Of Friends and Foes
William, the Duke of Normandy Confronts Traitors
Night had fallen by the time he arrived at Mortemer Castle in Normandy. He dismounted his horse and upon handing the lead to his servant, he strode toward the entrance removing his sword from his scabbard ready to slay.
It wasn’t rage which bought him here, it was betrayal of the heart. A lifetime of memories hiding from assassins in water closets and hay stacks arose from deep in his belly. He thought he had gained support and camaraderie from the King and the French nobility, and yet they rose against him in battle. Only the rout his forces handed the French gave him any consolation, and even that wasn’t much.
On the other side the door, inside the castle were traitors, a long-standing friend who betrayed him and one of his commanders for offering him refuge. Taking a deep breath, he considered his actions – kill them upon sight, or have his men arrest them, and yet deep in his heart neither deemed a worthy.
Bursting inside the door, he found Count Raoul de Valois, a man he thought to be a friend, now his foe casually leaning back on a chair and his feet on a stool. The scoundrel was obviously inebriated, not even flinching when he walked in the door with sword drawn.
“William!” Raoul yelled out with a slight drunken slur as if expecting his arrival.
William paused taking a quick scan of the dark interior of the castle – a low burning fire in the hearth, candelabras in each corner and a few flickering candles on a table where Raoul and his commander, Roger de Mortemer sat. Growing more aggrieved by their lack of distress, he pressed the tip of his sword against Raoul’s jugular. “I should slash your head off and send it back to the Queen. Although I would hate to send Anna into such sorrow. I am quite fond of her.” He then turned his head slightly to find his own commander slouching over the table, a traitor for giving refuge to his enemy. “And you Roger, I will have you executed.”
Roger sat upright. His head swayed as tried to shake off drunkenness. “Have a seat William.”
William chuckled pressing the tip of his sword deeper into Raoul’s neck, just to the point of piercing the skin. “I don’t sit with traitors.”
Raoul pushed William’s sword from his neck. “We are not traitors. We are allies. Really, William take a seat.” He lifted his tumbler. “Have a drink. Roger has good wine.”
“How can you be an ally when the King waged war against me?” William questioned, still not ready to relent his anger. “A King for whom I swore my allegiance!”
Raoul raised the tumbler to his lips to drink. Upon feeling the buzzing in his head, he realized this conversation required sobriety. He set the tumbler back down on the table and leaned forward toward William. “But you do have an ally in Paris.”
“Who?” William asked.
“The Queen,” Raoul replied.
“The Queen? Anna?” William responded with a much softer demeanor, finally returning his sword to his scabbard. “How so?”
“William sit, have a drink,” Roger said, just about to pour a wine from a carafe into an empty tumbler.
The only time William drank wine, the only time he allowed himself to ease into its effects was with the only person he truly trusted, his wife Matilda. “I don’t drink wine in adverse company.”
“Biette!” Roger called to a female servant. “Fetch the Duke a cup of milk.” He settled is focus on William. “Sit. You are among friends.”
Reluctantly, he sat at the table between the two men. “How can I call you friends, when all of France, and now my commanders rise against me?”
“You did publicly humiliate the Count of Flanders’ daughter,” Raoul stated. “And you do know Baldwin’s influence with Henry. They still do not find your marriage to be legit.”
William downed his milk in one shot and slammed the tumbler on the table. “Politics. Only a fool believes Matilda and I to be related.”
“Exactly.” Raoul replied, leaning toward William and then fell back against his seat. “You bought this on yourself. You beat up a daughter of nobility, the niece of the King, they will not like you. They will eventually rise against you.”
Shaking his head, William stared into his empty tumbler. He adored Matilda with all his heart and soul, how he could face such treachery for one foolish act, he couldn’t’ understand.
“And then there is the matter of the young Prince Philip,” Roger replied. “Rumors from Paris are they fear your growing strength. Henry’s foolery has nothing to do with his betrayal against you, but the love he has for his son. He merely wants to secure the throne for Philip.”
William tapped the empty tumbler on the table, not wanting to admit the warm milk calmed his rage, or maybe it was the warm hearth flickering before him, and now it was he who felt as a fool, rushing to conclusions of betrayal.
Raoul took another drink of wine, now that William had been subdued. “Anna thinks of you as kin, both of Viking descent,” he remarked knowing the comparison stoked William’s pride. “You must know she protested against the battle. She spoke out not just to the King but in front of Baldwin on your behalf, however, the King took the advice over his long-time advisors over that of his educated and fair-minded Queen.”
Looking at Raoul, William had to chuckle at the man known for his political shiftiness and his allegiance toward the Queen, more so than the King. Love had a way of shaping politics. He lifted his tumbler for more milk and Roger’s servant was quick to oblige. He thought of his wife, Matilda, a woman whose advice he regarded far more superior to any of his commanders, and he knew Raoul felt the same for Queen Anne. “Anna has more smarts about her than any foolish noble in Henry’s court,” he said pointing his finger at Raoul. “If he were truly a wise King, he’d make her his diplomatic adviser.” Settling comfortably into his seat, he took a drink of milk and asked, “So, what then? How did you arrive here?”
Raoul’s grin provided the answer, yet it was Roger who spoke. “What do you expect of a man who doesn’t want to make a foe of any friend. He needed to appease Henry, yet at the same time not betray you.”
William laughed with traces of milk trapped in the hairs of his mustache. “I would have never thought of you Raoul, a man to offer himself to surrender.”
“No matter what I did, I would have died by the sword of a friend. My only choice was to lead Henry’s legion in battle and offer myself to Roger.” He swayed his hands wide open. “And let the cards fall where they may.”
Offering his tumbler toward Raoul in a gesture of a toast, William replied, “Ah Raoul, you always find a way to for your sword to shine.”