The large man sat at his dinner table. Days like this, he dined alone. It was the year of our lord, 1327, and His Most Britannic Majesty, Baldwin, the First of his name chewed quietly on the goats meat laid before him. On a chair to his right, piles of papers sat untouched. He had been worrying so much about the war in Denmark that he had not looked at them yet. An older man walked into the room, he held a few letters in his hand. ‘Your Majesty.’ He said with a bow, his heavy Frankish accent coming through thick tonight.
‘How can I help you, my Lord?’ The Emperor said as he took a sip from his goblet.
‘I have received a letter from your Lady wife, the Queen of Denmark.’ Sven, the old man, smiled as he saw Baldwin’s face light up. Sven had raised Baldwin after his father, Baldwin IX of Scotland fell in the field of battle, fighting the soldiers of Normandy. And he knew the Emperor better than anyone.
‘Good news?’ Baldwin asked, leaning forward, now ignoring his goat.
‘Very, your Majesty.’ He paused to take a breath, ‘She thanks you for the twenty thousand troops, and says that Denmark now rules Holstein.’
Baldwin leaned back upon hearing that, relieved. ‘Any other news?’
‘Only that Mongol soldiers have been pushed back beyond Poland.’
The Emperor was glad to hear that. About fifty years ago, when the Mongols had appeared in the East, most of the rulers of Europe had shrugged and gone about their business. Especially Baldwin’s great grandfather, Baldwin the Seventh of his name. He was worrying about fighting off the English, having pushed Scotland’s borders past York, and could not be bothered about some uncivilized tribe of horsemen in Asia. But when Poland fell less than four years after that, the Monarchs of Europe became worried. He was glad to hear that they are finally being pushed from Europe.
‘I thank you for the news, my Lord.’ Said Baldwin as he took a long pull from his cup, wine coating his lips.
The old man bowed and walked backwards, out of the door. Even though he had raised Baldwin, he still practiced the royal courtesies, and the Emperor appreciated it. He watched the door shut, and took another bite of the haunch of goat meat on his silver plate. Standing up once he finished, he walked to the window. Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire was a long way from the ancestral grounds of his family, Dunbar. It had been capital of Scotland for almost three hundred years after his house had taken the Scottish throne by force. But when he was crowned by the Pope as Emperor of Britannia, he had ordered his capital be declared in the middle of the country, so that it felt like he could watch over the entire Empire of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.
Baldwin gazed out the window, the rain punching against it as the storm got worse. He thought back to the stories his father had told him as a child, of how their family had come to become one of the most powerful in all of Europe…
In the year of our lord, 1066, on the eve of Duke William the Bastard’s invasion of England, a young man entered the old castle. Its walls were tall, made of harsh, wind beaten stone. It had been only 50 or so years since Lothian had been anexed by the Scots, but now the Duke of this land served the King in the same capicity as all of his other vassals.
The young man entered the keep. It was cold, the harsh winds were already chilling the castle, as September began. An old man approached the young one, bowing his head. He wore a heavy robe, and his hands were filled with papers. ‘Your Grace,’ He began with another bow, ‘My condolences. I knew your father well.’
The young man, Baldwin, was the only son of Henry of Lothian. Under a normal circumstance, this was no issue. But Baldwin was a bastard. And everyone knew it. His mother was a milk maid that father decided to ‘take’ during a feast 17 years ago. ‘I thank you, Chancellor.’ He said, not used to the bowing.
They began to walk down a darkened hallway. Servants had ran ahead of them to light torches and candles, as the dark was already encroaching. ‘Your Grace, we have already recieved a message from His Majesty. He requests that your… talents as a spy be put to use on his council.’
Baldwin frowned. He had been a spy of sorts, living in Venice for a time. ‘I see…’ He sighed. This was all so overwhelming. ‘Inform his Majesty, that I would be honoured.’
The Chancellor nodded quickly. ‘Of course your Grace. Do you have any other orders?’
The young Duke shook his head. ‘I only wish to see Earl Vaselraed in my chambers. I wish to speak to him about the state of our banner-men.’
Chancellor Baethelred nodded as he turned and scurried away. He was ancient, probably in his late 60s by now. He had been a young man when Lothian was annexed. Turning towards fathers- his chambers, he gazed at the heavy wooden door. The family sigil, a Unicorn of the old myths, rearing its hind legs in attack, was etched upon it. He slowly pushed open the door, the creaking echoing throughout the halls.
The room was cold, even if a fire was blazing in the hearth. He sat down at a table by the fire, his fathers papers scattered across it. A servant entered with a plate of goat meat and a horn of wine. Offering the man a nod, he grasped the horn and took a long pull. It was going to be a long night, and he knew it. But, he also knew what he had to do. His father had spoken to him shortly before he died, about his plans for Lothian. And he wanted Baldwin to see it through at whatever the cost.
With a loud and tired sigh, he leaned back in the heavy wooden chair, his eyes scanning some of the papers. Requests from various Lords for money and help, nothing important. The door opened once again, and Lothian’s Marshall, a man in his late 30’s entered. ‘You wished to see me, my Lord?’ The man said with a bow.
Baldwin nodded, not looking up from a paper from the Earl of Fife, requesting a place for his young son to be educated. ‘I did indeed, my Lord.’ He sipped from his horn, and leaned back in the seat again. ‘My father spoke at length with you about his plans, did he not?’
Marshall Vaselraed nodded. ‘Yes he did, your Grace. And I have begun to work at length to make sure these plans come to completion.’
The young Duke smiled as he looked at the Marshall. ‘Good, good. We shall proceed.’
In December of 1066, 10,000 troops under the command of young Baldwin left the castle in Lothian, heading for the King’s stronghold, in Moray. Having learned of the banner-men marching on his castle, King Malcolm I called for his banners, and met the enemy in the marshes just east of Lothian. It was a bloody battle, and Baldwin fought heroicly against the 17,000 men that were sent against his army.
Reinforcements from his cousin, the Duke of Ulster in Ireland flanked the King’s army, and after six days of vicious fighting, Malcolm’s army retreated. A letter was then sent to Baldwin, asking him to name his terms…
The King of Scotland sat on his throne. He was tired, having had to spend the last two weeks retreating north from Baldwin’s army. ‘Bastard.’ He muttered to himself as he threw his drinking horn against a nearby wall.
His advisers all looked down. It had been a bad month for the Kingdom. The doors to the throne room creaked open, and the young Duke Baldwin strode in. His armour polished, and a sword at his side. His army was camped outside of the walls of the castle, just to make sure. ‘Your Majesty.’ said the young Duke with a smile as he bowed his head. Malcolm spat.
’Name your terms, bastard.’ He said with as much venom as he could muster.
’Independence, your Majesty. That is all I ask for.’
Malcolm glowered. Though, he was relieved that it was only independence, and that he was not losing his crown to this… bastard, born of a milkmaid. ‘You… will have it.’