Authors: E.M. Powell
‘The more help, the better, my lord.’
De Lacy sheathed his sword as Palmer laid the wooden pieces next to Gerald.
Theodosia went to stand by Gerald’s head, trying to soothe him, with de Lacy clicking his fingers to the monk as he joined Palmer. ‘Go and fetch wine for the royal clerk from those upstairs. Tell them the Lord of Meath orders it.’
‘Yes, my lord.’ The monk scuttled over
the spiral stone staircase and clattered up it.
Palmer bent to Gerald’s injured arm. ‘First, I need to cut off your sleeve.’ He went to pull his knife from his belt.
‘Use mine.’ De Lacy already had his own blade in his hand. ‘It’s a sharp one.’
Palmer took it from him with a nod of thanks. His flesh prickled. The man had been standing right next to him, and he hadn’t noted his movements.
He quickly completed his careful cutting as Gerald called for the saints’ aid.
‘It will be over soon, brother,’ came Theodosia’s soft words. ‘Soon.’
you were unlucky in how you fell,’ said de Lacy. ‘Rather than an attack, as I’d heard.’
‘Unlucky?’ Gerald ground out a low groan. ‘If it wasn’t an attack, then it was a sinister portent for the Lord John’s progress. We did not stop to do penance at the venerable Church of Saint David’s as we travelled through Wales.’ He groaned again. ‘That was one ill omen. And now this.’ He launched into another loud lament about his pain.
‘I would say you had some luck, brother,’ said Palmer as
pale spindle of an arm lay exposed. ‘Your flesh is sound and there’s no redness. I’ll bind it now.’ He drew breath to ask de Lacy to
the limb, but the lord already had his large hands on it.
‘I’ve joined the ends.’ De Lacy had to raise his voice above
Palmer strapped the clerk’s arm with swift movements, then splinted it with another layer of linen. ‘We’re done.’ He
up as de Lacy did too.
‘You could have had much worse,’ said the lord.
‘Praise God.’ Gerald’s face matched the white sail beneath him, but the relief in his voice told of his lessened pain.
‘I will pray for your recovery, brother,’ said Theodosia, ‘as I will ask all the monks at Jerpoint to do.’ Her words were meant to smooth an exit; Palmer could tell.
He picked up her bundle, but Gerald grabbed her arm with his good hand.
‘Stop,’ said the clerk. ‘I summoned you here for a reason. I saw you writing something on the ship.’
De Lacy’s ruined, questioning gaze went to Theodosia.
Palmer’s grip slid round the handle of his knife, readying for action. He could overpower the slight, injured Gerald with a modicum of his strength, but de Lacy would be a tough foe.
‘Indeed I was writing, brother,’ Theodosia responded quickly. ‘As well as joining the Abbess on her pilgrimage, I will be having schooling from the monks in producing
texts. That is all.’
‘Then you can wield a quill. Good.’ Gerald winced as he sat up. ‘My broken arm is the one I use to record.’ He pointed at her with his uninjured hand. ‘Sister Theodosia: you will scribe on my behalf until I have healed.’
Palmer’s shoulders stiffened in disbelief.
‘The wine, my lord.’ The monk hustled from the staircase, jug and goblet in hand.
De Lacy took it from him, briefly distracted in pouring the drink for a pleading Gerald.
Palmer met Theodosia’s shocked glance and drew breath to argue, but Theodosia gave a swift answer.
‘I am deeply honoured, brother,’ she said, ‘but I believe I should follow God’s path to Jerpoint.’
Palmer stepped forward. ‘I’m sure there must be others that could carry out this task for you, brother.’
‘You think there are many who can carry out a task appointed by the King?’ Gerald lowered his goblet to glare at Palmer. ‘Report on the progress and the actions of his son? You think it will be easy? That you could perform it?’
‘I wish I could, brother,’ said Palmer, shame hot within him, ‘but I’m no scribe.’
‘No.’ De Lacy’s full attention was on him again, curse it.
‘I can see you are not employed for your intellect.’ Gerald shook his head. ‘And I need someone who acts as the quill in my hand. Not someone with . . . ideas of their own.’ Gerald drained his drink and shoved the goblet at Theodosia to dispose of. ‘The sister will perfectly suffice.’ He shifted to prepare to stand. ‘Now, give me your arm, woman.’
With a swift glance to Palmer, Theodosia moved to Gerald’s side.
‘I must make haste,’ said Gerald. ‘The Lord John is about to disembark and lay his first mark on this land of misfortune.
be present to witness it.’
we all,’ said de Lacy.
Palmer hesitated. There must be something – anything – he could do.
Theodosia spoke to him as if he were a stranger. ‘Thank you for carrying my possessions, sir knight. You can leave them here.’
She met his eye with the word
Palmer lowered Theodosia’s bundle to the floor, refusing to break her gaze.
Gerald didn’t appear to notice, complaining as he took a fe
But de Lacy looked askance at Palmer’s reluctance to go. ‘Thank you for your actions.’
Palmer could argue no longer: de Lacy already eyed him in mistrust. ‘It was nothing, my lord. I’m glad I could be of service.’ He picked up his own pack and walked out without a further look at Theodosia, his chest about to split in his anger.
Through the crowds, he caught sight of an agitated Dymphna who must have followed to find out what was happening. He
to her to retrace their
back to the quay. As they fell into step, a line of guards blocked their path, preventing them from leaving.
‘All assemble outside the cathedral. The Lord John is arriving!’
‘And guess who has to be with him?’ Palmer fixed Dymphna with a glare as he explained Theodosia’s fate.
‘Keep your temper, Sir Benedict,’ murmured Dymphna. ‘You’ll not help her by losing it now.’
‘This is your doing. Yours.’
‘I accept that, and my heart grieves at what has come to pass,’ said Dymphna. ‘But Theodosia followed us – said she had had a sign from God that she should. She told me that if I refused to give her a habit, then she would steal one.’ She sighed in frustration. ‘She was so determined, I knew she spoke the truth. I thought that if I agreed to her actions, then I could keep her safe.’
‘Safe.’ Palmer moved towards the high tower of the cathedral. If he said more than one word now, he’d say a hundred.
His mission was to watch de Lacy and find any proof of the lord’s treachery for Henry. But now Palmer had a far more urgent and important task: to protect Theodosia and keep her from harm. Theodosia, who would now be alongside the Lord John as he tried to pacify a warring nation. A wave of dread broke through Palmer. If anything were to happen to her, it would be the end of his life.
Assembling before a cathedral had to be a sign. It might be the sole, small comfort that Theodosia could draw: she had to find one from somewhere. Her plan had been to travel anonymously, to wait for Benedict in the quiet of an abbey. Now, here she stood at the clerk Gerald’s side, high on the steps with the nobles of Waterford, men and women loyal to her father and settled here for many years. That should
a reassurance too. But Hugh de Lacy stood with them, Henry’s disfigured Lord of Meath, the man who could be plotting in his mind right at this moment to overthrow Henry. How could she be at ease with such a man near her?
A stir came from the cathedral doors.
Theodosia looked to see what it could be, all other eyes turnin
A young woman, barely into her second decade, stepped out, flanked by attendants. Her
and dress were of a style unfamiliar to Theodosia. A white silk tunic came to a scandalously short length: the pale skin of her ankles showed between it and her finely tooled leather shoes. Thinly plaited fringes of purple edged
crimson cloak, and a huge,
carved gold pin secured it at her breast. More gold adorned every single one of her fingers and even her thumbs. A carved golden circlet held her white veil in place. For all this, her face was the most arresting sight of all: her eyes, the colour of a deep mountain lake, contrasted with pale, unlined skin and gave her a rare and unusual beauty.
De Lacy left his place to walk up to her. ‘Eimear.’ He gave her a stiff bow.
‘Husband.’ Her expression remained unchanged. ‘I have been at prayer.’
Even deeper unease bloomed within Theodosia. Eimear O’Connor, whom Henry suspected of being married to de Lacy for political gain. Their greetings were not of a nobleman to his cherished wife, but rather of one ruler to another.
De Lacy drew Eimear over to his place among the dignitaries as Theodosia looked away. She could not afford to be obvious in her appraisal of them. Her position was perilous enough.
People filled the wide area between cathedral and the tower where Benedict had treated Gerald’s injury. She bowed her head, hoping she appeared modest. She wore this habit as a lie, and now she had to add and add to that untruth to keep from discovery.
‘You should not tremble, sister.’ Gerald’s gaze raked the crowd.
‘Oh, I am not afraid—’
He cut her off with a sharp tsk. ‘I only mean that you have to keep a steady hand at all times.’ He brought his hand to his sweated temple. ‘My mind is sharp. Sharp. It remembers all things. Yet with my broken arm, my pain, I may not remember every detail, especially at a time as momentous as this, with so many present. When I need a reminder, you will note it for me. A quill that shakes will mean an unclear account. Are you listening?’
A cry came from beyond. ‘All hail John, the Lord of Ireland!’
A chorus of welcome erupted at the words.
Gerald sighed in satisfaction. ‘Praise God for the loyalty that exists in this royal city. Henry chose it well on all counts.’
Then John walked into view, flanked by guards, resplendent in his white ermine robe, with the richest of deep red silks beneath. A
of his men filed in behind, noble knights in gleaming mail and surcoats.
As the King’s son greeted the lines of cheering people with a raised hand, Gerald’s expression shifted to a frown. ‘He should be coming in with the most high-ranking nobles of his court. The Irish are coming to declare fealty to him. Why does he bring his young friends?’
‘I am afraid I do not know, brother.’
‘I don’t expect you to know anything,’ said Gerald. ‘Neither should you. Move to one side. You have no right to share this great event. You are my scribing hand only, remember?’
Theodosia bowed and moved as ordered. If only Gerald knew what right she did have to stand beside John. She swallowed hard. If John knew. If de Lacy knew.
She joined her hands in respect as her half-brother stepped towards her, with huzzah after huzzah still echoing out.
smile spread across his face at the crowds that had assem
d for him.
Finally he reached the steps of the cathedral and mounted them slowly.
Theodosia took a step back against the wall of the cathedral as if the grey stone were her living protector. She need not have feared. John’s glance passed over her, the better to face out into the crowd.
His guards took up their places in two lines, near to him, but not hiding him from anyone’s view.
John’s friends climbed the steps too, young men all, not many years older than Tom, to join the mature nobles already gathered.
She could tell by the rigid expressions of the latter that John had snubbed them in not allowing for the correct order. Their disapproval was palpable, except for de Lacy. His ravaged face merely showed interest.
The senior members of the court whom Henry had so carefully assembled for John finally filed in. The guards of the port moved them all back, so a wide space opened out in the big clearing between cathedral and tower. One look at their stony expressions told of their displeasure at being so poorly treated.
John gestured for silence, and the cheers lessened, then died away. ‘My good people. I stand before God’s house to give thanks for our safe arrival.’
Another loud chorus of rejoicing.
Theodosia offered up a brief prayer of her own for her delivery from his presence.
loud blasts of horns
the thud of
drums filled the air.
John’s face sharpened into annoyance, and Gerald moved to his side. ‘Smile again, my lord – smile. The Irish come to give you their oath of fealty.’ He matched his own words with a show of long teeth. ‘Precisely as they did for your father.’
The King’s son produced a beatific beam of his own.
Three figures walked in through the gate, and Theodosia’s spirit quailed. Gerald’s terrifying description at Windsor had been correct. Each man carried a large axe propped across his body. Unlike the men of Henry’s court, they had long, long beards and hair, and their clothes consisted of thick robes wound round thei
Another similar grouping, a dozen or so, followed them closely, but she assumed their position must mean they were of lesser importance. Last, two lines of musicians also marched, their drumming like the beat of an angry heart,
with the blare of their horns
and the wild skirl of their pipes matching their uncouth look.
The musicians followed the men as they gave tread after deliberate tread towards the steps that led up to the cathedral.
‘Gerald’ – John spoke through his continued smile – ‘what are they doing?’
Though his words were barely audible to Theodosia over the echoing music, she desperately desired to know the same thing. She fought down the urge to run for the sanctuary of the
, scanning the crowd for Benedict. But no, she could not see him.
The three leaders reached the foot of the steps; then each lifted his axe.
‘Gerald?’ came John’s
fierce, insistent whisper
‘They are coming to offer you their
, my lord,’
Gerald in return. ‘They told me it would be
. Fear not: you have your guards with you.’
The music cut in an instant to total silence.
The man on the left, round faced, his beard full and square, took one final step.
Theodosia dug her fingernails into her palms as John flinched.
‘From McCarthy, King of Desmond.’ The man laid his axe on the ground.
The man on the right, grossly fat with a beard almost to his knees, did likewise. ‘From O’Brien, King of Thomond.’
Then the man at the centre, the tallest and oldest of the three, spare-framed with thick, white hair and beard, stepped to the front. He fixed John with eyes sharp as a bird of prey. ‘And I come from Rory O’Connor, High King of Ireland and King of Connacht.’ He brought his axe up high.
Theodosia’s breath stalled as Henry’s words echoed from her memory.
‘O’Connor, who rules much of the west. And de Lacy has huge tracts of the east.’
The axe and the sword of the King’s two great enemies. Here. Now.
Then O’Connor’s man lowered the axe on top of the others. ‘
to offer fealty to the Lord of Ireland. As do we all.’
He bowed deeply, the chieftains representing the other two kings matching him, along with the rest of the Irishmen, to new, wild cheers.
Theodosia raised her voice in relieved joy also. She should never have doubted the protection of God.
Palmer joined in too. His calls and whistles were of relief.
‘I told you to have patience,’ said Dymphna. ‘The most powerful kings have sent men, and the others will be important
‘Yes, but O’Connor’s man had an axe,’ said Palmer. ‘They all did.’ His innards roiled. Though John had guards, the Irishmen stood feet away from Theodosia. As did de Lacy too, with a sword at one hand and the Irish High King’s daughter at the other.
Palmer had a place beneath a big oak tree with Dymphna, and he reckoned Theodosia couldn’t see him from this angle. But he had full sight of her. Even if Palmer had made a run for it, the Irishmen would have had many heads split before he’d got there. And he doubted if any of them could match de Lacy for speed.
He took deep breaths, banishing the picture of a murdered Theodosia from his mind.
As the cheers echoed on, John drew himself up to his full height, hands on his hips. Finally, he raised a hand for silence.
Every ear strained for his reply to the Irish before him, including Palmer’s.
‘Your fealty is indeed wonderful to behold.’ His voice rang clear. ‘First to my father, many years ago. On this day, to me.’
The loudest cheer yet.
The musicians struck up again, this time with a rhythm that had the speed of a celebration, of rejoicing. Every man who had laid down an axe clapped hard with each beat, showing his approval in ringing sound.
Palmer pulled a hand through his hair in further relief. John’s repeat of Henry’s actions here was going exactly as the King had planned. Maybe his own fears for Theodosia were unsound.
The music finished on a single, crashing note and another cheer.
‘And now, my lord.’ O’Connor’s man went to step forward with the other two who stood in their kings’ stead. ‘We first offer you our kiss of peace. Every
here will follow.’
Palmer opened his mouth to speak again to Dymphna. But no words came out.
‘Stop!’ John’s voice echoed into the still air.
The men of the Irish kings halted, with unsure looks, at his command.
Other faces showed the same. Theodosia. Eimear O’Connor, her smooth brow creased. Gerald, his toothy smile vanished. Even de Lacy’s ruined one.
John pointed at the Irishmen. ‘You, or those of your blood, who came to this very spot to greet my father.’ He descended from the top step. ‘You, who proclaimed your personal submission to him.’ To the next. ‘You, who agreed the division of lands.’ And the next. He halted, his shorter height now equal to theirs. ‘Yet as soon as my father’s back was turned, every single word from your mouths was as if it had never been.’
Exclamations spread as those who understood his tongue passed his speech on.
‘Your word.’ A deep flush rose in John’s face. ‘Your word means nothing.’
‘Oh, dear God.’ Dymphna’s tiny whisper.
Palmer’s hand went for his sword, instinct taking over as John continued.
‘You will get no kiss of peace from me. I will not give it to
Then Palmer thought he dreamt.
For John stretched out a hand. Brought it to the beard of the first chieftain. ‘You.’ And pulled it. Hard.
Palmer’s own gasp and hundreds of others told him he was awake.
‘Or you.’ The same to the next.
John’s guards stepped close to him.
And the next. ‘You also.’
O’Connor’s man recovered first.
‘Enough!’ He thrust himself back from John’s reach.
The guards moved between John and the Irish.
Palmer’s jaw set closed as he checked for Theodosia, measuring the gap between them. By all that was holy, he’d get to her fast if he had to.
‘Enough to all of it!’ O’Connor’s man turned to address the Irish. ‘We, who have had some quarrels amongst ourselves,
here today to offer our fealty, our personal allegiance to the man
Henry has sent in his stead.’
John drew breath to speak, but Gerald put a hand on his arm to stop him.
The man went on. ‘Yet we find no man.’ His white bushy brows drew down in a frown. ‘Instead, we find a youth. A stripling.’