agreed by his father.
My thoughts began to race. Did this mean that the alliance with the Danes could be forged anew? Would we be able to resume our attack upon William? My heart beat faster at the thought. I glanced at Athelstan who placed his hand upon my wrist as if to counsel caution.
‘That is welcome news,’ Malcolm said quickly. ‘It is, perhaps, unfortunate that the deeds done upon my gate were not in keeping with your father’s stance.’
Cnut picked up his meat and gnawed at it for a moment, pondering how to answer. He gave a quick glance at Esbjorn before he framed his reply.
‘My uncle is a man of great passion,’ he said. ‘But great heart also. He has come north is to make his peace with Edgar.’
A deep rumble sounded from Esbjorn’s throat. I leaned forward and saw his knuckles whiten and bulge beneath his flesh.
Athelstan pressed even more firmly upon my wrist and I leaned back, turning my face from my enemy for fear of my own anger.
Athelstan pondered for a moment and then nodded at Cnut. ‘We are delighted to hear this,’ he said. ‘The friendship of King Svein and his family is a thing we esteem most highly.’
Esbjorn spat a piece of gristle on to the table. Then he snorted, picked up a leg of goose and began to gnaw upon it.
The table fell quiet. The only thing that moved was Esbjorn’s jaw.
He chewed noisily, staring into the space in front of him. Then he belched and smeared his hand across his mouth.
‘My brother has sent me to make peace with Edgar Atheling,’ he said.
We waited for him to say more but he did not. It was clear that this was as much as we could expect.
I could feel all eyes upon me, wondering how I would reply.
I leaned forward and gave an airy wave. It was bare acknowledgement.
‘Very good,’ said Cnut quickly. ‘Now we can move forward.’
Esbjorn blew his nose with his fingers and wiped them on the table.
- The Lost King: Mercenary #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- The Scourge of Satan #histnov #SampleSunday (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
The third part of The Lost King will be published shortly.
The first two parts: ‘The Lost King: Resistance’ and ‘Wasteland’ are available as e-books from retailers world-wide.