The Angry Mermaid 109 or Y Morforwyn Dicllon 109.
Our heroine once again finds herself advocating for one of her sisters as Earl Gorvan tries to force the issue of his contracted betrothal to Una.
The Angry mermaid 109
Y Morforwyn Dicllon 109
As Drustina sat at the table, Gisela kept prancing around behind her whilst trying to establish the same orientation as she peered intently over Drustina’s shoulder.
“I know that island of sheep. The Shetland they are at the very north end of Scotland.”
“And this bird paradise, do you know of that?”
“No,” Gisela readily admitted, “but I know the people of Faeroe eat both the birds and the eggs because the abundance makes them plentiful. Apart from that they feed on sheep and whales. They grow oats because wheat and barley won’t ripen. My father tried to capture the islands but failed and decided they weren’t worth the effort. Then he turned his attentions to Britia and Erin.”
“Yeeess,” Drustina mused softly before returning to St Brendan’s chart. “And this Crystal column, any ideas.”
“That’s easy. It’s an iceberg. They are like huge floating mountains of Ice. They seem to live around Groenland.”
“Mountains of ice?”
“Yes. They are huge, many times larger than our biggest ships. They are definitely real; all our travellers have met with them, far, far to the west.”
“Where do they come from?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the snow giants cut them with their war axes. The strange thing is that they move, then they stop, then they move again. Always they move south.”
“And where do they go? Why do they not appear in our seas?”
“They melt Lioness. Everybody knows that Ice melts.”
“Are you serious, they just melt?”
“That’s what our explorers say. They are said to come from the far north.”
“It seems a waste to create a mountain of ice and then just melt it in the sea. Sounds like one of the labours of Hercules. I wonder which poor ice god has that pointless task.”
“It could be a mountain god.” Gisela suggested.
“Well I suppose it would tally with Brendan’s accounts, he writes that the far north is bitterly cold and I can vouch for that from my experiences in Danemark. But why did he call them crystal pillars.”
“Ice is a crystal. It is a crystal of water.” Heliox remarked. “The Monk did not lie.”
Drustina stared at the compared charts.
“There are just too many similarities. There must be other lands far out across the great sea.”
“There are. Why do you doubt my words? Our explorers have come back with tales of wild peoples. Dark, swarthy people just like the fiends the monk describes.”
“Do you mean like the Moors of Carthage and Africus?”
“I’ve never seen a Moor.” Gisela confessed.
“Aye, that would figure. I suppose your lands are too cold for them.”
Carl tapped the table impatiently.
“Well, whether there are lands out there or not. We are not likely to be going there if you want to get home before the winter storms. I doubt any ship could survive the winds that make those great swells that roll in from the north and west. If those swells are just the tired old remains of the stormy seas then I for one will be giving them a wide berth.” He turned to Gisela. “Do your explorers go forth in the winter storms?”
“No. Definitely not; and if you set forth now, it would be long after winter before you returned - if you returned. Our explorers leave in the early spring and they return by the late autumn at the latest. Sometimes they are away for two years.”
“Two years. The Vikings could have overrun the whole of Britannia by then.” Drustina frowned. “We’ll have to forget any ideas of crossing the great sea.”
“Thank the gods for that!” Carl replied as Heliox and Udris nodded their heads. “We’ve trouble enough in our own lands.”
They gathered up the charts and handed them to the Abbey Librarian who took them to the bishop and the abbot. Drustina smiled to herself as she wondered what spectacular and magical embellishments the monks would add to their copies of her working charts. She warned them not to add a single pen stroke to her precious portfolio.
“Just copy them and return them; the sooner the better.”
The following day the whole city was in high good humour as the preparations for the victory celebrations went ahead. Drustina and Carl decided to avoid the tumult and sneaked away to ride in the surrounding country while Gisela, like any teen-aged girl, savoured the mood of excitement throughout the town. They returned in the evening to enjoy the feast and were naturally invited to the high table. There Drustina and Carl were pressured to tell tales of their adventures until weariness overtook them and they felt compelled to make their excuses. King Dal and his queen followed the pair as they threaded their way between the dancers. The king turned to his wife.
“They make a handsome couple.”
Queen Gwynlen smirked.
“I wonder though what brought them together. I don’t understand how he can accept a creature who is neither man nor woman and yet both.”
“Well they go back many years. They met in the Iberian wars when she rescued him and his companions from a Corsair slave galley. Were you not listening when we dined? That’s where she got that flensing scar down her forearm.”
“But she’s a freak.”
“What, are you telling me you despise her?”
“That’s the strangest part Dal darling. Despite her grotesque deformities, I cannot dislike her. She is such wonderful company.”
“To you ladies she may seem like that but to men on the battlefield she is salvation. Under that lustrous hair there ticks the mind of a soldier, a general, a tactician and strategist; not to mention a hero. Just be thankful Gwynlen, for she saved our necks and our kingdom.”
“But there will be a price to pay if she is to succeed with her ambition ... to drive the Vikings from her homeland.”
“Then good lady, it is a price I and our son are prepared to pay; for if she breaks the Viking stranglehold on Northern Britain, she will by default also break the Vikings in Hibernia. Come let us also away to bed. Leave to the young ones to dance the night through. Look at your future daughter in law my lady; see how she and the Viking girl and even our own daughters tease the young bucks. But for the lioness those girls would be on a Viking long-ship heading for slavery or servitude. Count your blessings dear for all of them are alive and laughing on that dance floor.”
Queen Gwynlen nodded soberly, like all women she full well knew the fate that awaited female captives at the Viking’s hands. She followed her husband to the royal guest chambers while the great hall rang to the sound of music and young laughter.
The clatter of hooves woke Drustina and she reluctantly extricated her leg from between Carl’s powerful thighs. He stirred and muttered as she slid out of bed and stepped to the window.
“What is it?” He asked.
“A company of riders — men at arms; and armed. I don’t recognise their banner.”
Carl dragged himself to the window and concurred.
“Neither do I. The captain of the guard seems to have it in hand though. He’s talking to the leader. Come on, back to bed girl, there’s unfinished business.”
He pressed his maleness into the cleft of her bum and she squeaked licentiously then rejoined him between the covers to resume activities. They were still indulging their marital privileges when a knock on the door disturbed them.
“Dammit! Go away!” Drustina shouted through the door while muttering under her breath to Carl.
“By the gods! Can there be no peace or privacy!”
The knocking continued more urgently then a voice declared.
“The King requests your presence in the great hall.”
Carl cursed and lurched angrily towards the door. He stood glaring at the young officer whilst only wearing a lungi to cover his modesty.
“Dammit cannot a couple have any peace! What is it now?”
The officer saluted Carl and explained.
“The Earl of Gorvan is here protesting the nullification of his betrothal to the girl Una Dalgliesh.”
“Cannot the King sort it?” Drustina grumbled.
“The king says there needs to be independent witnesses. A person or persons who are neither of our people nor Earl Gorvan’s. He is from the kingdom of O’Niell. The higher the rank of the witness, the better. You are a queen; that is more than rank enough.”
“Who are the O’Niells?” Drustina wondered.
The officer explained.
“The O’Neill’s rule the kingdom to the north of Connacht. They used to rule from Ulster to Baile Atha Claith before the Vikings drove them out of the east. Now they only rule Ulster but that’s still a large kingdom.”
Drustina rolled her eyes and muttered a soft curse. She had been truly enjoying the rare moment of privacy and tenderness with Carl. It was not often that they shared a whole night of uninterrupted privacy. Reluctantly she acceded.
“Oh all right then. Let me get dressed for the God’s sakes!”
As she dressed Carl asked her.
“Why the battle clothes?”
“Why not? After witnessing this business, we’ve got to be leaving soon if we are to make our way around Hibernia and back to Sotona. The weather deteriorates with every week and winter will soon be upon us.”
“D’you want me with you?”
“Come if you want. It’ll be interesting to see what this earl looks like.”
They finished dressing and Carl frowned as he watched Drustina slip the double daggers into the scabbard under her bust.
“Why?” He asked.
“You never know. You heard what the bishop said about him possibly killing his father. He sounds like a man who might go further than anticipated in trying to win his argument. Besides, I feel undressed without these. Oh, and another thing. I noticed he was dressed for battle when he appeared at the gates. Thinking on that, I think I’ll take my sword as well. “
“Seems a bit provocative. I’ll respect the king’s peace, at least inside his castle anyway. I’ll forego the weapons.”
“Your choice. If the king asks, I can say I was preparing to go down to the ships anyway. The officer didn’t actually set eyes on me just now. Come on; let’s get this over and done with.”
They rejoined the officer outside the bedroom door and he escorted them to the King’s court. When they entered, King Dal looked up and smiled with what Drustina thought looked like relief.
“Ah, Lioness; so glad you’re here. May I introduce his lordship the Earl of Gorvan.”
Drustina smiled at the earl as she acknowledged his presence.
“Good morning earl. I’m told you require a witness.”
“Witness be dammed! I want my betrothal to the woman Una Dalgliesh reinstated. I have a signed contract here!”
Drustina said nothing. She had long ago learned that bombastic, argumentative people usually dug their own graves. She glanced towards King Dal with an expression of quiet expectancy. The king frowned for he felt Drustina had some agenda but he just could not fathom it. Instead he returned to the furious earl.
“My Lord Gorvan, I have already ruled that the contract has been voided. I am quite sure you will receive adequate compensation for your troubles and journey costs.”
The Earl was still restrained enough to address the king by his proper title but Drustina could see that he was getting angrier. He replied to the king.
“But your Majesty. The deal was struck in good faith. I would take the girl off Dalgliesh’s hands because she was of little account and unlikely to find a suitable spouse.”
Drustina interrupted softly just to add spice to the pot.
“So you saying that if you and her father both agreed she would not find a suitable spouse then she would have to married to an unsuitable one?”
Earl Dorvan stopped dead.
“No that’s not what I meant.”
“Well it seems to me that’s what you implied. Might I ask why you and her father thought she would not find a ‘Suitable Spouse’?
She left a quizzical emphasis on the last two words.
“Well the girl is illegitimate, she is deemed by her father to be immoral and promiscuous.”
“Have you ever met the girl?” Drustina pressed.
“No. I saw her in their garden when she was twelve years olf but I have not seen her since.”
“Have you ever spoken to her?”
“So why then do you wish for this girl’s hand. A girl you have never met or spoken to and yet is reported to you as an illegitimate, promiscuous and immoral bastard.”
“A man needs a wife. I contracted to take her off her father’s hands, so that he would be rid of her.”
“But you never asked the girl.” Drustina inquired.
“What d’you mean, ‘asked the girl’!? I paid my contract price for her.”
“What, you mean you paid for her like you’d pay for a sheep or a horse or a slave?”
“I paid for a contract.”
“Which the girl — shall we call her Una for she has a name — which Una never signed.”
“Her father signed it, she was obviously too young!”
“If she was too young to sign the contract, then there is no contract, she was not qualified to sign it and indeed, she did NOT sign it.”
The earl cursed and turned angrily to the king.
“Oh this is rubbish your majesty. Are you going to let the law be dictated by a mere woman?”
“The law is the law Lord Gorvan, irrespective of who advocates it. I simply enforce the law. It appears there is no contract between the lady Una and yourself.”
“But her father...”
“Is not empowered to sign a contract denying another their free choice.” King Dal finished the Earl’s sentence. “ Besides, you said it yourself, she is a bastard child of a Viking rape and Sean Dalgliesh does not have full parental rights to sign on her behalf. His wife, I am told, does; for the girl is her blood despite being conceived in rape!”
Earl Gorvan’s jaw worked furiously as he struggled to compose himself and find an alternative argument. Then his eyes glittered as he thought he’d found a way through. He turned to King Dal.
“Do you still respect the laws of combat in your kingdom?”
Dal was about to reply but paused as he saw where Gorvan might be going.
“Provided there is a legal and proper reason for the combat, yes.”
“Then might I issue a challenge?”
Dal turned uncertainly to glance towards Drustina who had now slipped un-noticed to stand behind the Earl and beside the king’s desk. Dal remained worried for he could see his son Dorvan’s life being lost if the Earl challenged the lad who was still not in his full manhood. The silence became oppressive as Dal sought an escape. He was at a loss to find a way out then he noticed Drustina scribbling something on a parchment. The king realised Drustina had something secret to convey so he played for time by asking for a book to be brought from the royal library. This gave Drustina time to finish her note and slip it to the king’s secretary as he walked past her towards the library. Drustina signalled to the secretary to leave the note unseen inside the law book when he returned. The earl had seen none of this activity and he stood arrogant and confident of his right to combat.
The secretary took several minutes before returning because he had been finding the relevant legal page and rules ... and drying the ink on Drustina’s note; he had also read it and grinned to himself.
“No wonder she’s a warrior queen!’ He grinned to himself. ‘She’s clever!’
When he returned, he carried the tomb reverently and presented it to the king then opened it at the relative page concerning combat. King Dal felt a wave of relief as he first read Drustina’s note then saw her remarks confirmed on the same page the secretary had pre-opened.
“It would appear your dispute is mainly with the Lady Una, not her suitor. As a lady, she has a right to choose her champion to support her argument. I suggest we fetch the lady here and she can make her feelings felt. Lioness, might I respectfully ask you to bring the young Lady Una here?”
The Earl of Gorvan hesitated then asked to sight the book and check the king’s interpretations. Dal took the note and put it aside then presented the book to the Earl for his perusal. The earl growled but reluctantly had to accept the King’s interpretation.
“Very well your Majesty. Her Champion it shall be.”
The earl had concluded that Una would choose her royal beau and had Drustina not been sent to fetch the girl that is probably what Una would have done. As they returned to the Royal court Drustina explained.
“He has asked for the rule of combat to challenge your suitor.”
“What, you mean he wishes to fight Dorvan?”
Drustina nodded and Una’s eye glistened with fear. The Lioness quickly reassured the girl.
“King Dal has accepted his challenge but cleverly interpreted the law to rule that Gorvan’s fight is not with your suitor but with you. The legal argument is about the contract made illegally on your behalf by your father and the earl. You wish to break the contract and you have a legal right to do that. If you broke the contract legally, your father would have to pay the Earl compensation and King Dal explained that to the Earl. However, the Earl asked for trial by combat and this means you are allowed to choose your champion.”
“But my champion would have to be Prince Dorvan!” Una sobbed.
“No it doesn’t!” Drustina replied equally emphatically. "As an unmarried maid, you can choose any champion you like. You have not yet publically declared your betrothal to Dorvan nor is it yet a matter of record and contract. A contract I hasten to add, that would require your signature.”
Una’s sobs subsided but she was still worried.
“So who would I ask for a champion. The Earl has something of a reputation for violence.”
“Violence; yes. But how is he at full combat?”
“I don’t know.” Una replied honestly. “I’ve never attended at the butts.”
“Well enough of that for now, dry your tears and we’ll present to the king. Come on.”
Una’s eyes were still red-rimmed when they entered the King’s chamber but her beauty was still such to cause men to stop in astonishment. After she had curtsied to the king, she turned to Earl Gorvan who stared stupefied before he recovered his speech.
“By all the saints! You have grown girl and might I say how well.”
Ordinarily, such a compliment would have caused Una’s heart to sing but in the current circumstance she struggled to suppress her shudder. It was all she could do to respond courteously.
“Why thank you your lordship.” Was all she managed before turning to King Dal.
“Your majesty Her Majesty the Lioness of Carthage informs me I am summoned here to choose my champion for I am told the Earl Gorvan wished to win me by force of arms.”
Dal smiled first to reassure her.
“Not necessarily young lady. Firstly I have to hear you declare whether you wish to Marry Earl Gorvan or not.”
“Most definitely not your majesty.”
“Very well maid. You obviously cannot fight the Earl yourself but you have the right to choose a champion. I must inform you that if your champion is defeated then you are perforce to accept the Earls proposal. I would advise you to choose your champion wisely.”
Una felt her belly sag with fear and responsibility. King Dal noted her de-composure and added.
“You have a day to choose my lady, meanwhile I shall endeavour to persuade Earl Gorvan to renounce his proposal.”
Even as he turned with a questioning glance towards the Earl, the king was saddened to see the greedy intransigence hardening the Earl’s gaze. There was little doubt that Una’s beauty made her a rare prize indeed. The king turned with disappointment to the Lioness.
“Will you help her choose her champion?”
Drustina nodded and led the shaking Una away. Once they were back in Drustina’s apartments she called her companions around her then put her arm around Una’s shoulders. There she spoke quietly to everybody.
“Firstly Prince Dorvan, I would strongly advise you not to accept Una’s behest that you champion her cause. The Earl is only looking to destroy you and take what he thinks is his.”
Dorvan tensed but stayed silent. If there was one thing he had learned it was that the Lioness was wise beyond her years. His eyes strayed to Carl who sensed the expectations in both Dorvan’s and Una’s gaze. Carl replied.
“I’ll fight him if you wish. It would please me to put such a thug in his place ... that is six feet under.”
“And well you might Saxon." Drustina grinned. "I do believe you could defeat him but I have a more subtle plan.”
Carl turned and canted his head knowingly.
“Go on Dru, this is going to be good.”
“I believe I can defeat him with speed and agility.”
Una gasped as Dorvan protested.
“No my lady, no, no! You are but a woman, he will only have to lay against you and force you down by weight alone.”
Drustina smiled, as did Carl, Heliox and Udris.
“If you doubt my skill with my sword Dear Prince. Let us away to the butts and have a duel. Not to the death of course, for that defeats the object but suffice to convince you of my combativeness. “
“Surely not my lady! Are you serious?”
“Never more so.” Drustina grinned. “Go and gird whatever armour you normally don for war.”
The prince cast about the others and sensed he was being set up for they had failed to completely mask their knowing smirks. As he went to get prepared, he turned to Carl as the light began to dawn in his head.
“Is she really that good Saxon?”
“You’ll see lad. Just don’t lose your head and keep calm.”
Dorvan returned with a suite of armour that betrayed his frequent attendance at the butts for it bore dents and scratches from numerous duels both training and competition. Drustina joined him with little additional accoutrements save a shaped breast plate and a light helmet with her hair tightly tucked inside. Dorvan objected.
“But Lioness, you are not protected enough, if I just inadvertently touch you too hard, you could be cut unintentionally.”
Drustina smiled before replying.
“First you must touch me Dorvan. This is a big field, plenty of room to dodge and duck.”
Inevitably word of the friendly duel had escaped and several dozen of the king’s men had turned up to watch. They knew their young prince was a fair hand with the sword and the mace but of the Lioness they knew little or nothing. Curiosity was the main element around the field.
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