(Book is still on the writing table...)
Beorn leaned over toward Harold and Tostig as they waited for the
Witenagemot of 1047
to begin. "I heard that Swegn has gone on to Denmark without
getting your father's permission,"
Tostig smirked. "And he is furious about it, I can tell you.
He has sworn to leave my
to his own devices."
"It's about time," Beorn answered. "He has caused Godwine
more trouble than a pack of
He glanced across the room, where Godwine was deep in
discussion with Earl Seward.
Danish Earl was nodding uncertainly. Just then the King entered, and the
surveyed the assembly before he sat down next to Godwine.
"The first order of business," he said, "is to determine
what to do with the vacant earldom,
now that Swegn Godwineson has been banished." He could not forbear
a triumphant glance at
"After giving the matter much thought, I have divided it
three ways. Herefordshire will
under the control of my cousin, Ralf de Mantes. Oxfordshire will
henceforth be annexed
Beorn's territory. And Gloucestershire will be given to Earl Harold."
Harold and Beorn exchanged smiling glances. Tostig bit his
lips, turning a dark red; he had
expected the earldom to go to himself.
But Godwine had only eyes for Leofric, whose baleful stare
promised trouble. The Earl of
Mercia started to get up but thought better of it, balling his
hands into fists. It was no secret that
Leofric resented so much of England's rule going to the house of
Godwine. From the river
in Yorkshire, south and west all around the coast of England, Godwine
choicest ports, the largest cities. This left Leofric with a little
chunk of land bordering the Welsh
marches and the Mid-lands.
He saw this as no fair division, and it was getting worse
all the time. Godwine still had four
more sons; were there going to be earldoms for all them as well? What of
Leofric's son, Aelfgar? Knowing the consternation he was
causing, Edward nevertheless pointedly ignored Leofric.
Nothing was permanent, the King thought. In time, Godwine will have
enough rope to hang
and he will take his greedy sons with him.
But Leofric knew nothing of the King's thoughts. All he
could see was favoritism, and he
promised himself – not for the first time – that he would do
everything he could to frustrate
"The next matter is the Danish question. Earl Godwine will
present his argument." The
leaned back, listening while some of his Norman friends whispered in his
"King Svein Estrithson is presently in great need of our
help. Magnus of Norway has been
very successful with his incursions into Danish territory. Already
he has overrun Jutland and
Sjaelland, leaving Svein only Scania. I propose we send fifty ships
to his aid, before Magnus has
complete control over all of Denmark as well as Norway." Leofric
was the first to jump to his feet.
absurd! Why risk English blood over a foreign cause?" Many in the room
Godwine remained calm. "Who risked his ships and men to save
us last year, when
threatened to invade
If it wasn't for Svein's intervention, we might this day
be Norwegian subjects."
Edward frowned; the room was silent.
Godwine went on, "If Magnus gains undisputed control of
Denmark, he will surely turn his
attention back to us. This is not a foreign war, I say!" Godwine's
voice filled the room without
having to shout.
Leofric was still on his feet. "And I say that Godwine wants
to expend our men and riches
secure the throne for his own nephew! We all know that his renegade son
has joined Svein's
Do we really want to support such as him?"
The room resounded with shouts of agreement. Godwine sat
down, deflated. His career –
his influence – destroyed by the reckless act of one son. He
couldn't look at Edward; Godwine
knew that the King would be savoring his humiliation.
Edward stood, hand out. "Then it is decided? We will not
give aid to Svein? Let us put it
to a vote."
Godwine had to try one more time. "Remember," he said, "if
my predictions are true
and Magnus does attack, we do not have the means to defend
ourselves against him."
This time the murmurs were thoughtful. Godwine had struck at
the heart of the problem,
and they knew he was right. Magnus was a powerful force at sea, and
his navy was more
than triple what
But when the vote came, it was overwhelmingly against
Godwine's proposal. Leofric
had carried the day. Even Seward voted against Godwine.
During the feast afterward, it seemed that nearly everyone
was in a bad mood. Godwine
ate silently, scowling. Queen Editha felt sorry for her father; she
knew what the Danish
campaign meant to him. Tostig didn't eat at all, but filled his
goblet again and again, emptying
it each time in one draught. Seward was deep in thought, and
Leofric found himself glaring
at Godwine every couple of minutes.
Only Harold and Beorn were celebrating, and their good mood
was shared by Edward,
who was pleased with himself for winning the day against Godwine.
Catching Harold's eye,
the King gave him a toast.
"Here's to you, Harold, and may you ever continue in
Harold stood and bowed, enjoying himself. He didn't see
Tostig jump unsteadily to his
feet and lunge toward him, grabbing him by the hair.
"It's always Harold, isn't it?" Tostig roared, and pulled
his hair viciously with both hands.
Harold was off-balance, and couldn't right himself; he tumbled to
the ground, Tostig after him.
The pair rolled over each other, punching and kicking. Yet Harold's
superior strength told in his
favor, and he was soon towering over his brother – knees on both
shoulders – pummeling Tostig
in the face.
The guests, already mostly drunk, cheered them on. But
Edward was appalled that there
was brawling in his presence. He pushed away from the table,
staring at them, while Godwine
and Eirik leaped to their feet, and went to break up the fight.
Tearing these two apart was no easy matter. Godwine used
brute strength against
Tostig, lifting him off the ground before he could pull him away.
"Everything goes to Harold," Tostig shouted. "You think you
are so glorious, that men
will die for you. Well, I tell you, Harold, you are nothing but a
pompous fraud!" Harold strained
against Eirik, who had wrapped both arms around him.
"Enough!" Godwine shouted. "I am ashamed of you!"
Accustomed to obeying – even through their tempers –
Godwine's sons stood still,
puffing and glaring at each other. Eirik let go of Harold, whose
arms had relaxed.
The King looked at the offenders, his eyes clouding and
vacant. They stared back,
confused; no one knew what to do. "Beware of your quarrels, sons of
Godwine," he said in
a queer and unearthly voice. "For all of England will suffer for
it. I see great misery for you,
Tostig, because of your greed and jealousy. Be careful of your
spite, lest it cause your death.
"And you, Harold," he turned, though his eyes looked over
Harold's head, "for you I
see great turmoil. I see the land in the clutch of the invader,
lest you make your peace with
Tostig. Do not let your covetousness overcome your brother's
rights, or he will turn against
you – to your own ruin, ruin, ruin." His voice shrilled, rising
higher and higher.
Editha had run to Edward's side; she had seen him in the
midst of his visions before,
and she begged Godwine to hurry, help her. At his last words,
Edward fell to the side, as if all
his limbs failed him; Godwine was just in time to catch him before
he hit the ground.
"Look what you have done," the Earl growled to his sons.
"Go, leave this place before
you cause any more trouble."
Editha showed her father where to carry the King, and they
sat by his side until he
awoke. The others crowded together, looking on; most had never seen
Edward like this, and
they crossed themselves, awed.
Edward woke with a start, looking around. For a moment he
was disoriented, until
Editha leaned over him, taking his hand. "It's all right, my Lord,"
she said. "You were taken
with a vision."
Edward sighed. "What was it this time?"
"You spoke of terrible things, rising from Harold and
"Did I?" He looked at Godwine. "Then keep a heavy hand on
your sons," he said.
Within months, it looked like Godwine had correctly summed
up the Danish situation.
King Magnus defeated Svein in a huge naval battle, driving him into
exile. England prepared as
best as it could for the new threat.
But then fate stepped in. Magnus died almost as soon as he
took the throne, and Svein
was invited back to Denmark. The crown of Norway was passed on to
"So you see, Godwine," King Edward said to him in council.
"We made the right decision." Godwine looked around the
room, noticing that he was the only Saxon present. "Your
Grace," he ventured, "no one knows when a King is going to die. God
saved us, not the Witan." Edward scowled, beckoning for his
cousin Ralph to bend an ear. They exchanged whispers.
Godwine frowned, watching. Things had not turned out like he expected;
never had he felt
so isolated. Rather than serve close to the King – as son-in-law
and foremost Earl – he often
found himself on the outside, like now.
As the years passed, Edward had invited more and more
to his side, until the
court began to resemble a foreign rather than an English one.
French was spoken exclusively;
courtiers dressed in the newest styles from the continent. All
vacancies – both religious and
secular – were filled by Normans.
Worse than that, the King usually followed their advice.
"I have here," Edward said, waving a rolled parchment,
"another request from King
Svein. He asks for fifty ships, so he can wage war against Harald
Despite himself, Godwine took a step forward. "Then we still
have a chance to protect
"Oh, Godwine. Have you learned nothing? No one will support
you in this. I have decided
to tell him no."
The Earl bit back his words of defiance. Instead, he said,
"There is nothing left of the old
navy. I suggest that we at least begin to rebuild your fleet, to
protect our shores."
Again, he had to wait while Edward whispered to his friends.
"I will consider it," the
King said finally.
Godwine rode back to Winchester in a righteous rage. He
was even more unhappy that
no one came to greet him on his return. The house was in an
"Where is Gytha?" he asked one of the servants.
The girl stopped, clutching an armful of linens. "Above,
sir. Eadgifu is giving birth."
Godwine grimaced, letting her go. That cursed girl, again.
Though she had tried to make
herself useful, he hated the sight of her.
No one looked up as he opened the chamber door. Eadgifu was
squeezing Gytha's hands,
while his wife instructed her to take deep breaths and push.
Despite himself, Godwine smiled.
Gytha should know; she had borne nine children.
In between labor pains, Eadgifu opened her eyes; she gasped,
seeing Godwine. Gytha
"You know you aren't supposed to be here, my dear," she said
Frowning, Godwine turned to leave, but Eadgifu gasped,
"Wait. Please, sir, I want to tell
Sighing, Gytha nodded for him to come in.
Nearing the girl, Godwine felt a reluctant surge of pity for
her. Like all of his sex, he
viewed childbirth with a certain awe. Her hair was drenched with
sweat, and those sunken
eyes looked haunted in such a pale face.
"I wanted to tell you," she whispered, then gasped, arching
her back. For a moment she
could only groan, while Gytha tried to comfort her. "Swegn... He
did not abduct me. I went
with him willingly."
Godwine turned away, reluctant to expose his pain. He had
treated his son like a criminal,
and had hated himself ever since. "Why did he say he did it, then?"
he asked, his back to them. "He wanted to protect my
reputation. We didn't know it would turn out like this."
It was all he could stand to hear. Godwine dashed out of the
room, slamming the door
Gytha found him later, clutching a bottle, his head sunk on
an arm. She studied him
thoughtfully. "Why do you torture yourself like this?"
He took so long to answer that she thought he was asleep. "I
sent him away like an
outcast, for something he didn't do." Godwine raised his head,
glaring at her. "He loved her,
She shrugged, exasperated. "Abduction or not, he violated an
Abbess. Either way, it is
a mortal sin."
"Doesn't it make any difference to you?" His voice was
getting louder. "They belonged
together, from the first. We are the guilty ones; we tore them
apart, and brought this about
Gytha sat by his side, pulling the bottle away. "I refuse to
take the responsibility. He
knew what he was doing."
"Wife, for once in your life, have pity on the boy! He has
always been miserable, and
it is our fault. No matter what I do for him, I can't make up for
Angry, she stood. "For God's sake, why don't you think about
your other sons for a
change? You have neglected them all – given all your attention to
Swegn – and for what?
Has he ever shown any appreciation?"
He was about to defend himself, but she refused to let him.
"And even though you neglected them, they turned out all
right. Can't you see? You
can't blame yourself for everything. He is bad to the core, and
it's about time you quit
protecting him." She strode to the door, then turned back to him.
"Perhaps you can do better
with his son."
The door slammed shut, leaving Godwine with his thoughts. A
boy. The baby was a boy.
The next day, he made his apologies to Gytha, though neither
of them believed the
argument was finished. He went to see the baby.
"A nice healthy boy," he said to Eadgifu with a forced
smile. "I have a fancy to call
As soon as she was able, the mother was sent back to
leaving her baby
behind. But this wasn't the end of her troubles. When she went
back, she found that the
Abbey had been dissolved.
Godwine finally took pity on her. He made sure that she was
allowed to live on the
site, along with the nuns that chose to stay. The property had not
been much, after all. A
large donation to the church made them forget about its loss.