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Of Gods and Swords

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Kingdom of Northumbria (present day, August 15, 793 A.D.

 

 

The king sat at his study, busily scratching away at the parchment before him, ignoring the cramping of his writing hand as he pleaded with the neighboring kingdoms to join with him against their common enemy- the Vikings.

           

            To the Kings of Mercia, East Anglia, Bernicia and Deira; I write to you as a fellow Christian king, asking that our differences may be cast away so that we may take up arms against the Devil, for he has made his face known to me and my people. I fear that I am just the first stop on his quest for world destruction and implore you all to hear my plea.

            The Devil came by three ships upon my northeast shore, carrying with him his demonic heathen followers- brutal, pagan men. Their souls were as black as the night, their eyes as hollow as their hearts. The pagans marched on Lindisfarne, our most holy monastery, defiling our holy church with their acts of violence, slaughtering men of God and blasphemously removing our most sacred relics from His holy ground.

            My Lords, I beseech thee, as men of God, ourselves, is it not our duty to stand for the Word of God and His people? Should we not take up arms against the Devil and do God’s work, casting this wickedness from our shores? The Devil comes swiftly upon the waters and I fear we have not seen the last of the Northmen. Join me, my fellow brothers of Christ, for it is in Christ Jesus that we take up our arms against these sinners. For it is written: If God be with us, who could surely stand against us?

            Come to my table and drink from my cup so that we may work together to rid our lands from these devils. Bring your wives and your children so that we may all present a united front as God-fearing men. We will feast and drink for what lies ahead is surely our the Day of Judgment.

 

            May the Lord bless and keep you,

            King Lucian Garroway of Northumbria

 

Lucian, intimately known as Luke by his most intimate relationships, leaned back in his hard, wooden chair. He pinched the bridge of his nose with two fingers of his left hand while the right hand laid his quill down gently, the weight of his fevered writing heavy on his shoulders. If the kings of the neighboring countries did not join arms with him against the pagans, all would be lost. Now more than ever, the shaky alliances of the four main kingdoms needed to join together in complete solidarity against these foreign invaders or their way of life would be pillaged and plundered just as Lindisfarne had.

“Alaric,” Luke called, waiting for his second-in-command and best friend to come through the doors of his study. He knew that Alaric had been standing guard outside his door, a silent sentinel, protecting his King from any threat, foreign or domestic.

When Alaric quietly opened the door and walked into the study, Luke gave his friend a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “Alaric, you are my most trusted and loyal servant,” he began and at the slight bow of Alaric’s head in thanks, Luke continued, “We have fought and bled for each other on the field of battle. You are like a brother to me.” He put a strong hand on Alaric’s shoulder, gazing at him fiercely in the eyes, “You are the only one who I trust enough to carry out this God given mission has placed on my heart.”

“If it is my King asking, I will obey as it is my duty,” Alaric said, his deep voice genuine and steady, “However, if it’s my friend asking, I will gladly lay down my life in his service.” He removed his sword from its sheath and held it out to his king, “As God as my witness, this sword is your’s Lucian Garroway, King of Northumbria.” He laid down one knee and bowed his head in respect for his majesty.

Never one to show his emotions easily, Luke chuckled, rolling his eyes at his friend’s overly zealous form of loyalty. “Get up, my friend,” he said heaving the bulky male off the floor. “For Heaven’s sake Alaric, age hasn’t done you any favors lately has it,” he breathed, almost breaking a sweat under the weight of his best friend laden down with his cast iron armor.

Alaric gave a good laugh, “Alas it has not; I was praying you would help a friend upon his feet, I’m afraid my legs are not as young and athletic as they once were.” He cleared his throat after a genuine smile was shared between the two tired, old men, “Now, what is it that I can do for my king?”

Rolling his eyes once more, Luke walked around his desk and pushed the parchment he had been writing on towards Alaric to read. He watched as the smile on Alaric’s face turned from unburdened happiness to one of solemn silence, a frown burrowing into his forehead. When he looked up from the parchment, Luke held his breath waiting for Alaric’s thoughts on his willingness to ask for aid of the other Kings.

“Are you sure we can rely on our neighbors to help us against the Vikings, Luke,” he asked, again skimming the letter in his hand. He looked back up at his king and sighed seeing his own worry looking back at him. “Alright, I will leave at first light and ride to the other kingdoms in your name, for it is my sworn duty as your second in command. But as your friend, I caution you to be weary of these men, my Lord, for we know the limits of a man’s loyalty and his quickness to place his own gains above the lives of others.”

Luke thought about this and nodded his head in agreement, “You are certainly right about that, Alaric, however, we have no other choice. The Devil is here now and if we expect to survive his army of darkness, then we must put our faith in the Lord and take up our sword with our Christian brethren.”

Alaric bowed his head and swiveled on his heal, eager to plan his departure for the morning and to be on his way in haste as time was not on their side. As he opened the door, he stopped in his tracks as a woman on the other side was raising her hand to knock on the wood- Queen Jocelyn.

She had stunningly, soft, fiery red hair, a nod to her Irish decent and piercing green eyes that no man could resist falling for. She was a remarkably strong woman and was a highly respected and beloved Queen by all accounts.

“Your Grace,” Alaric said bowing his head before he swiftly walked around her figure and down the hall.

She watched his retreating figure down the hall, a nervousness creeping into her bones as she turned to her husband’s own worried face. The weight of the crown was slumping his shoulder and making the dark shadows under his eyes stand starkly against the whiteness of his skin.

“Luke?” she inquired softly, coming quietly into the room, closing the door off to listening ears. It was only in her presence, that his posture became fully relaxed, the years of youth that being king had taken away, would once more return to him as she circled him in her strong, yet feminine arms.

“What is it, my love?” she asked, rubbing her hands soothingly up and down his powerful biceps. He placed his hands on her hips and drug her to him, placing a soft kiss on her head as he held her in his arms.

“Our judgment is here, Joss,” he said her shortened name with a mix of sadness and love, “And it is my duty as the King to protect my people, to protect our daughter from these vile men who walk our shores.”

Jocelyn lifted her eyes to her husband and placed her hands on his neck, cupping his head in a lover’s embrace, “Through divine providence, God chose you, Lucian Garroway, to lead His people and now, it seems, He has chosen you to lead His army against His enemy. Will you deny Your Lord his commandment?”

“Never,” Luke whispered, looking down into her loving eyes. He brought his lips down lightly onto her’s, savoring the sweet perfume that adorned her lips. “How did I get so lucky to have such a woman in my life?”

Jocelyn smiled warmly up into her husband’s face, “Ever since I was a little girl, I prayed to God that I would one day find a man who loved me as an equal and when our paths crossed, I knew my prayers had been answered.”

They shared a smile with one another as only lover’s could and just let the presence of each other’s company soothe them. It was Luke who first broke the tender moment with his tempered volume.

“Where is Clarissa?” he asked, a light in his deep brown eyes always catching when he spoke of his daughter.

The Queen laughed, “You know our daughter, Luke, she can never sit still long enough to finish her studies. I heard your sister, Amatis, yelling her name, threatening to lock her in her room forever if she didn’t return to her lessons.”

Luke chuckled, his sister had a hand full with his free spirited daughter who often reminded him of his own youthful days, never wanting to waste a beautiful day cooped up in the castle listening to old drones speaking of the days past, hoping he would get some sort of lesson out of their boring stories. He supposed Clarissa was a lot like him in the fact that they were souls of action. But he feared for his daughter, for society was not ready for such a bold and care free woman. Women were to be seen and not heard from unless spoken to by another man, but Clarissa was anything but calm and submissive.

“I hope she is allowed to remain a child for as long as possible, Joss,” he said, staring into nothingness over the top of his wife’s head, “For in our world, we are cruelly ripped from our childhood fantasies and thrown into the world of chaos and hurt. I wish to be able to protect her from it always, but alas, one day she will be forced to grow up and I am powerless to stop it.”

Jocelyn nodded her head in saddened agreement and laid her head on her husband’s chest. They both stood there, arms linked around each other, soaking in this brief moment of togetherness as they knew that in the days to come, no such moments could be spared. Their world, their way of life was being threatened and it would take all their time and effort to keep the piece among the kingdoms as they waged a war against the Vikings.

 

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

A week later in the Kingdom of Mercia

 

King Valentine Morgenstern of Mercia sat with the hand written letter from King Garroway in his clutches. He silently read the letter as the knight, formerly known as “Alaric,” second-in-command for the King of Northumbria, waited for his decision regarding the message of the letter.

Valentine could feel the tension in the room and had to chuckle inwardly. He knew that Alaric did not trust him and the feeling was mutual, both men knew what the other way capable of, still, Valentine recognized the threat of the pagan worshippers and took King Garroway’s pleas for aid seriously.

Valentine looked over the parchment in his hand and looked to the heavily muscled man in front of him, his long, gray hair showing his age and yet an air of wisdom that so few could pull off. He regarded him with some thought before he straightened himself up in his chair and directed his next words to the knight.

“I will acknowledge King Garroway’s plead for a mutual laying down of arms with each other as it is my duty to protect good Christian men and women, here or anywhere.” He stood up, handing the parchment back to Alaric as he continued, “My son, Sebastian, and I will accompany you back to your home where I may speak personally with King Garroway. We will feast and talk of the battle plans to destroy the heathens that threaten those that dare to stand against us.”

Satisfied with his decision, Valentine began ordering his servants around, commanding that the best food and drink to be packed for their journey the Northumbria.

“And fetch my son,” he called out to the last of the servants scurrying out of the thrown room after the final of his commands were shouted. He turned once more to Alaric and looked at him with a smirk on his face, “I am assuming that Jocelyn will also be in attendance to welcome me and my son into her home?”

Alaric schooled his features to betray neither his anger at this foreign king for showing such disrespect for his Queen nor the disgust he felt when he saw the openly lustful gaze in his eyes when King Morgenstern said her name, as if they were intimate with each other in a past life.

“Yes, my Lord,” he uttered between clenched teeth, “Both the King and the Queen will welcome you into their home as their guest,” he emphasized the key words, hoping that his meaning was clear to the foreign king not to cause any unwanted trouble.

“She could have been mine, you know,” Valentine muttered, his eyes fixed on days past, “I would have given her anything she ever wanted; our children would have been beautiful.”

At Alaric’s clearing of his throat, he was thrown from his reminiscing and focused on the present, “Alas, we better get going. I am eager to see how Northumbrians welcome their guests!”

Alaric followed the king out of the lobby, his jaw tight with fury and his stomach a little nauseous in being in the company of such a man. King Morgenstern was known for his fanaticism when it came to ruling his people and dealing with his enemies. Often ruling with a cruel hand and a harsh heart, he found it easier to rule as a feared monarch more than one that was loved.

It was said that his only son was an exact image of his father, growing up without a mother’s unique love, as she had died in childbirth. Sebastian, Prince of Mercia, was following in his father’s footsteps and even developing his own unique way of ruling. He used the emotions of men and women to gain what he wanted, knowing that no one would cross the son of a king, and he reveled in the power.

Alaric kept quiet as he watched the servants of the house bustle with movement, silently praying that the war would come to an end swiftly in their favor so that King Valentine’s support would no longer be needed and that he and his son would return to their dark corner of the world and not bother them again.

After a week’s worth of planning, Alaric, Valentine and his son, Sebastian, mounted their horses, ready to start on their journey to see the King of Northumbria.

 

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

The King and Queen of Northumbria stood up as the doors to their throne room opened. The priests and council in the room parted, allowing the guests, led by Alaric, to pass them through the middle of the room, ending just in front of the dais.

“Your Majesty and your Grace,” Alaric spoke, his voice firm and steady, “I present to you, King Morgenstern and Prince Sebastian of Mercia.” He bowed his head and moved to the side of the dias, to the Luke’s right hand side. The two Kings studied each other for a moment, each calculating the trust they could afford where the other was concerned.

Putting aside his prejudice, King Garroway proceeded to step down from the dais and greet King Morgenstern, his wife following him a couple of steps behind, as it was expected of her.

“King Morgenstern, Prince Sebastian, welcome to Northumbria, I trust your travels were without troubles?” He stuck out his hand in a welcoming gesture and shook King Morgenstern’s hand as he too let out his hand.

“Please, Lucian, call me Valentine, after all, are we not equals?” he said, grinning. When Lucian nodded in agreement, he continued, “Rest assured, your Majesty, Alaric was an excellent guide. Never was their a doubt in my mind about my and my son’s safety while in his care; I am jealous of the fierce loyalty he has for you,” he smirked looking at the knight.

“Yes, he is a true friend of the crown,” replied Luke, he motioned towards his wife, “You remember, my wife, Queen Jocelyn.” He watched as Valentine’s eyes slid from his best friend to his wife, not at all unaware of the sultry look in his eye as he gazed over her finger.

“How could I forget such a beautiful woman?” he said, his eyes never leaving her’s. He took her had in his and kissed it tenderly. He felt the Queen stiffen under his touch and he laughed to himself.

“My husband and I wish to welcome you into our home,” Queen Jocelyn said, her tone not betraying the disgust she felt towards this man, nor the shiver running up and down her spin at his touch. “I hope that you found your accommodations pleasing?” She would not allow this scoundrel of a man to ruin her good naturedness, especially not in font of her subjects who looked to their Queen for poise and gentleness.

“Yes, my lady,” Valentine said, bowing his head in thankfulness, “I am sure my son and I will be quite comfortable here.” He let his eyes rake her form in front of him once more before he turned to Luke once more.

“Where is your daughter, Lucian? I’ve heard many tales of her beauty,” he grinned, “Something she must have gotten from her mother, eh?” he said jokingly.

Luke just grunted, “She’s out in the courtyard with her childhood friend, Simon. She doesn’t much care for all this pomp and circumstance. I’m sure she’ll be around for supper.”

“Beautiful and willful, a dangerous mix, Lucian,” he said, letting his eyes swerve over to the Queen’s, whose green eyes held a fiery inferno, but her lips remained sealed.

Valentine turned to his son, Sebastian who had remained quiet this whole time, surveying the exchange between the two kings and making notes to himself for future reference.

“Son, why don’t you introduce yourself to the princess, while the grownups talk business,” he laid a hand on his son’s shoulders and gave it a squeeze for him to not disobey him. Sebastian nodded in acceptance of the command and bowed his head to the foreign King and Queen. He turned on his heel and left the room, eager to find this princess whose beauty was foretold as beyond anyone’s imaginings.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Clary wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, the sun beating down on her bathing her in sheen of sweat, but she loved it. She took a step forward and thrusted her wooden sword out, connecting with her foe as the wooden planks clashed against each other.

“You’re getting tired, Simon,” she teased, unyielding from her offensive attack. She made him recede a couple of step before he paried and had her on the defensive once more.”

“Never!” he shouted, delighting in his brief victory over his red headed, best friend. He heard her giggle and it stopped his heart, momentarily taking him off guard. This allowed her to get the best of him as she maneuvered her sword against his hand, knocking his weapon to the ground.

“Kneel,” Clary commanded, pointing the tip of the wooden sword, playfully, at the center of his neck. Simon bowed his head in defeat, sinking to the ground on his knees. Clary giggled again, but quickly cleared her throat and turned her grin into a frown.

“You know what I want to here, Simon,” she said in a low voice, sending playful shivers up and down Simon’s spine. He took in a shaky breath and said the only words to guarantee his survival.

“I, Simon Lewis of Northumbria, do hereby surrender my life to Princess Clarissa Garroway of Northumbria, for she is both beautiful and the victor here today,” he smiled up at her and watched as her lips turned up at the sides.

Clary finally let the laughter bubbling in her chest out and fell to the ground in a fit of laughter. Simon rolled his eyes when her laughter didn’t stop after a while, but couldn’t help his own chuckles escaping him as he watched her in her fit of happiness.

“Simon Lewis,” she said, shakily around the laughter still threatening to overwhelm her, “I hereby pardon you of your crimes and order you to a lifetime of servitude.” She placed her small wrists on his hips and turned her nose up towards the sky. Simon just groaned and fell back against the earth with his back against the ground.

“A fate worse than death, the horror,” he moaned earning another giggle from the redhead.

A slow clapping from a short distance sounded and both of their heads swiveled in the direction of the on comer. Quickly they both rose to their feet, Clary had to straighten her dress as it was hanging off of her unceremoniously from her rough activity just now.

The newcomer let his eyes rake her figure appreciately and grinned down at her when he stood just feet from her.

“You must be Princess Clarissa,” he said, his voice low and sultry. He took her hand in hind and placed a chaste kiss on top of it, “I am Prince Sebastian of Mercia, a guest of you mother and father’s.”

The boy was beautiful, Clary’s mind wondered, he stood probably a good foot above her head and had a slim, yet powerful frame about him. He had hair a light as a dove’s feather, but his deep black eyes made him look dangerous and unpredictable. Clary swallowed seeing that his eyes were only focused on her.

Clary tugged her hand out of his grasp, discreetly wiping his smear of saliva on the side of her dress. This wasn’t unnoticed by Sebastian and he couldn’t help but chuckle inwardly.

“I’m Simon,” the other boy said, outstretching his hand to greet the older boy. He looked to be about fifteen, where Clary and him were only thirteen years old. Simon coward behind Clary as Sebastian’s onyx eyes turned upon his.

“Run along, Simon,” he said, spitting out his name, “I came to speak with Clarissa.” Before Clary could argue, he held up his hand, silencing her in astonishment at his brash movement, and added, “Alone.”

Simon looked helplessly towards Clary and seeing her nod in acceptance, he scurried away towards the castle. He could tell that the newcomer was bad news and went in search of his adopted mother, Amatis, to rescue his best friend from this Sebastian character.

Clary watched with saddened eyes as her friend disappeared into the castle and instantly grew pissed at someone, a guest no doubt, treating her friend with such disrespect. When she had turned her attention back to Sebastian she was caught off guard as he handed her the wooden sword that once had been in Simon’s hand.

“Let’s see how you fight a real man, Princess,” he said coyly a step back, preparing himself to spar with her. The anger still bubbling in her chest and exhilarated at the chance to knock the smirk of this boy’s face at the forefront of her mind, Clary let herself smile and took her stance.

“I’m not going to be a lady about it,” she quipped.

“I wouldn’t think so,” he said before he made the first move. He had her immediately on the defensive, his advanced techniques forcing her to concede her ground to him. It took all her concentration to match his blows and her arms were getting weak from the force of his strikes, but she used the angry fire within her to keep up against his attacks.

Sebastian was impressed as the fiery, red head matched each one of his strokes, but he already grew tired of this game. He switched his footing suddenly and had her backed up against a large tree trunk, effectively trapped between it and his sword across her throat.

Clary gasped as the wood leaned against her windpipe, her eyes growing large with a tint of worry.

Sebastian allowed himself so close to her that their bodies were firmly pressed against each others and her almost moaned against her petite breasts moving up and down his chest as he gasped for air.

He slowly removed the sword from her throat, but did not remove his body from her’s. She was still trapped beneath him.

“Get off of me,” Clary seethed.

Sebastian chuckled, his free hand slithering up her waist to cup a cotton covered breast in his hand. Clary gasped against his aggression and went to scream, but Sebastian’s free hand cupped her mouth, silencing her against him. She wiggled against him, but he just laughed at her futile efforts.

“Fire, I like it in my women,” he laughed and watched as she stilled her movements against him. Her eyes turned a frosty, green, not unlike the look her mother had given her father earlier in the throne room. I guess apples don’t fall far from the tree, he mused.

“I’ve decided that I’m going to have you as my wife, Princess,” he said massaging her breast in his hand. Clary’s virgin body began trembling against his form, her legs suddenly feeling like jelly as a foreign sensation crept along her spine.

“Never,” she muttered, willing herself not to show the fear that was forming in her stomach. She needed to get away from him and his eyes that were eating her alive. She moved with lightening speed and brought her knee into his groin, forcing the boy to momentarily let go of her form as he bent down to one knew, howling against the pain.

Clary ran for the door leading into the safety of the castle and came skidding to a stop when she almost bumped into the familiar figure of her Aunt Amatis, sister to the King, and her nanny. Simon peaked around the tall woman’s slender figure, a questioning in his eyes. Clary just gave him a reassuring nod and then looked up to Amatis.

Amatis, however, was not looking down at Clarissa. Instead, she was watching the blonde haired boy in the yard, stalking in the opposite direction with a scowl on his face. When he was finally out of site, she let her features rest as she turned her eyes upon the young girl she had come to love as a daughter.

“Be weary of that one, young Clarissa,” she said as she gave one last fleeting look toward the direction Sebastian had took before she lead the teenagers into the castle, “It’s always the good looking ones that are the most trouble.”

Clary shivered and nodded her understanding. She felt her skin crawling around her and couldn’t wait to scrub herself head to foot, not leaving any trace of Sebastian’s unsubstantiated claim over her body. Clary made a promise to herself right then. She would never marry that monster in this life or any other.