Uhtred walked into the chapel aware that the Queen wouldn’t summon him to show her appreciation after years of service. He knew she meant to insult and threat him, but he couldn’t refuse the request. Part of him pitied her because he knew she was grieving and Uhtred knew that emotion too well. It was an ache deep in his bones, forever seared in his mind.
“You called, Lady?” Uhtred whispered and Aelswith glared at him from over her shoulder.
“Go to Coccham and forget Wessex and my son. You’re free from your oath to Alfred and you caused too much damage,” Aelswith said bluntly.
“The King wants me to stay…” Uhtred tilted his head, smirking at her.
“The King is too young to know any better. I watched, powerless for years as you poisoned the King’s ears and even convinced Alfred to snatch my child from my arms and give him to that witch,” Aelswith yelled, her jaw clenching with barely repressed hatred.
“You will not speak of Iseult…” Uhtred hissed, clenching his fists as the Queen moved closer.
“I’ll speak of the witch as I please because you two entered the King’s mind. I had to watch Alfred gladly drinking her potions. My husband would never hand my son over to her if not for you. Your lies and deception,” Aelswith feared what Iseult could have done to her child that night. He was a vulnerable, sickly infant who relied on his parents’ judgment to protect him from the Devil’s machinations. Maybe she should have refused to obey Alfred for the first time in her life.
His body is alive, but what about his soul? Aeslwith felt her hands sweating and trembling but she had to be firm as to banish this threat from their lives. She wouldn’t allow this threatening weed to create strong roots into Edward's mind and heart as it happened to Alfred. It was her duty to pull it out by the root since Edward was too blind to see the danger this heathen represented.
Aelswith knew roots may be so far embedded into the fertile ground that they become intertwined with the beautiful grass she worked so hard to protect and nurture. She allowed Uhtred to influence Alfred, but she wouldn’t accept this pagan whispering in Edward’s ears.
He must go!
Aelswith dreaded it was too late to uproot this weed, without destroying the grass. She feared Bebbanburg was no longer haunting Uhtred’s dreams and that he had been waiting patiently for the King’s death to strike and claim a more valuable title than being Earl. He was respected by some nobles and peasants alike, after so many successful campaigns against the Norsemen. He was a seasoned warrior while Edward was almost a boy still. Edward needed her to guide him to be a God-fearing King.
What if he wants to be King?
“You will speak no more,” His voice came out steady despite the lump in his throat that denounced his sorrow. Uhtred knew the sadness and guilt for Iseult’s death would follow him until the Valkyries came for him. Maybe even beyond. He could only preserve her and Gisela’s memory and honor against all the rumors and lies.
“Who are you to command me, Dane?” Aelswith lifted her chin in defiance and Uhtred was secretly grateful he asked Steapa to hold his sword before he crossed the threshold.
“Yell at me again, and I’ll give you a real reason to scream,” Uhtred leaned down, his warm breath washing over her face. The urge to laugh was almost unbearable when her gaze shifted from his eyes to his shoulder, surely searching for Serpent-Breath and then to his belt, noticing the absence of Wasp Sting.
“There are many ways to make a woman scream, Lady.”
He sensed the sudden stiffening of her body and waited for a slap and an order to arrest him. But it didn’t come. Aelswith gulped and walked past him in silence instead.