The Death of
Edward the Confessor
The poet was now truly irritating Harold.
"...three things all ways threaten a man's peace and one before the end shall overthrow his mind; either illness or age or the edge of vengeance shall draw out the breath from the doom- shadowed."
Where was the jester, Harold mused. Why couldn't Leofwine have gotten clowns for entertainment? In fact, why couldn t he have gotten a bunch of dancing girls ?
"Wherefore, for earl whatsoever, it is afterword, the praise of livers-on, that, lasting, is best: won in the world before wayfaring, forged, framed here, in the face of undying enmity..."
You'll frame my undying enmity unless you end this quickly, the bored Earl jested to himself, and wondered for the hundredth time, why employ poets? Better to employ one chambermaid than all the bards in England. He squirmed in his big chair and sighed heavily, a warning message to the bard which went unheeded. As the poet droned on, Harold reflected further on the one chambermaid who was uppermost on his thoughts.
Gospatrick arrived on foot at the front door of the manorhouse, but only from the stables, where his horse was even now being rubbed down and pampered after its cross-country race from Westminster. All his old saddle sores had reopened hours ago and were now weeping furiously. His pants stuck to him. He d had a blinding headache this morning, but the day s exertions and several bouts of vomiting had proven medicine enough to overcome it.
The Queen s own messenger stamped the snow off his feet from the walk across the courtyard. It had been snowing thickly now for two hours in this part of England, since nightfall. It was too cold to ride at night, but the old Scot had a most important message.
Nobody came to the door. He was on the Queen s business, so he thought to hell with the boys, and began kicking the door with his boots, one after the other, as much to sound his arrival to those inside as to knock snow from the boots. Then he heard voices. The bolt cracked and slid. The door swung open, and the fierce thegn on the inside growled and made as if to strike Gospatrick. Then recognition set in, and the hostility turned to warm greeting.
By now, Gospatrick s backside hurt like crazy, and he could hardly walk, but he was led down the long, cold corridor and into the Great Hall of the late Earl Godwine of Wessex. His eyes panned the room expertly, quickly took in the sights, and focussed. Two of Godwine's sons were sitting together at the High Table. He strutted towards them and stopped in the center of the room. As all chatter ceased, and all eyes turned to him, he theatrically took command of the pause. When he was satisfied that he had everyone s unbent ear, he raised his right arm high, and bellowed in his very best bellow:
"The King is dead!"
Again sudden silence reigned. Then, as the message struck at the chord of loss, the passing of a familiar age, the hum of keening chatter rose round about.
Leofwine stood up in his excitement, knowing that the time for war had arrived, and looked about for support. His brother Harold looked up at him, took a deep breath, and exhaled. Leofwine caught his eye, and, with the slightest exchange of grins the two brothers reassured one another.
Harold returned his attention to the messenger, who had come directly from their sister, the now dowager Queen: "You have failed to pay homage, Gospatrick."
"He means," interjected Leofwine, "that you failed to recognize your new King."
Gospatrick stared at him uncomprehending for only a split second. Then it struck home. "Long live the king!" Gospatrick exhaled, collapsing to the floor with all the humility he could muster, not risking the dignity of genuflection after his apparent insult. Then again, as if to repair the damage, "The King is dead! Long live the King!"
"Get up Gospatrick. He's not King, yet."
But the messenger did not get up. Not enjoying the liberties accorded to the new King's own brother, he remained face down on the floor, his forehead now feeling the cold stone so keenly, that his headache returned, even as his heart pounded. He had not been unimpressed by the peremptory exile of Tosti, before Christmastime.
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