“You are very pensive today, min deore,” Harold said when he and Eadgyth, having broken their fast that Sunday morn, attended mass with everyone in Waltham present to welcome their lord home. He was surveying the work in progress, the new Church of the Holy Rood. Harold had commissioned the new church to replace the old ramshackle building in thanksgiving for surviving a serious illness when he had been younger. His mother had prayed for him at the altar in the old church for his recovery and it was where he had first met Eadgyth and fallen in love with her as she had tended him when he was sick. He had made the oath to rebuild the old church in new finery some years ago, inspired by King Edward’s work on his own project, the great church of St Peter in Westminster.
The children skipped around them with Ranulf acting as their guardian and although the day which had started bright with sunshine and blue sky was now cloudy with a chill in the air, there was nothing but warmth between them as Eadgyth held on to her husband as if he were nothing more than a vision that would soon vaporise into thin air if she didn’t.
Eadgyth had been preoccupied, vague and hardly participating in her usual effervescent manner. Harold’s head canon, Adelard and the chief stonemason, a Frenchman called Robert Deschamps showed them around the half built church, explaining in his captivating style the machinations of the work. But Eadgyth seemed lost in a world of her own and although she was educated, knew how to converse very well in the French language that they were all speaking, she maintained a low profile throughout. As the party had paused to admire the building, the laughter of the children echoing as they skipped around the stone foundations and the half built walls, Harold stopped and leaned in closely to her and repeated what he had said to her earlier which had gone ignored. “Min Deore, you are lost in a world beyond here, what ails you this morning?” He emphasised ‘you’ as if he were referencing his own brooding manner from the previous night.
She turned dreamy eyes toward him and they were moist, as if ready to break into tears. “’Tis nothing, Harold...” She hesitated as if there were more.
Harold lowered his chin and raised thick brown eyebrows that contrasted to the lightness of his hair. So attuned to each other’s nature were they, that each one could read the other’s mood like a missive.
“Nothing is ever nothing when it is nothing,” Harold said, his voice low and encouraging.
“There is something that I wish to say to you, but I do not know where to begin,” she stated.
“Then say it, Sweeting. What is it?”
“Nay, I cannot here. Not with company around us.”
“Then let us walk,” he suggested. And he indicated to Skalpi that he wanted to be alone with his wife to walk back to their manor, knowing that the children would be safe with their nurse and Ranulf and the rest of his companions.
They walked on ahead and Eadgyth diverted to a peaceful place where she thought they could be in private for a while to talk. She had thought of nothing else all morning, all through the mass and then as they walked around their new church.
“I want you to marry,” she said after a few moments of silence. Her voice was confident. They sat by the mill pond on the wooden seating that Harold himself had made so that she could go there with the children when the weather was good.
For a moment, sitting beside her, it was as if he hadn’t heard her, for he didn’t move or make any acknowledgement. She heard him breathe and wondered if he was ever going to answer her. “It is the only way,” she said.
He looked at her, bemused. “My love,” he said and he gave a little laugh that sounded fake. “What on earth has gotten into you? Have you tired of me already?”
She shook her head and put her hand in his. “Never, never, never ever would I tire of you, my Lord. It is not for me that I ask this, for I could never imagine being without you... and you have, not ever in our time together, given me cause to be displeased with you, or want to be away from you. It is for Wulfnoth and Hakon that I ask this.” She paused and showed him intensity of her pale blue eyes that betrayed the self-assurance of her voice.
He was looking at her with sudden understanding of the sacrifice she was attempting. “Eadgyth, lufestre, there is no point in asking this of me for I will not marry, not while I have you.”
“Even if it would get Hakon and Wulfhnoth back?”
“How would my marrying someone else help?” he asked.
“If you were to marry one of those women your sister is always urging you to marry, someone whose family could get you the influence you need at the court of the Duke – perhaps even the Duke’s niece, Judith. I have heard her name mentioned at court, or perhaps one of the Duke’s daughters, Agatha or something. Then the boys would be bound to come home.”
He looked at her with an amused smile and taking her hand to his lips, said: “You are such a clever little bee. I would never have thought of this idea myself.”
“Oh you!” she cried, smiling at his gentle teasing. “So why not do it then?” She gave him a playful slap on his upper arm and he winced, clasping the spot, pretending it had hurt.
“You want me to do this?” he asked. He was looking at her seriously.
“One day I will lose you Harold, we have always known that. If I have to lose you to another woman, then I would rather you did it for the boys.” She looked away and wiped the corner of her eye where a tear had formed. “It would make it easier...”
For a moment, Harold set his lips together and sighed. She did not look at him, but sensed that he was frowning. “You say this to me?” he asked suddenly, but it was not a question, more of a statement. “After all that we have meant to each other – I thought you knew me, Eadgyth. I thought you knew me better than myself! But I must have been wrong to think that, for if it were true, then you know I would never leave you for anyone else.” He stood and took a few steps away from her. Her words had made him angry.
She and Harold rarely exchanged heated words. When they had first met, she had thought him conceited and brash and mistook his outward show of self-confidence as arrogance. The second time she was to meet him, he was lying close death, grateful that she had taken the time to bathe him, change his soiled sheets and spoon feed him like a child. She had grown to love him in the months that followed and although she fought against it, he had won her heart. She came to know that she had loved him from the moment he brazenly kissed her hand with those mocking blue eyes of his gazing at her like some lecherous rogue. She just hadn’t realised it. Since she had agreed to become his handfastned wife, there had been very few times like this, where either one had hurt the other. Now it made her feel uncomfortable. She went to him and from behind, put her arms around him. He tautened, but did not pull away.
“If I have hurt you, my Lord, then please forgive me. It was not my intention,” she whispered as a lone tear rolled down her cheek. “I was trying to make it easier for us...”
“Easier?” he swung around and faced her, his face creased in a frown. “First you tell me to marry, then you tell me you could bear it if it was for Wulfnoth and Hakon. Do you think that when I said to you I would never marry anyone as long as I have you, that I did not mean it?”
“Harold, please, do not be angry with me. You said when you told me you wanted me to be your handfastned wife, that as the son of an earl, you may one day need to make an official alliance at the behest of the King for the sake of the kingdom. I have known all these years that we are together on borrowed time.”
“That was then, before I knew that our hearts and souls would always be as one. I couldn’t have known then that I would not want to put you aside, as I do not now.”
“But it will happen one day Harold –”
“And have I not resisted any attempts the King or my sister has made to wed me to some foreign princess?” She made to protest again, but he caught her shoulders. “I wish I could shake some sense into you, my beautiful, selfless Swannehaels!”
“Please, my love, do not be angry with me,” she cried, throwing herself into his arms. “I only thought of it because I saw how unhappy you were for Wulfnoth and Hakon.”
He stroked her hair. “My lady has been told that she need never worry, for she will never lose her lord, no matter what happens. You and the children are all I could ever need, Eadgyth. You are the one most constant in my life and will always be.”
As they stood there, in the strengthening wind, locked within each other’s arms, his words comforted her. She felt a sense of relief that although she would have been prepared for it, she didn’t have to lose him. Not right then, anyhow.
The Wolf Banner is the sequel to Sons Sons of the Wolf which you can purchase on Amazon UK/Com and Waterstones, The World Book Depository and Barnes and Noble.
Photograph care of Rich Price