Ch. 5.0 KING CANUTE BECOMES KING OF ALL ENGLAND

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

 

CHAPTER FIVE

5.0 KING CANUTE BECOMES KING OF ALL ENGLAND  (Circa 1017 AD)

 

Kings Edmund ‘Ironside’ and Canute ‘the Great’ at the Battle of Assandun, by M Paris  (1200–1259)

 

 

(1017)  Duke Richard of Normandy was the first foreign ruler to congratulate King Canute on his victory at the Battle of Assandun, and the first to offer him condolences on the sudden death of his co-king of all England, and the first to offer King Canute a marriage of alliance.

The Duke arrived in Southampton to visit his sister, Queen Emma of England, and they proceeded to Winchester to visit with King Canute.  After pleasantries, Duke Richard got right down to business.  “Now that King Edmund is dead and there is no longer two kings,” he began, “you shall have to marry my sister so she can continue on as Queen of England.  And I would like to marry one of your daughters from Kiev as recompense for losing my sister.”

“I am already married to Princess Aelfgifu,” King Canute countered, “and I have taken up your Latin Christian faith that allows me but one wife.  Princess Aelfgifu has no problem with Emma of Normandy remaining Queen of England.”

“Well,” the duke went on, “my sister is in ‘the way’ and I hold you responsible.  I’ll not have her raising a ‘bastard’ and if she is to marry and stay queen, it is you she must marry.”

“I’ve had nothing to do with…” Canute started to protest and Prince Hraerik, who was standing on the other side of Queen Emma began coughing violently.  “Could you and Queen Emma share my second highseat and enjoy some of your fine sparkling Frankish wine and some Khazar Vayar while I have a short chat with my grandfather?”

Queen Emma quickly guided her brother to the second highseat and they sat there and were brought wine.  Khavayar followed as Valdy led Hraerik to a side chamber.

“How could you?” he asked his grandfather.  “You’re two hundred years old!  Couldn’t you have used a glove?”

“We were using that new sex drug, the one that killed Myia.  I can’t pass on the antidote to Emma if I wear a glove.”

“The drug that killed Myia!  Why are you even using it?  And my father told me that Emma isn’t supposed to have children.  It could kill her.”

“I’m sharing my Alchemists’ drug with her.  It makes her fertile and capable of bearing a child.  We were hoping this wouldn’t happen but we took precautions in case it did.  Emma told me she was still in her period.  We should have been okay.”

“Unless Emma wanted a child with you, and, perhaps, wanted access to a drug that will keep her young forever!  I think my father may have fathered her children when she was married to Athelred!”

“Oh, Sweyn did,” Hraerik confirmed.  “The goddess Irpa told me so.”

“The goddess Irpa?” Valdy asked in disbelief.  “The goddess Irpa that deserted me in battle?  When did you talk to the goddess Irpa?”

“We didn’t really talk,” Hraerik told him, “she possessed me when I was focking Witch Hallveig, and she told me many things.”

“When did you fock Witch Hallveig?”

“After the Battle of Assandun,” Hraerik admitted.  “I had her in my ship to wash all the blood off her body.  Things went well between us.  While we were focking, Irpa entered the cabin and she entered both of us and she enjoyed us both and made us fock like gods and I traded places with Hallveig and she traded places with me and it really was quite spectacular.”

“How did Irpa come to tell you about Sweyn’s children?”

“Sweyn had thought that Princess Gyda had cheated on him with his sons by her, that is why he wanted them sacrificed to bring us victory, but Irpa told me they were really Sweyn’s sons and that is why she didn’t accept the sacrifice.  She told me that Witch Hallveig had told you this, but you wouldn’t listen.  That’s when she also told me that Emma’s sons by Athelred were actually by Sweyn because she didn’t want you killing them.  You should have listened to Hallveig, son.”

And for a second, Valdy thought that his father Sweyn was talking to him directly through Prince Hraerik and he said, “I’m sorry, I focked up.”

“And I’m sorry that I focked up,” Hraerik admitted.  “I shouldn’t have knocked up Emma, but the sex drug makes us fock like gods, like focking with Irpa!”

“My father told me what focking Irpa was like for him,” Valdy admitted.  “I just hope you haven’t knocked up Witch Hallveig as well.  Did you use a glove there?”

Hraerik coughed.  “I forgot.  But the goddess Irpa didn’t want us using a glove anyway.  She told us she was blessing Hallveig with two sons to replace Sweyn’s sons, to repair the damage to our family hamingja.”

King Canute had to sit for that one.  He took a seat at the meeting table and said, “You blessed her with twins?”

“I think it was Irpa that blessed her with twins,” Hraerik admitted.  “I blessed her the first time we focked and Irpa blessed her the second time we focked.”

“You focked her twice,” Valdy said, shaking his head.

“You’ve focked a dozen times in a row,” Hraerik protested.

“But I was twenty.  You’re two hundred!”

“There was one thing Irpa made known to me and it was that the oldest woman in black had murdered Sweyn and the middle one helped, but that the youngest one is innocent, is actually Sweyn’s daughter who was kidnapped in Ipswich and raised by the other two and that Sweyn has had a child by her.  She also told me that you have had several children by her, your half-sister, and that perhaps you should stop focking her.  Apparently, her name is Gytha Sweynsdottir.”

“I have stopped raping her,” Valdy professed, “but I was ordered to rape her by father when Witch Hallveig talked with him after he had been murdered.  I have started to show the women in black clemency and shall wean myself off of her.  The other one now works for me.”

“Let’s get back to the problem at hand,” Hraerik suggested.

“If you’d have used your hand there wouldn’t be a problem,” Valdy joked.

“The sex drug doesn’t fly solo,” the Prince replied.  “If you divorce Aelfgifu number one and marry Aelfgifu number two, I’ll marry Aelfgifu number one and we’ll switch it up in our own private Aesir ceremony.  Nobody will know but us.  Not even Duke Richard.”

“But he wants one of my daughters in exchange and I’m pretty sure he wants one of my daughters by Anna!”

“No doubt,” Hraerik agreed.  “She carries the blood of the Caesars.  But isn’t that what you wanted when you told Sweyn you wanted to marry Anna?  Sweyn wanted the throne of the Caesars in Constantinople, but you told him you wanted to take the blood of the Caesars to Kiev through her so you could take the throne of the Romans anywhere you wanted.  So, how about Rouen for starters?”

“But can we do that?” Valdy asked.  “Can we marry our Aelfgifus as Christians and then switch them and marry them as Aesirs?”

“I think we’ll be fine doing that,” Hraerik answered.  “When my first wife, Princess Gunwar, converted to Christianity, I knew I had lost her in the afterlife, because I was still Aesir, but what I didn’t know was that my brother, King Hraelauger, or Duke Rollo, as he is now known, secretly loved her and he converted to Christianity so that he could be with her in heaven and, I am told by the spirit of Queen Alfhild, your great great grandmother, that the two of them share each other there.  But Duke Rollo wasn’t sure he would go to heaven so, although he had a Christian funeral, he had one of his slave girls sacrificed to Odin and put into his marble sarcophagus with him to lead him to Valhalla in case the Christian God wanted to send him to hell.”

“I’ve visited Duke Rollo’s sarcophagus in the Cathedral of Rouen,” Canute said in astonishment.  “Do mean to tell me that there are two bodies in there instead of one?”

“Yes,” Hraerik answered, “and even though he mixed and matched religions like that, Queen Alfhild told me that he still went to heaven.  So, I think we’ll be fine with a little nuptial ceremonial mixing and matching.  We’ll have to clear it with our women first, of course.”

“You don’t have to answer this, but did it bother you to learn that Uncle Hraelauger went to heaven to share your wife?”

“Not at all,” Hraerik replied.  “Had I known that he secretly loved Gunwar, I would have shared her with him on Earth, if she was willing.  I’m never converting.  I’ve killed so many men in battle, or caused them to be killed, I’ve learned from a few spirits that I am guaranteed a seat in Valhall at the right hand of Odin.  I even bumped the great warrior Starkad to his left hand.  I have also been told there will be a god called Bragi and that he shall be me!  Imagine that, Prince Hraerik ‘Bragi’ Hraegunarson a god!”

King Canute hugged the Prince warmly.  “I love you grandfather,” he said.  “Shall we go back into the hall and deal with our duke?”

“After you, grandson.”

It was decided that King Canute would marry Queen Emma before the spring merchant fleet sailed east and that Prince Hraerik would return from the east in the fall with Princess Estrid, Valdamar’s daughter by Princess Anna.  So, Queen Emma and Prince Hraerik got their eight tallships ready to sail west to the Newfoundland and then the two couples got married and then secretly remarried and the Prince sailed east with the Hraes’ merchant fleet.  Queen Emma spent the summer between Southampton and Rouen, where she was having more Gyrfalcon riverboats built, and she watched something she thought she would never see again, her belly swell with a baby within.  King Canute and Princess Aelfgifu spent their summer travelling between Winchester, the old capital, and London, the defacto new capital, and Canute watched in amazement as Aelfgifu’s belly also swelled with child, their third or fourth, he wasn’t sure.  He still had seven hundred wives in the east, but he wasn’t sure exactly how many children he now had with them either.

King Canute lorded over Wessex from Winchester, as he wanted to keep a firm hand on the rebellious Saxons there, but he allowed Earl Eadric to continue running Mercia from Oxford as always, and he’d already given Jarl Eirik Northumbria to rule from York and he gave East Anglia to Jarl Thorkel ‘the Tall’ to run from London.  He also gave Eirik’s son, Jarl Haakon, Castle Gainsborough and surrounding area to run for him.  He picked a young Saxon earl named Godwin from Sussex to help him run Wessex and Jarl Sigvald and his Jomsvikings continued to run Kent from Canterbury.

In the fall, Prince Hraerik returned from trading in India and Baghdad and he brought Princess Estrid from Kiev for marriage with Duke Richard of Normandy.  The duke was much older than the young princess and they did not hit it off very well, but her father, King Canute now, convinced her to give the marriage a try.  They were wed in Queen Emma’s palace in Southampton and the eight mysterious tallships arrived in the city harbour soon after.  Their sailings were sworn to secrecy to prevent possible Norwegian trade interference because of the perceived rights of their Icelandic and Greenlander traders to the Newfoundland.  Four tallships sailed with Duke Richard’s fleet on its way back to Rouen.  King Robert of Frankia charged a tithe for the merchandise transported on past Normandy via the Seine-Rhone portage route, but he did not charge an extra tithe for using the Gyrfalcon riverboats as he had wanted to for Viking longships.  However, regardless of marital status, Queen Emma and King Robert’s arrangement for permits still stood and she accompanied her riverboats as far as Paris to satisfy the Frankish king’s demands.

“At least he has stopped asking me to marry him, now that I am married to your grandson Canute,” Emma whispered as she shared her palace bed Prince Hraerik in Southampton.

“So, how is King Robert?” Hraerik asked her wryly.  “Healthy I hope.”

“He’s healthy as a Percheron,” Emma answered.  “I had my personal physician check him out and I wore an internal glove.”

“Good,” Hraerik said, “because I obtained more antidote for the sex drug, so I won’t be wearing a glove.”

“Are you still Irpa blessed?” Emma asked, slipping her hand under the sheets to check.

“Not presently,” he replied, “but I will be I you keep your hand there.  I don’t think it will last much longer though.”

“But Sweyn’s Irpa blessing lasted years.”

“But Irpa actually accepted their sacrifice at Hjorungavagr.  She didn’t accept Valdy’s sacrifice at Assandun.”

“That whole arrangement was focked up from the get-go,” Emma complained.  “Two of Sweyn’s sons sacrificed for nothing.”

“Witch Hallveig benefitted from it,” Hraerik countered.  “She has two fine baby boys that, I hear, look a lot like Sweyn.”

“Those are your sons, too!” Emma protested.

“Don’t tell Hallveig that or she’ll tell Irpa to take back my blessing.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” she replied as she felt the Irpa manifesting itself as her hand kept working his lingam.

While King Canute was in London, he spent a lot of time with Princess Gyda and their children in the Tower of London complex because Princess Aelfgifu always remained in Winchester to rule over the rebellious Saxons when he was gone off to the city.  He treated the young woman in black much better after he had learned she was his half-sister, but he was still debating whether he should tell her or not.

“Prince Hraerik thinks we should stop having sex completely,” he told her after they had just finished having sex.  “He thinks stopping the rapes is not enough.  I told him that we would work on it.”

“But I love having sex with you now,” Gyda told Canute.  “Who am I to have sex with if not you?”

“The Prince thinks I should find you a good match, a young English prince or earl.  He says you should be allowed a normal life.”

“And what about my mother?” Gyda asked.  “Can she join me in my normal life?”

“That is up to her,” Valdy said.  “We’ll have to see what she says about a more normal life.”

“When is she coming back?”

“She’s still working in Earl Eadric’s manor,” he answered.  “I have one last project for her before she returns to London.”

“Will you still be having sex with her?  Or does the Prince think you should wean yourself off her as well?”

“That will be up to her,” Valdy replied.  “I still have to follow some of my father’s wishes as regards her, because she’s not as innocent as you, but in the spirit of clemency, I shall no longer be raping her, which means it will be entirely up to her if and when we have sex and how rough she wants it because, my dear Gyda, she does like it rough and she bites!” and Valdy grabbed Gyda and began nibbling on her neck.

King Canute had sent the woman in black a message in Oxford to poison Earl Eadric whenever a good opportunity might arise in which there would be no chance of her being discovered.  If no opportunity presented itself, she was to hold off until the earl came to London for Yulefest.  Valdy told Gyda if she was caught poisoning the earl in Oxford, the earl’s men would kill her, but if she got caught doing it in London, he could protect her, and he had other projects he needed her for.  No opportunity presented itself so the woman in black got herself assigned as the earl’s personal cook and was a member of Earl Eadric’s Yulefest entourage to London.  She was in a position to poison the earl with impunity, but Canute had her hold off.  He had broached his plan with Jarl Eirik, who had come down with his son, Haakon, from York and the Jarl didn’t like the plan.

“We should just kill him in public,” the Jarl suggested.  “It will set a good example for any ealdormen who want to withhold support from you.  We can do it at Christmas to really drive the point home with the Christians!”

“They’re all Christians here,” Valdy reminded him.  “Even I’m supposed to be Christian.  On what grounds would we have him killed?  He has shown me nothing but support.”

“He has only supported you because no opportunity has arisen for him to desert you,” Jarl Eirik explained.  “As soon as it turns to his advantage to turn on you, he shall.  Just as he turned on Edmund at Assandun and fled the field of battle.”

“Then let’s charge him with that!” Valdy said.  “The battle could have turned out different for Edmund if Eadric hadn’t turned and run off with the whole right flank of the English army!”

“Naw,” the Jarl drawled.  “The Prince had just arrived with two full legions of fresh Hraes’ troops.  The English were doomed.  But, of course, the English will never admit that.  The Saxons are the first to blame Eadric for the loss and it’s their earls we want to impress your power upon.  I like your idea.  We could probably get the Saxons to kill him for us too!”

“I could ask Earl Godwin if he wants to do it,” Valdy said.

“I was just kidding,” Jarl Eirik replied.  “I get to kill him!  I don’t want to be going into battle with anybody like him on my opposite flank.  We should off all the Mercian officers who fled too.  As an example for the rest!”

Valdamar and Eirik fleshed out the details of their plan and who was to be killed with Eadric and invitations were to be sent out to those who might not be coming to the King’s palace Christmas day and the plan grew to involve the king’s Exeyes officers and his personal Centuriata.  When Canute went home to Gyda in the Tower of London that night, he felt uneasy at how a simple murder had grown into a Christmas pageant.  He had wanted Earl Eadric ‘Streona’ quietly poisoned in Oxford solely to allow Aelfgifu’s family in Northampton to be able to expand their control of Mercia and now it was turning into an overt execution of English earls that could very well run out of control.  After he’d had sex with Gyda, he told her about his concerns with the new plan for killing Earl Eadric, but Gyda liked the plan.  It was bold and daring and more fitting of a great king and it also kept her ‘mother’ out of harm’s way.

“We’ll have to execute him here, at the Tower of London,” Valdy warned her.  “It is our official prison after all.”

“You’re not killing him here!” Gyda told him.  “Our children play out in the yard here!  You kill him right in your palace!”

“Can I at least put his head on a pike here, atop one of the towers?”

“After the children have gone to bed,” Gyda allowed him.  “And it has to be gone in the morning.”

When King Canute returned to Winchester two days later, he brought Princess Gyda and the children with him.  Princess Aelfgifu was not pleased when Valdamar showed up with an imprisoned assassin under his wing, as it were.  “Prince Hraerik advised me to find her a husband,” Valdy explained to her, “so she can live a normal life.”

“The Prince is a very wise man,” Aelfgifu responded.  “I think we have many fine young earls in England for her to choose from.”

When Prince Hraerik and Queen Emma came up from Southampton to visit, Canute went through his new plan with them.  Nobody came to the earl’s defence; there was no defending ‘the Grasper’.  Then Valdy told Hraerik that he was going to follow his advice and find Princess Gyda a husband.  Queen Emma mentioned a few young earls and princes in Southampton and Kent that were available and Valdy added them to the list of Mercian earls that Aelfgifu had given him and while they were discussing the best likely candidates, Earl Godwin arrived at Winchester palace from Sussex and he saw Princess Gyda playing with children in the palace gardens and he instantly fell in love with her.  She was lovely and looked so gentle surrounded by the young children; he had no idea she was a trained assassin.

King Canute noticed that his protégé, Earl Godwin was spending more time around Winchester than usual so Canute decided he’d leave Godwin in charge of Wessex while he and his family were up in London town.  He did not want to leave a Wessex earl in charge of the district, lest a rebellion should result, so, a young Sussex earl from a minor family with few alliances seemed a safe alternative.  Earl Godwin jumped at the chance but was then disappointed when he learned that Princess Gyda would be going back to London with the king’s great entourage.  “Will Princess Gyda be returning with you after Christmas?” young Godwin asked, hopefully.

“I think she’ll be staying in London,” Canute answered.  “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason.  We talk in the garden sometimes when she plays with the children.”

“You do realize that those are her children.”

“Oh, I know.  But she’s also told me that she isn’t married so I thought it proper that we could just talk.”

“Well, there’s no harm in just talking,” Canute responded.  “I’ll have a talk with her and see if she wants to come back soon.”

It was the first inkling that Valdy had that Godwin was in love with Gyda.  He thought about her mother, Princess Gunhild of Wend, and how he had met her a few times when she was a young woman in Poland and he had just conquered provinces there.  She had been the youngest of King Burizleif’s three beautiful daughters and looked to be on tack to surpass her sisters in comeliness.  Then he realized just how beautiful Princess Gyda had become at Winchester, under the two Aelfgifu’s tutelage.  She was no longer a woman in black blending into backgrounds, but a princess in royal blue with bouncing raven black locks that framed her beautiful face and danced on her ivory shoulders.  Valdamar couldn’t wait to get her back to the Tower of London and her punishments there.

The princes, earls and jarls of England began drifting into London for the Christmas celebrations and Yule festivities.  The inns were all booked up.  The stables of the city were being rented out to the commoners and, no doubt, there would be a few births taking place within their stalls.  Both Queen Emma and Princess Aelfgifu were ready to pop.  King Canute was spending an inordinate amount of time at the Tower of London instead of within his palace with Aelfgifu.  The princess, though burdened with child, became even more determined to find Gyda a quick match and Emma helped her, though she was spending time with Hraerik at her own palace.  But when Princess Gyda was introduced to young princes, earls, and jarls, she always seemed to be mentally comparing them against young Earl Godwin in both conversation and looks and she realised that she had developed some affection for the Sussex earl.  She was, foremost, an assassin, trained to be cold and aloof, yet every young royal she met in London just could not seem to match her Godwin in manners, features, and the types of things she liked to talk about.  And there were a lot of young men in London that went out of their way to be introduced to the beautiful princess.

When Princess Gyda’s ‘mother’ arrived in London with Earl Eadric’s group, they all stayed in his estate house in London, so Gyda seldom saw her but she worried that she might still be called upon to poison ‘the Grasper’, so, she borrowed a proper Frankish chef from Queen Emma’s entourage and sent him to Earl Eadric’s estate looking for work and her ‘mother’ was quickly fired and replaced.  Gyda told the older woman in black that she did it because she needed help handling Canute’s ‘Pink Monster’ now that Princess Aelfgifu was immobilized with child.  She had no idea that Valdamar’s increased sexual attention to her was the result of his sudden realization of just how beautiful she had become.  He continued to punish the older woman, but only if she asked for it, and he devoted more and more attention to Gyda until the princess had to beg the older woman in black to ask for it more often.

Queen Emma and Princess Aelfgifu both went into labour on the same December day, but they did not give birth on the same day.  Aelfgifu went into labour and quickly discharged a baby boy, but Emma’s labour dragged on into the early morning of the next day before she finally disgorged a baby girl.  “I thought you said your Alchemists’ drug was going to make it easy,” she gasped to Hraerik.

“I believe I said it would make you feel younger,” Hraerik said.  “How long were your labours when you were younger?”

“They were long!”

The Aesir Yule festivities ran from December twenty first to New Year’s Day, what the Christians referred to as the twelve days of Christmas, but the Christians officially only celebrated December twenty fifth, Christmas Day, so, King Canute had a special celebration planned for that day.  Invitations had been sent out to all the prominent people of England and they began filtering into the king’s great palace hall in the afternoon.  A splendid early supper was provided the guests with a multi course meal, Frankish sparkling wines and Khazar Vayar.  After the meal, King Canute announced that he had received many requests from the ealdormen of England that recognition be given to certain veterans of the Battle of Assandun.  There was cheering throughout the hall until Canute read off the list of veterans that were to be honoured.  Northman Leofwineson was first, followed by a number of his lieutenants, all of whom had commanded the English right flank at Assandun and then came Earl Eadric ‘Streona’ of Mercia.  The younger officers came forward, thinking to receive some land title or another, but Eadric knew when his name was called as regarded Assandun, it would not be for honours or gifts.  Even during King Edmund’s general retreat to the Severn, Saxon earls had been calling for Eadric’s head, claiming his flight had cost them their victory.  He got up and as the others moved forward, he moved back, toward the rear exit.  But Jarl Eirik was waiting for the earl just outside the exit and he came back in with Earl Eadric by the scruff of his neck.  He threw him to the floor in front of King Canute, who announced to the crowd that Earl Eadric ‘Streona’ of Mercia had been found guilty by a jury of his peers of deserting his post as leader of the right flank of the English army at the Battle of Assandun and was to suffer death by beheading for treason against his king.  The jarl’s men held the earl down as a chopping block was brought into the hall and was placed under his head, then Jarl Eirik swung a great axe and lopped off the head of the treacherous earl.  Captain Northman and two of his lieutenants were ordered to suffer the same fates and their heads were soon lying beside Eadric’s, but the lesser officers were ordered to be immediate exiles from England and would suffer that fate as well if they ever returned to the land.

King Canute had the traitors heads mounted on pikes and he, himself, took Earl Eadric’s head to the Tower of London, as his Centuriata bore the three others in procession behind him.  The Tower of London had a square outer wall with a tower at each corner, but, where a massive main tower was to have been located in the center of the enclosed compound, he had built a three story palace for his women in black, so, he mounted one head atop each corner tower with Eadric’s head getting the prominent location facing Canute’s palace where it had been lost.  He sent his Centuriata back to the feast with word for the festival to carry on and Canute joined Princess Gyda in bed.  She was beautiful lying there asleep, her raven hair splashed about her pretty face, so he stripped naked and slipped between the sheets.  He found that she too was naked so he availed himself of her while she slept.  He knew that he had awakened her, that no woman could sleep through the grand entrance the ‘Pink Monster’ made of itself, but she played her part by sleeping and coming and calling out the names of the gods profanely, “Fock me, Odin!” or “Thrust Harder my Thor!” or “Tryst me, Tyr” while she came, until Canute flowed hard and heavy within her.  When the guard changed early in the morning they bore away the heads from the towers and stood them along the main street of London, Watling Street, for all to see and know what happens to those who commit treason against their king.

Princess Aelfgifu remained in the King’s palace with her new baby and her children and King Canute kept spending nights with Princess Gyda until she begged her mother for help.  The old woman in black asked Canute to spend the night with her.  When he asked, “Would you like it rough?” she gulped and told him, “Yes, some like it rough!”  She’d had it rough with the sailors on the wharfs of London before King Athelred had found her and her daughter and had turned them into his trained assassins, but rough with the ‘Pink Monster’ took it up a level.  Pain and pleasure merged as one and she relished the feeling as her spy training taught her to blend the pain into the pleasure, but she despised the feeling when she could barely walk later.  The two lovers thrashed about the room for an hour until Valdamar was fully sated and they rested together on her huge bed.

“Why couldn’t you kill Princess Gyda when she was in her crib in Ipswich?” Valdy asked her as they rested.

“What?” the old woman gasped.

“Your mother had no qualms about putting a blade through the baby boy there.  Was it Gyda’s raven black hair that stayed your stroke?”

“How do you possibly know this?” she asked Valdamar.  “Not even King Athelred got the full report and I know my mother didn’t tell you and we were the only two who knew!”

“The goddess Irpa told my grandfather what you had done on Saint Brice’s Day of a thousand and two and also what you hadn’t done and he literally thanked the gods that you had spared the baby girl and had raised her as your own.”

“How long have you known this?”

“He learned of it the night after the Battle of Assandun,” Valdy said.  “I’m not going to tell her.”

“I hope not.  Maybe it was her hair.  It’s black like mine.  It could have been,” and she thought hard into the past and tried to see if that was it.

“At Castle Gainsborough we called the three of you ‘Sweyn’s women in black’ little knowing that you were going to assassinate him.  Your black hair blended into your black dresses and it seemed to make you almost invisible, as if you just blended into the background.”  Valdy brushed her black hair over her head and away from her face.  It was flecked with grey now.  “You are really quite beautiful, as is Gyda.”

“We followed the orders of our king,” she said, defensively, “and I hope you can forgive us for it.”

“I raped you following the orders of my king, my father,” Valdy replied.  “I hope you can forgive me.  It was King Sweyn, after he had died, who told us you had poisoned him, or we would have just thought your mother had focked him to death.  He was getting on, you know.”

“As we all are,” she replied.  “But how could he tell you this after death?”

“An Aesir witch talked with his spirit before it had fully left his body.”

“Aesir witches are the best!” she admitted.  “My mother fashioned herself a Vanir witch.  She professed to being Roman.  She told me we were Londoners from way back.  Our forefather had guarded the stone walls of London long before the new fyrds of London did during your sieges.”

“I imagine he guarded them just as fiercely.  Did he take a wife here?” Valdy asked, brushing her hair back once more.  He knew that she had been a whore on the wharfs of London, the daughter of a mother and daughter team that had gained repute for their acting and role playing while servicing sailors.  Enough to gain the attention of King Athelred, who had frequented the Thames whore houses long before he had met Queen Emma.

“He retired here in London after his twenty years’ service and he took a Briton girl to wife,” she started.  “He got land just outside the city, more land than if he had retired in Rome, and he ran a farm worked by British slaves.  When the Angles came from Jutland and conquered the Britons after the Romans had left, he became the slave of his Anglish lord and just continued working his lord’s farm with his Briton slaves.  He no longer lived in London, but many Londoners lived outside London at that time.  When his offspring finally managed to get back into London, it was as Anglish slaves and we worked our way up to being whores.  But by then, Londoners were not just Angles anymore.  They were Britons and Romans and Angles and Saxons.  They were Londoners.  That is why the fierce fyrds of London, as you call them, never left their duty on the walls of London to fight elsewhere in England.  They were always Londoners first.  If you want to rule England, my king,” and she paused a moment for a look that would allow her to go on, and Valdy nodded to pry more from her, “you must first rule the Londoners, and for that, you must live here.”

“Sage advice,” Valdy agreed.  “To that end, I have been preening a young prince, an earl of Sussex to take over for me in Wessex.”

“That is wise, my king” she said and looked imploringly for a nod to go on.

“Please speak freely here.”

“It is wise to use an earl from Sussex or Essex to rule Wessex, for a local lord would only breed rebellion.  But even a Sussex lord must be tied to you by blood.”

“I am working on just that,” Valdy said.  “My grandfather also told me that Princess Gyda is innocent and that I must show her clemency, and to that end, I have built you a palace here instead of the austere tower the spirit of my father ordered.  King Sweyn had no idea that Gyda was kidnapped.”

“He still would have focked her,” she said.

“I know,” Valdamar admitted.  He was struggling with that very same problem now.  “But it does help me grant clemency, and to that end I have also stopped raping you.  He ordered me to have your mother focked to death as punishment for his murder, but he wanted me to slowly, violently, rape you to death and for Gyda he wanted me to rape her for the rest of her life.  That is what his spirit ordered.  The Prince has requested more than just clemency and that is why there has been a sudden change in your treatment.  I hope the sex tonight wasn’t too rough.  If it is, let me know.”

“What sex?” she asked, innocently.  “Can we do it again?”

“I was hoping you’d ask, but first I must ask for your help on a few matters.  The Prince says I must find Princess Gyda a match so she can live a normal life and that means she would be leaving the Tower of London.  I just wanted to make sure you’re okay with that.”

“Oh, God yes,” she answered.  “Gyda deserves a normal life.  I should have just left her with her people, but Athelred may have learned that we’d shown mercy.  Perhaps it was her hair.  I just grabbed her up and put her against my breast and she’s been in my heart ever since.  But get her out of here!”

“Done!” Valdy said.  “You, however, I can never release.  But if you promise to serve me, I shall reduce your sentence to what was Gyda’s, only the rapes shall only occur when you request them and shall be only as rough as you wish them.”

“I promise to serve you,” she told her king.  “Now, what was your second request?”

“Ah…the second,” he thought out loud.  “Perhaps we should finish the first one first.  I promised the Prince I would find Gyda a match and I have since learned that the Sussex Earl Godwin I have been grooming seems to have fallen for Princess Gyda when I took her to Winchester with me.  While Winchester is a ways from London, it is still close enough that she could visit you often.  Would that be blood enough to stop any rebellion on Godwin’s part?”

“And Winchester is close enough for you to visit often?” she asked.  “Have you told anyone else about Gyda?”

“Only the Aesir witch and Jarl Eirik know, and they have sworn themselves to secrecy.  The Prince learned it from the goddess Irpa and he awaits my decision on the matter.”

“Don’t tell her,” she advised.  “Have Jarl Eirik adopt her and give her hand to Earl Godwin.  And only give her to Godwin if he is willing to share her with his lord.  I know you Knytling kings and you’re not likely to be able to keep your hands off of her for long.”

“Sage advice,” Valdy said again.  “Jarl Eirik will soon be returning to York.  Jarl Thorkel wishes to live in London while ruling nearby East Anglia.  Perhaps I should have him adopt Gyda?”

This news about Thorkel ‘the Tall’ caught the old woman in black by surprise and, even though locked up in the Tower of London, she prided herself in what she knew about London affairs and she warned, “I’ve never heard of an Anglian lord ruling the east from London.  Perhaps you’d best have him adopt Gyda for you, and have her watch her foster-father very closely for you.”

“Sage…” Valdy started.

“Don’t say it!” she blurted.

“Thank you,” Valdy said, “for taking me so literally when I said feel free to talk freely.”  And then he laughed to put her at ease once again.

“And your second request?” she asked.

“Did King Athelred ever send you to Denmark?”

“He sent us to Norway once, but that was two decades ago.  We did the prep work for Jarl Olaf Tryggvason’s taking of Norway.”

King Canute got up on one elbow and asked her, “You didn’t have anything to do with the latest Olaf’s taking of Norway, did you?  Olaf ‘the Stout’?”

“Only while King Athelred was alive,” she admitted.  “He was still my king, even though I was your prisoner.  When he died I ceased all further work against you,” and she put up her hands as if surrendering to him, “and now you are my king!”

“I swear,” Canute began, “I could have built that massive tower here and taken away the stairs and you’d still manage to gather intel on London.  At the risk of being censured for being repetitive, remind me to never piss you off!”

“You are my king now,” she reassured him.  “Edmund could have been my king, but he came to London during his retreat and then he left London to fend for herself.  Then you came up with your brilliant plan to share England with Edmund.”

“And within four weeks he was dead,” Valdy added.  “It took Athelred five weeks to poison my father!”

“Yes, but he was exiled in Normandy at the time,” she added.

“True that!” Valdy said, looking down at the silk sheet on the bed.

“But, had I known it was a race,” the woman in black said, “I would have killed Edmund in two weeks for you.  Now, who is it you would like me to kill in Denmark?”

“My half-brother, King Harald.  He refused to help me with the retaking of England.”

“Shall we get back to what we were doing?”

“Was it rough enough?” he asked.

“I’ll be sorry in the morning, but you could go up a level.”

“It’ll be rough,” he warned.

“Some like it rough!”

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:

A.D. 1017.  This year King Knute took to the whole government of

England, and divided it into four parts: Wessex for himself,

East-Anglia for Thurkyll, Mercia for Edric, Northumbria for Eric.

This year also was Alderman Edric slain at London, and Norman,

son of Alderman Leofwin, and Ethelward, son of Ethelmar the

Great, and Britric, son of Elfege of Devonshire.  King Knute also

banished Edwy etheling, whom he afterwards ordered to be slain,

and Edwy, king of the churls; and before the calends of August

the king gave an order to fetch him the widow of the other king,

Ethelred, the daughter of Richard, to wife.

The Prince Hraerik’s New Chronicle of the Hraes’ for the year read:

(1017 AD).  Ivaraslav took up his abode in Kiev, and in the same

year the churches were burned.