“My Lord, you must have patience!”
Patraic let the irony of the comment pass with only a smile, but it faded again as his steward, Gilla-Patraic continued.
“The laws are clear: no war may be pressed unless we have a claim to the land. This law keeps Christendom from descending back into the chaos when Rome fell. His Holiness has upheld this law, and has threatened us with excommunication if we wage war on the island without a proper cause.”
“Pox on the Pope!” Patraic cried, “6 years have passed since I made my ultimatum. I am no closer to being King of Ireland than I am to being Sultan of Egypt!”
“I know, my Lord, and no one more than I wishes to see your ambitions realized,” the steward continued. Gilla-Patraic, among others had been invited to the court of Patraic Crovan with the promise of land and titles after victory. Many were now at work in court, or training with the levies, but Gilla’s talents for administration convinced the Earl to hire him on as steward. “Even now scholars search the libraries and archives of both Ath Cliath castle and elsewhere in search of legal claims.”
“And what have you found claims for so far, good steward? Farms? Crumbling monasteries?” Patraic paced up and down the length of his throne room. Even now, years after his usurpation, the castle was sparsely decorated. Simple banners, fires and straw beds were all the Earl afforded until the war treasury was filled and ready to supply the levies. “Wealth comes from land, glory comes from land. Until we are united in our allegiance, we will be poor in both. Have you learned nothing from your time in England?”
GIlla knew the Earl still worried about invasions from England. It was ever present in his speeches and insistences. Yet England had become a shadow, a Kingdom wrecked by civil war. While the brothers of Hwicce failed to install their own as King, Harold of Godwin had recently died and his weak son was a poor substitute. Even now, pretenders vied and fought for control.
Gilla, however, had other worries. The Lady Gwenllian had asked him to confer with the spymasters, to send out messengers and inquiries to seek out other threats in Europe. What happened on the continent would surely have ramifications on the islands as well. He had yet to hear back, though many reports were overdue.
“My Lord, we know why this must be done, and that is why I came to your court and why I now toil to see that you win. All that you accomplish by raging is becoming angry.”
“I’ll thank you not to patronize me, steward. I shall expect better news at your next report.” At this, Patraic noticed his wife entering the throne room, Coirpre walking beside her and his mood brightened. “Leave me for now, Gilla-Patraic, I have other duties to attend to.”
Gilla bowed, and offered a bow to the Lady Gwen as he passed, as well as a wink to the young boy, who looked much like a younger, soft version of his father.
“You are too harsh on your council, my Lord,” tutted Gwen. “They serve your will, you have an excellent eye for talent. Do not let your pride taint your patience.”
“Pride & patience, papa!” Squealed Coirpre. The boy was learning fast, inheriting his father’s cautious nature and had a talent for saying the right words. “Ma says you are worried, are you worried about me?”
“Never, my son. You are the best thing to ever happen to me,” said Patraic as he tussled his son’s hair. “What have you learned today?”
“Wharfs are cold, pa!” Only now did Patraic notice the saltwater scent to his sons clothes.
“Our son got away from me and went on an adventure in the Dublin docks. Only a nearby fisherman saved him from a watery demise when he fell in.”
Patraic’s eyes widened, but Coirpre seemed no worse for wear, still wearing the mischievous smile he always wore. “They are indeed cold, Coirpre, and that is why I shall have to teach you how to swim!”
The boy’s eyes lit up and then he ran off before either mother or father could catch him, making what he thought were swimming motions and sounds. “I’m gonna be a fish!”
“Patraic, that’s what I wanted to discuss with you. Tis not enough for you to just correct him anymore, leaving all to me to handle. He is at the age where he will need you to be his mentor. How should he learn to rule in your absence if you do not show him the right way?” Gwen had other duties as well, having been charged with handling the secrets of the castle and beyond, so this request served dual purposes. “And this will be good for you, to have a worthwhile distraction from the waiting.”
“I knew there was a reason I loved you, Gwen.” Patraic knew his wife was right, it was high time to teach his son how to embrace his destiny. He kept a wry tone in his voice as he embraced her. “Your eye for talent is very keen itself. Perhaps I can be of use to you as well?”
Gwen laughed, but kissed her husband deeply. “I knew you were in there somewhere, Patraic. Don’t worry, you are a good father, and a good ruler. I know for certain that you will achieve all you set out to do.”
“Ah, but ambition is tiring, let us to bed for now. Perhaps good news comes in the morning.” Patraic took his wife’s arm in his and led her out of the throne room, off to their bed chambers.
“A fine idea, my love.”
Gilla-Patraic knocked lightly on the chamber doors, for it was not yet dawn and he knew the Earl rose early. The door opened and Patraic stepped out, closing the door softly so as to not wake his wife, his son son having just been given his own room.
“I trust you have good news, steward? I have not yet broken fast and am in no mood for frivolity.”
“Oh, it is good news, my Lord,” said Gilla as he handed the Earl some documents. “These we’re handed to me not 1 hour ago.”
“These are genuine?” Patraic read the old, frayed parchments, getting more and more excited, “there can be no mistake, by God, no forgeries lest we all be excommunicated for our troubles.”
“I checked myself, my Lord, before I brought these to your attention. Do you have orders?”
Patraic handed back the documents, fire in his eyes. He walked over to a nearby window and gazed out. Gilla thought it a trick of the pre-dawn light, but the Earl seemed to have grown in height. Finally Patraic turned to his steward and took a deep breath.
“Assemble the council, have the kitchens bring breakfast to the chambers. Alert the mayor and the bishops, and sound out the call for the levies. Dublin goes to war.”
Gilla-Patraic smiled and bowed, “it will be done, my Lord. I will meet you in the council room,” and he left in a run.
‘The Earl of Dublin, Lord of Ath Cliath castle has claim to the lands belonging to the Kingdom of Leinster’ read the parchment. It was an old claim, it was weak, and it was for only a quarter of the island, but it was enough to get started.
Patraic re-entered his room and proceeded to get dressed. He was tying off his belt when Gwen stirred, grumbling at the early hour. “Come back to bed, my love.”
“I cannot, Gwen,” said Patraic as he gave his wife a kiss, “it has begun.”