‘Do we really need to take so many clothes, my darling? It isn’t like you to take such an interest in these things.’
Ealdgyth was flummoxed by my sudden interest in our clothes, but there was method in my madness, even if at that moment I had no intention of sharing it.
‘I know, Mistress, it is just that we shall be going straight from Ireland to Denmark, and I don’t want to have to worry about such matters.’
She smiled. As I had organised the journey, she was happy enough to indulge my eccentricities.
‘The Abbot’s clerk will be here later, Mistress, and we shall witness to the endowment.’
‘It is a good plan, Danegyth, and this way, whatever happens, our lands here do not pass into Norman control.’
We had arranged to endow the Abbey near Senlac with the manors Ealdgyth owned, which would provide money for priests to say prayers for the soul of King Harold and the men who had lost their lives at Hastings. The deed would not be finalised until we had left the country, and by then it would be too late. Not even the Bastard would dare take property from the Church. Of course it meant the die was cast, and we would have to leave, but there had never been any doubt in my mind that we would need to. That afternoon we sealed the Deeds; it was done.
Even in the fortnight since our return, there had been reports of Norman Lords turning up at the properties of men who had died with Harold and expropriating their estates ‘in the name of the King’. Normans were replacing Saxons. This was only the beginning. We would end up, at best, second class subjects and at worst as slaves to the new Masters. The golden summer was turning to grim winter. No doubt, for a while, the Bastard would keep his word to us, but only if I did as my father bade me. That was not going to happen.
Indeed, it was a note from him which decided the timing of our departure.
‘He wants to see me in Westminster in early November, and I am to stay there until my marriage at the time of the Coronation,’ I told my Mistress. ‘He sends men for me next week, I am to travel in stages.’
She looked at me.
‘Danegyth, are you sure? He offers you wealth, and even power. I can go, and you can stay and be rich, which you never will be with me. I do not know what is to become of me, or my children, and yoked to me you are a target for whatever misfortune comes here, where so much already has found an unwelcome home.’
I looked at her. She could see my love.
She held her arms out, and I gave her the best answer I could. My hands opened her robe, allowing me access to both her breasts. My finger and thumb played with her nipples, as I sucked eagerly. They swelled as I took them, drawing each one out to its full length, my soft tongue lavishing them with licks.
Looking down at me, she smiled, that sweetest and fairest of smiles, and I melted.
Pushing her to our couch, my hands stroked her long blonde hair, and I kissed and loved her breasts, my hands continuing to play there, whilst my mouth slid down her belly, tracing the lines which marked the effects the pregnancies had on her. She had, at our first playing, been shy of them, saying that Harold did not care for them, which I said was odd, given his part in giving them to her. But for me they were part of her womanhood. She had a wisdom and a beauty which, for me, only grew as she got older. I loved the marks of her womanhood.
My tongue licked its way through her hairs, finding the wetness of her cunt.
‘Oh, Danegyth, the way you do that, it drives me wild, lick me, take me, fuck me!’
Her ardour would have fired mine, were it not already burning so brightly.
My tongue caressed her bud, moving it tenderly, side to side, before slowly, deliberately, pushing it upwards; she moaned loudly, kadıköy escort urging me to use my fingers. But I held back, making her even wetter.
My tongue lapped up from near her arse, dipping into her slit so I could scoop up her cream. As my fingers continued to tease her nipples, my lips fastened around her bud. My mouth sucked on it. She gripped my hair. She was tensing.
I slowed down the pace of my licking, and gently caressing her nipples, allowed my tongue to slip downwards to her entrance, poking with it, probing her, parting her lips until my tongue could, curled into a tube, access her velvet inwardness. She moaned loudly, pushing herself onto me. That was the signal for my left hand to move,
Already wet and open as she was, three fingers curled into her with ease, and she moaned and thrust down, as they pushed up. She rode them, as my tongue circled her bud.
As she pushed, I felt her building to her climax, her breath ragged, guttural moans in her throat until, with a great shuddering push down on my hand, she came, my woman, wanting, needing, getting me.
We made love for the next hour, more softly once her need was filled, gently but with passion until, both sated, we relaxed.
‘That, my darling,’ I told her, ‘is the answer to your question. Where you go, I go, what you suffer, I suffer. Love is not love if it changes when it alteration finds, and what I feel for you is love, and does not change with your fortunes, or with the season.’
Nor did it; nor has it. What I felt then, I felt to the end.
And so we came to the leaving of the Manor where we had passed such an idyllic summer; and not just the leaving of that, but of our old life and of the England we loved.
The villagers came to pay their respects, thanking us for giving the Manor to the Abbey; the monks would be better masters than the Normans, until, that is, the Normans took the Church too. But to the victors go the spoils. The chill in the air as we left was not confined to the weather.
As we travelled south, we saw more evidence of evictions by the Normans, houses on fire, people wandering, traumatised, bewildered, armed men patrolling the roads; and this was only the start. But our passport from ‘King William’ was a golden card which none dared challenge, at least until we go the port.
There men asked what was in our trunks. I told them. They insisted on opening them. They laughed, and speaking in French, imagining us ignorant of the language, said:
‘Typical, any sensible people would be taking gold and silver, or trying to, before we impounded it, and yet these English bitches take clothes, what idiots!’
I did not let on I knew, and they let us embark.
And so it was on a cold, grey autumnal morning that we left the shores of our homeland forever. We knew that we would never see her again, and we both wept. But we were, at least, spared seeing what happened.
I have never loved to learn a sea crossing, though I have now made so many, and was glad when we reached harbour two days later.
Dry land was where I was meant to be, and once there, my spirits lifted.
Four full days after starting out, we reached our Irish Manor.
The servants had everything ready for us, and we slept that night as though all our cares were past; the air was freer, and so were we.
On the morrow we talked.
‘I understood what those men were saying Danegyth, and they had a point, we shall need ready money, and while the estates here are not poor ones, we shall need to take care, and to find ready cash for the journey to Denmark.’
‘My darling, you also heard them say that had we had gold and silver, they would have impounded it. I could not have that, so I made my own kağıthane escort provision.
‘I asked one of the servants to get help to bring one of the four trunks in.
Ealdgyth looked quizzically at me.
‘Why are you suddenly taking an interest in clothes, my darling?’
‘Only in these ones,’ I said, and smiled.
I opened the trunk, handing her a robe,
‘This feels heavy,’ she said, looking at me.
Taking a small knife, I made a slit in the lining, out of which silver coins flowed.
‘Each item, my darling, is worth a Manor’s purchase, we have enough gold and silver here to buy a small country.’
She looked at me with amazement.
‘Oh,’ and I added, ‘the six mail shirts are all made of pure gold, rubbed with resin to make each of them look dark, and they are worth a king’s ransom.’
‘But where, where did all this come from?’ She stammered.
‘The late King and I talked, Madam, and he sold off some of the northern and western manors, and mortgaged some of our southern ones. To these we added ready gold from the big chest at Westminster, reasoning that if he won, it would be of no account, as we would return it, and if we lost, it would be of no account except to the Bastard who would find himself with less money than he imagined.’
She laughed, and for the first time since she knew of Harold’s death, she seemed happy.
‘You mean, you mean you robbed the Treasury at Westminster! Danegyth, really? No!’
‘Better we have the money my Lady than the Bastard does.’
‘So that is what you were doing with the ladies when you said you were taking up needlework!’
I admitted it.
That was the end of talk about money. Harold was a brave man, and he was sure he would win, but I was glad he had taken my advice on the issue of provision for defeat. That money has served us well, and though some went on futile attempt by Godwin to unseat the Bastard, there was more than enough to provide Gytha with her dowry, and for us to live on once we reached Denmark.
And there, our story ends, or at least that was my plan. But no story ever ends, just our part in it. And as circumstances require me to pick up my quill once more, I must flesh out how it ended – if I can.
What I had feared would happen to England happened, The Norman wolves ravished her, destroying what we had loved, and replaced it with a nation under a mailed fist. My only satisfaction was learning that the Bastard had been angered by our departure, and his inability to get our lands, and that my father was furious.
We dwelt in our Danish manor of Elsinore blissfully for four years. Godwin, Magnus and Edmund all tried to raise the standard of rebellion, but all failed. They settled here, where they are high in the King’s favour. Gunnhild, we heard, did become Abbess, and occasionally we hear from her. All our lands were taken by the Bastard.
King Swen Estridsson was the ideal host. Our families had come from Denmark, and there was no love lost between him and the Bastard; he even helped sponsor Godwin’s raids. He had, I think, a tendresse for my mistress, who returned it. He seemed easy with our relationship, and so we lived almost as we had before the great Fall. And then the greatest of good fortune came. Tsar Vladimir II of Rus sent word he wanted the hand of Gytha the fair.
As the age of eighteen, Gytha’s beauty had become legendary, her character was as sweet as her mother’s, and her courage was as great as her father’s. She insisted the great Tsar come to meet her, and he did.
I could see from the moment he laid eyes on her that he loved her, and so it proved. They have been married now this last decade, and her eldest son, Harald, is the spit of kartal escort the grandfather he never knew.
And so Ealdgyth and I spent part of the year in Denmark, and part in Kiev; or we did until this year.
In the spring, just after we came back to Kiev, my lady fell sick. I nursed her, and it was in the intervals of the watches of the night that I began to write this chronicle, finding in it some consolation, sharing with her the memories of our story. She laughed, and sometimes she cried. We comforted each other, but we knew the end was coming.
Just after the Paschal celebrations for the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Ealdgyth began to fail. She took to her bed, never again to rise from it; the irony made me cry.
Gytha and the Tsar were there with me as she faded. To see daughter and mother part, forever in this world, was hard; but not so hard as knowing I was losing her. My tears flowed freely. Gytha comforted me, and she and her husband withdrew, leaving us together at the very last.
She looked at me with those great grey-blue eyes, and for a moment I saw her as I first knew her, as my mother substitute. She was the only mother I had ever known. She held my hand as a lover, oh for she had been that these last twenty-five years. She held my heart, and I could feel it breaking; I can barely write these words.
‘I have loved you beyond the power of words, beyond the love of men; oh my Danegyth, my love. Leaving life is easy, leaving you is hard. Know only this, that if there is love hereafter, I will love you to the end of time.’
I kissed her.
‘And know, my love, my Ealdgyth, you are my life, my love, my wife, my all.’
And as I said that, she smiled, squeezed my hand, and was no more.
She died as she had lived, loving, gentle and beautiful. Never was there such a woman. I can write no more.
My mother told me the secret of this manuscript on her own death bed. The end I can hardly make out for the tear-stains. My own tears are added, as I pen this postscript, but for whom I write I do not know.
Were I to take this to the Rabbi, he would tell me to destroy it as it recounts an ‘unnatural love.’ But though I love my husband and have no leanings like my mother, I know what love is, and the tale of Danegyth and Ealdgyth moves me to tears; I cannot believe them to have been wrong.
A year after the death of her beloved, my mother married my father, Jacob. He had been her financial guide since she came to Kiev, and he offered to protect her, demanding naught of her. She told me that I was the product of her love for him. One Christ Mass he was so sweet with her that she allowed him to her bed, and I was conceived. I could not have had a more loving father and mother, and in her quiet way, she was devoted to him, and he adored her, and misses her still, as do I. Her grandchildren will miss her, as she was full of stories and fun. They used to say she was like a little pixie, and they loved her tales of the olden days. Little Rahab was her favourite, and will miss her as much as me.
I asked her, at the end, why I was called Rahab, and why that name was to be passed down in our family.
She smiled, one last time, that sweet, gentle smile which her Ealdgyth had loved so well.
‘It was the will of Our Lady, my darling. I have loved you, and your father, you were the answer to a prayer I never knew I had made. But I go now to meet her.’
So she passed into the shadowlands. What she wrote of her love, I can write of her. We shall not see her like again. She was the gentlest of women and yet fierce as a wolf in defending her cub.
With great honour, in the presence of the Tsar and Queen Gytha, we buried her in the same earth of her great love; at the last their dust would lie together. In death they were once more united. Perhaps at the last they would rise together, but until then, the lovers would lie together. It was fitting.
I shall leave this with the Queen, she will know what to do with it,
I, Rahab Danegythsdottir, set my hand to this in witness.