EXCERPT

The Sons of Godwine

 

Chapter 3: WULFNOTH REMEMBERS

Once the King decided to return to London, we were hustled along like livestock and placed on a wagon. The trip was uncomfortable and we were very hungry by then, but luckily for us our new friend Lang was part of the baggage train and he made sure to bring us his mother's meat pies. It turns out that his whole family was in the Archbishop's employ and traveled with him wherever he went. I don't know what we would have done without him.
But once in London, Hakon and I were locked in a room somewhere in the Archbishop's wing of King Edward's palace. For many days we had to content ourselves with staring out the window that overlooked the Thames. There was a lot of activity back and forth across the river, and I knew that on the other side, in Southwark, my father owned an estate. I didn't know exactly where it was, and I wondered if anyone was there.
Finally one morning our door was opened and we had a most unexpected visitor. My sister, the Queen, threw open her arms and we both ran to greet her. I was ecstatic; I hadn't seen her since she went off to wed the King.
I was almost out of breath with excitement. "Are we going home now?" I tugged at her hand, wanting to go out the door.
But she didn't budge. She pulled us to a bench and made us sit on either side of her.
"Hush," she said quietly. "You must be brave."
I didn't like the sound of her voice. "That's what father said to us," I said. "I don't want to be brave."
My sister frowned. "You must. I have some bad news for you. For all of us. You are not going home. Not yet. I'm afraid there is no home for you to go to."
We stared at her as though she had lost her wits.
"What are you saying?" I think my voice broke.
"Wulfnoth, the King has outlawed our father. Our family has gone into exile."
I don't think her words made any sense to me. But Hakon started to cry.
"Archbishop Robert has turned the King against us," she said more quietly. "The King commanded father to answer to...certain charges. He refused to give him safe-conduct."
Even I knew what that meant. Father would end up in prison, like us. Or worse.
"I will do what I can for you." She tried to sound reassuring.
We both stared at her. Hakon was hiccoughing. "You are the King's hostages now. He won't hurt you. It's father he wants, not you."
After being locked up the past week, I wasn't so sure. I started crying too, then all three of us were crying.
"What will happen to us?" I finally asked.
"I'm sure you will become part of the household. Do whatever they tell you. Do not complain or give them reason to separate you. Eventually they will learn to trust you."
She got up. "I must leave. Remember what I said. Don't get it into your heads to escape. That will just make it worse for you."
I tried to keep her from leaving, but she was insistent. That was the last time I saw her.

Had I known what was going to happen, I would have tried to arrange things better for poor Wulfnoth. Alas, Edward had gotten the bit in his mouth and was determined to be rid of me as well. If Robert of Jumi├Ęges had had his way the King would have divorced me. Luckily, Edward was content with sending me to Wilton abbey, where I had spent much of my youth. He didn't even give me the opportunity to say farewell to my brother...Editha


That same day after my sister left, the Archbishop came in accompanied by some men who treated him with deference. He was not as abrupt as that first day; in fact, he seemed quite satisfied as he looked at us. No wonder...he had just humiliated my father.
"I'm afraid you will be staying with us a little longer," he said, not being afraid at all. "As you are in my care, I intend to take charge of your education. You will be instructed as befits your rank and you will need to become fluent in French as this is the King's primary language."
I was so relieved my knees almost gave out. I was afraid we would be imprisoned. It wasn't until later that I realized that the Archbishop was contemplating a long stay.

When one is young, I assume it's easier to adapt to new circumstances. We saw little of the Archbishop or the King, but soon met our tutor who gave us lessons in the morning then turned us over to a weapons instructor in the afternoon. Lang took it upon himself to show us how to care for the horses, which helped pass some time. The first couple of months were difficult, but we fell into a routine fairly quickly. We were pretty much allowed to go where we wanted, provided we didn't make a nuisance of ourselves. If we wanted to leave the palace, we always had to bring Lang with us. He was more of a companion than a guard, but we knew he would be in deep trouble if we tried to escape. Where would we go, anyway?
A year passed thus. We felt completely forgotten. Of course, since our family was in exile we couldn't expect to get any letters. Hakon adapted better than I did; even though he was raised in our household, I don't think he ever felt like he belonged. I was finally beginning to understand.
Then, at the end of summer, all of a sudden the King's palace was in turmoil. People were running back and forth, armored men were gathering in the courtyard, everyone was shouting. Hakon and I were watching from our window when two strange guards came into our room and flanked the doorway. We looked at each other; we were prisoners again.
Archbishop Robert stepped into the room.
"Get your things ready," he growled. "I will be back for you."
What did that mean? We did as we were told, but as I was still stuffing my few belongings into a sack, Hakon made a sound that sounded like a shout he was trying to choke back.
"Come here. Look!"
I climbed up to the window sill. The Thames was always a busy river, but today it was covered with boats of all sizes, coming our way. And the foremost ship bore my father's flag!
We grabbed each other, barely able to contain our excitement. We couldn't see what was happening, and the moments seemed like hours while we strained to listen. A crowd was building fast and they didn't sound too hostile. After a very long time, they started to cheer.
I can hardly bear to remember what happened next. Suddenly the door slammed open and a handful of soldiers burst into the room, grabbing us roughly and shoving us before them. For a moment, Hakon tried to break free and run, but they grabbed him and boxed his ears to quiet him down. They dragged us out of the building and shoved us onto horses, ignoring our struggling as though we were children. All around us the Normans were pulling horses out of the stables, and Archbishop Robert rode up, pushed his mount against mine and grabbed the reins.
"Stay close," he shouted. "Let's go."
As a unit our tight little group bolted forward and through the gates. The streets were crowded with people who saw us coming, and the lucky ones threw themselves against the walls. The unlucky ones were trampled underfoot, or thrust away with a bloody sword. Our guards were driven like devils, slashing at everything in their way. We left a trail of screaming chaos, and not a few tried to chase us. But we were moving very fast and they fell behind.
As we neared the gates of the city, a last group of housecarls tried to stop our way. I think they were father's men and I shouted for help. But they were not mounted and our horses broke through their ranks, scattering the brave men who tried to strike us as we passed. I doubt that they heard my voice. It was a long ride to one of Archbishop Robert's abbeys, but he wanted to make sure we were not followed. I feared that father did not know we had been abducted, and this proved to be the case. The English were well rid of us and saw no need to pursue the Normans. Robert made straight for the coast then loaded us onto a broken-down ship, and before we knew it we were across the Channel.
I remember little of the next couple of weeks. I was prostrate with grief, for I knew I was lost. I was the youngest son, and that made me expendable. Once again, it was Hakon who taught me how to cope.
"Look," he said as I lay on my pallet staring at the ceiling of yet another hostel. "We have no control over our fates, but we probably have value as hostages."
I turned my head away, wiping my nose.
"Acting like this will not help you any," he pursued. "You had better get used to it. Like I did."
I knew he was right. I sat up and put on my shoes. "All right. Let me find some food."
Food always made me feel better. By the following day, I was resigned to my situation, and by the time we arrived at Duke William's court, I was almost interested in my surroundings.
The Duke was residing at Falaise, said to be the place where he was born. The castle was perched on a manmade hill, later to be known as motte and bailey. Of course, I knew nothing of that and I was amazed at the view of the countryside before we entered the big gates. The Duke's keep was built all of stone and was massive. There was a lot of activity and I could see that the soldiers, armorers and supporting trades were all crunched together inside of the fortified walls. No one paid much notice of us as we dismounted, and Archbishop Robert gave out orders as if it was his castle instead of the Duke's.
By the time we entered the keep, it was evident that the Archbishop was glad to be rid of us. He made sure Hakon and I were given a bath and new clothes, then impatiently led us into the great hall. Apparently we were expected, because Duke William was on his throne surrounded by fine-looking men, beardless and with their hair cut short in the back. Despite myself, I put my hand to my long hair.
The Duke turned carelessly to us as we knelt before him. He was a brute of a man: large, stocky with a squared-off chin and heavy brows. He looked at us curiously for a moment before turning to the Archbishop.
Robert bowed deeply then stood in his best officious pose.
"I bring a message from King Edward of England," be began in a sonorous voice. "In gratitude to this country for giving him refuge most of his adult life, King Edward has offered to make Duke William his heir."
I gasped, but everyone ignored me.
"This offer comes with the assent of the English nobility, namely Earl Godwine, Earl Leofric of Mercia, Earl Siward of Northumbria. King Edward has sent these two hostages, son and grandson of Earl Godwine, to guarantee the agreement."
I almost fainted, while Duke William's Norman friends congratulated him on his good fortune. What could I do? I knew Robert was lying, but who would believe me?
"So these are my hostages, eh?" He gestured for us to get up. "Son of Earl Godwine and who? Which is which? Speak up boy." He spoke in French and I was glad for my recent lessons.
As William looked directly at me, I kept my eyes on the floor. "My name is Wulfnoth Godwineson, Sire. This is Hakon, son of my brother Swegn."
"Hmm. All right. For now, put them with the other boys."
He stood from his throne. "I accept King Edward's offer and thank you, Archbishop Robert, for bringing me King Edward's message."
Robert bowed again, and as they were taking us away, I saw a look of triumph on his face. He may have been outlawed from England, but he was surely having his revenge.
As for our situation, it wasn't as bad as I feared. On the continent, it was the habit for noblemen to raise sons of their retainers to keep the fathers from rebelling. It was an amazingly simple concept that seemed to work. We found ourselves in the midst of other boys who were hostages like us. We took lessons together, ate together, and spent all our time together, and we were even trained to wait upon the great ones like squires. I soon gave up worrying about going home. Like Hakon said, we might as well get used to it. Things will happen at their own pace.

 

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