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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Bullfilter

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All caught up again after some time away and getting up to speed on my own and other AARs. So, we come to the end for Marguerite (and Haldora too, as a footnote). The last of the early characters continue to drop off the perch.

“How can I forget Iberia?” Marguerite demanded. “It is where you fell! Had I done more, you would be still with us!”
And suddenly Geoffrey’s eyes grew wide. He realized that his mother was not speaking of him. She was not, in her mind, even speaking to him.
It took him a lot longer to realise than the rest of us! True to type, given his chronic self-centeredness. ;)
But she said nothing and in frustration, Geoffrey stormed from the room in a huff.
“How can you be so callous?!” Beatritz snapped. “Our mother is dying and all you can think of is yourself?! That in her poor state she wishes to see our lost brother?”
Good thing she said out loud what we were all thinking.
Taking another deep breath, Geoffrey turned back to the chamber and at a brisk pace, entered.
But he does tend to redeem himself more than he used to. He may often act as an insecure man-child, but at least can recognise it in himself and try to make amends.
Between the redness of her embarrassment, and her sullen eyes, Geoffrey couldn’t help but feel pangs of guilt. Had he really grown that angry with a dying woman?
A last moment of clarity for Marguerite and one for Geoffrey too.

I think this was a good way to handle her departure. Not a parade of ghosts (fun as they can be), but a plausible fever dream that she snaps out of at the last.
 
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JabberJock14

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Yes... Marguerite is the biggest villain in the story. Discounting Foulques I who was a murderer and adulterer. Or Geoffrey I who was an incestuous adulterer. Or Geoffrey II who is the whiniest, most self centered person ever written. However, I think the award for most villainy villain goes to the canibalistic king of Scotland.
Oh, no doubt that they are worse. I remember much of the venom that Marguerite got earlier in the story though, and with some her actions later (notably toward Ælfflæd) which is part of what made some of the villain comments pop up. Marguerite, in terms of narrative, was placed in an difficult position. She was directly opposed to the first protagonist of this story, even if it was for very valid reasons! Since it's from Foulques' POV, Marguerite's actions look worse.

Likewise, we shifted POV to Geoffrey I, who was understandably never fully able to get over what Marguerite did to him. He paid her back 10-fold, of course, but that revenge never actually cured that feeling of betrayal, especially since the real betrayal was less Marguerite and more Aubry. That said, again, Marguerite comes off as almost an antagonist to Geoffrey I coloring reader opinion.

Marguerite's worst actions were clearly with Ælfflæd, of which there really can be no defense. But then she arguably gave herself up as tribute to make it right (though that was more for Geoffrey's sake than Ælfflæd's).

I also don't think gender roles can be discounted in terms of the hate she often received. Society has ingrained in us that certain crimes are worse for women than men, and Marguerite's adultery often "felt" worse than Geoffrey or Foulques. It wasn't, but especially given CK2's gameplay of not being able to tell if your heir is of your bloodline without either cheats or the "same birthdate" exploit, it may have felt worse. Take a wider lens, and it isn't as bad.

In the end, Marguerite wasn't anywhere near the level of horridness of the Angevin men, for sure. A variety of things left her as one of the more unpopular characters in this story. I always felt for her, but I do feel bad that I often failed to make her more sympathetic, given her difficult life.

As for the most villainous thing in this story... hmm... yeah Malcolm Canmore eating his pregnant daughter in law is pretty horrible. (A side note, I watched the TV show Gargoyles as a kid so I was like... well he was the Hunter).

Behind the scenes, Alias de Perigord murdering much of his kin was also pretty bad. Foulques imprisoning the child count of Vendome for a decade + until he died in prison was also horrific. So there is no shortage of monstrous things in this story to draw on.

All caught up again after some time away and getting up to speed on my own and other AARs. So, we come to the end for Marguerite (and Haldora too, as a footnote). The last of the early characters continue to drop off the perch.


It took him a lot longer to realise than the rest of us! True to type, given his chronic self-centeredness. ;)

Good thing she said out loud what we were all thinking.
But he does tend to redeem himself more than he used to. He may often act as an insecure man-child, but at least can recognise it in himself and try to make amends.
A last moment of clarity for Marguerite and one for Geoffrey too.

I think this was a good way to handle her departure. Not a parade of ghosts (fun as they can be), but a plausible fever dream that she snaps out of at the last.
It's hard to keep up with things these days! Real life has cranked up the difficulty level, it seems, this year. But good to hear you're doing a better job than me at catching up with everything!

I felt bad reducing Haldora to a footnote. I've often sung the praises of the third-person limited format, but this is one of the drawbacks. There was nobody left who would deserve a POV chapter to really care about her death - ie, I wasn't going to give a Foulquesson chapter just for that. It is a quiet ending for a character who, for a time, was important in this narrative. She basically got retirement, and the knowledge her son was one of the most powerful lords of the realm. It probably doesn't make up for what she endured, but it is a small consolation.

It wouldn't be Geoffrey if everything didn't revolve around him. And that it doesn't, is the real crime. ;)

With Geoffrey's act of "redemption", I aimed to have it echo his father's choice in a similar situation. In the chapter prior to Geoffrey I's death, when Marguerite is severely ill, Agnes gets him to have an epiphany over his treatment of Marguerite he went to see her. Only he stops at the door, unable to go in, because in the end, he can't swallow his pride enough to do it. He kind of offers an apology on his deathbed but it is hollow - he couldn't actually do it when it mattered.

Here, Geoffrey II *is* capable of doing it. Now there's a big difference between the wife you warred with for decades and your mother, but it did hopefully show there is a difference between the massive egos of the two Geoffrey's.

My wife also approved of the lack of ghosts. I will be honest, I don't plan on using any type of ghosts again until the end of this story. And it will probably just be one. This was a way to turn it on its head, with Marguerite thinking she sees ghosts but the reader seeing clearly that it's not. And I got the chance to confront a small but rather clear nagging point (at least in my head) that Marguerite lionized Foulques the Younger, while thinking much worse of Geoffrey II, even if she loved both. Geoffrey had not really dealt with that in text, even if he almost certainly would have heard it, so now he did.

Glad to have you back among the commentators! Hope all is well with you and yours.

Onward to the next chapter! (barring any technical difficulties)
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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My wife also approved of the lack of ghosts. I will be honest, I don't plan on using any type of ghosts again until the end of this story. And it will probably just be one. This was a way to turn it on its head, with Marguerite thinking she sees ghosts but the reader seeing clearly that it's not. And I got the chance to confront a small but rather clear nagging point (at least in my head) that Marguerite lionized Foulques the Younger, while thinking much worse of Geoffrey II, even if she loved both. Geoffrey had not really dealt with that in text, even if he almost certainly would have heard it, so now he did.
It is a cheat, usually, which is why it is used very sparingly by even medieval and renaissance writers, whose audience would fully accept the concept wholesale. Much more likely to see demons, phantoms or some form of 'lies' on stage than an actual ghost helpfully granting expodtion.
 
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Chapter 269 - March 1139

JabberJock14

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Before Plantagenet - Chapter 269
March 1139 - Lydford, Kingdom of England

In hindsight, Ælfflæd could not find a more blissful, harmonious time in her life.

Two and a half years before, in the summer of 1136, the world held a great deal of discord and disunion around her. She had been made a queen, but by force. Her new vassals arrived to take their oaths, but did so reluctantly, accepting her after conquest and because she was more tolerable to their Saxon sensibilities than her husband.

She had the nerves that accompanied being a queen in the limelight - especially one branded a usurper by her enemies. Fear for her rule. Fear for her power. Fear for her life.

And yet, she also had a husband she didn’t necessarily love, but respected and was grateful for. After all, Geoffrey had shed the blood of his knights for her crown. He seemed willing to let her rule in her own right as well.

Beyond that, she had her family by her side. Her husband, not bedding his whore Ana, her son, growing fast and becoming his own person. And there was her young daughter, little Margo, wide-eyed and seeing the world with a blissful innocence. A world that included England… which she never would have dreamed for her children a decade before.

A bit of that English culture came to the fore one sunny, summer day, as she watched Margo play in a grassy field. On that day, a messenger came to the new queen, and with Margo in earshot, called her “Lady Ælfflæd Thoræddohter”.

It was no mistake - there had been instructions to speak that, in efforts to tie her to her father’s reign and thus increase her legitimacy. But such things left her daughter wondering what it all meant.

“Why did she call you that mama?” Margo had asked. “After your name?”

Ælfflæd was confused at first. “After my name?”

“Thoræddohter?” Margo asked.

Ælfflæd couldn’t resist grinning at the girl, who grew up in an Occitan world and had limited exposure to her Saxon roots. Margo heard her father referred to as "Geoffrey d'Anjou" or her mother as "Ælfflæd de Stawell" but never as "Thoræddohter."

“It is a way to identify me,” Ælfflæd said. “I am the daughter of my father, Thoræd, so I am Ælfflæd Thoræddohter. And my brother was Eadwulf Thorædson, because he was the son of Thoræd.”



Margo scratched her head. “Then I would be… Margo Ælfflæddohter?”

Ælfflæd laughed. “That is quite an honor you bestow on me. But it would be Marguerite Geoffreydohtor.”

“That’s too long mama,” Margo said.

“That’s why you don’t hear it often,” Ælfflæd said. “Especially when it comes to nobility. But you’ll hear it more with me because it’s important people remember that I am the old king’s daughter. Your grandfather.”

Margo nodded. “What was grandfather like? Was he like grandmama Marguerite?”

Ælfflæd laughed. “There are few quite like your grandmama Marguerite. No… my father…”

She paused for a moment, as she struggled to handle the rush of emotions that her father’s memory brought her. Sadness, resentment, anger… and yet, pity, and at times, as she marveled at how he managed to just barely hold England together… pride.

“Your grandfather… he was a man of grand ideas and great pride,” Ælfflæd said. “He did not always live up to either. But he tried. And that is more than most men could say… or do.”

“Would he have liked me?” Margo asked.

“He would have adored you,” Ælfflæd said with a broad smile. “Bright-eyed and curious. Just like… I was at your age.”

“Can we see him? Margo asked. “Where he is buried, like with grandpapa Geoffrey?”

Ælfflæd frowned. She could not. Her father laid in a crypt in Wiltshire, where her nephew reigned as King of Jerusalem. As a dethroned claimant to the English throne, he would not welcome her.

“He is… not in England,” Ælfflæd said slowly, but truthfully. “But if you like, we can honor him later, when we sup, with a prayer.”

Margo’s eyes lit up and she nodded. With it getting late in the day, she didn’t have to wait long for that promise to come true, as Ælfflæd had Bishop Cytelbearn lead a prayer for the late King Thoræd, first Christian King of Jerusalem, and man to emulate for all Christians.

Her children all joined in. So too did her husband, who certainly had no problems tying himself to a Christian hero. Adelise, Duke Hlothere and the other English lords present, Saxon or Norman, joined in as well, not to be caught denigrating a king that enjoyed the honors of Christendom, even if he often lacked actual support.

And in that moment, Ælfflæd raised her cup, sharing a bittersweet smile and much more with all those around her.

….



On this occasion, however, there were no smiles to share. Only frowns.

Ælfflæd stood in her solar in her keep at Lydford at a table that was surrounded by most of her councilors. The dour mood was to be expected, given they had thousands of heathens outside of their walls. And there was a growing feeling the “outside” part of that description could change at any moment.

They had come in the fall - men from the Fatimid Caliphate and the Sheik of Acre, here to take the war to “the foolish English who could not leave well enough alone” - or so the emissary who demanded the surrender of Lydford had claimed.

The exact number was not certain - 3,000 was the estimate of her marshal, Duke Hlothere, and her advisor, Duchess Adelise, with that number shrinking as the cold, damp, dark winter set in. But over 2,000 remained and were eager to get at the spoils inside.

“They will be disappointed,” Hlothere had said. “Geoffrey already took everything of value a few years ago.”

Ælfflæd remembered glaring at Hlothere and replying: “Except me. And you. And your wife.”

The color had faded from Hlothere’s face at that moment, as it often did when he realized the danger he was in, and he fell silent.

Ælfflæd would have been pleased if it had been a fairly common state of affairs. Her marshal rarely offered any worthwhile advice on anything, proving every bit the worthless political appointee she had been warned about by her cousin.

Of course, what he could do was limited. Most of the levy Ælfflæd had raised, between herself and what her vassals had given her, were in the Holy Lands. There, they had won some initial victories, but the Fatimid intervention had seen them heavily defeated subsequently. Now, she wasn’t sure what, if any, of that levy actually remained. And what was left certainly could not lend aid to them in Lydford.



That could only be done by Geoffrey.

The King of Aquitaine and “England” had potentially around 20,000 men at his disposal, or so Ælfflæd believed. She had no way to verify, as she had not spoken to her husband directly in over a year and a half. And Geoffrey never sent word of how many men he would send to England - just that he would… “eventually.”

And so she was made to wait.

She had been waiting for months now. They thankfully had enough supplies to withstand a siege since the heathens had arrived after harvest was all but complete, but they could not last forever.

Which, much to Ælfflæd’s dismay, was the cause of this council meeting.

Gathered round the table besides the queen was Duke Hlothere, Duchess Adelise, Duke Osmund of Kent and Bishop Cytelbearn - which constituted all but one member of her council. Duke Æthelsige had conveniently been in his lands when the heathens arrived and remained there now, safely away from their army. At least for now.
Despite the situation being a military matter, made for the marshal, it was the bishop, who doubled as the spymaster, and the duchess who took the lead.

“Our men indicate their progress is clear,” Cytelbearn said. “They near the completion of their towers.”

“Even though our walls continue to hold strong against their catapults,” Adelise began, “it won’t matter once those towers are completed. They will assault us, and we will struggle to hold.”

Taking the town by storm. It is Wiltshire all over again.

When she dealt with the siege of Bordeaux, there was a quiet confidence in her husband’s council that they would hold. Geoffrey would return, and even if he didn’t, the English simply didn’t have the strength to assault the walls and succeed.

Here, that was not the case.

Lydford could call upon a few hundred ill-trained men to fight alongside Ælfflæd and her nobles' personal huscarls and knights. Even if the heathens could not bring more than 2,500 to the fight, it was likely ten times the number of the defenders. There was too much wall to cover. Eventually they would find a hole and storm through.

“How many towers do we speak of?” Duke Hlothere asked. “One or two…”

“More than that,” Adelise said. “Enough where… the fall of Lydford is nearly certain. It won’t be tomorrow… we don’t think. But in a week? Certainly within a month. We simply can’t hold.”

“Surely there is something…” Hlothere stammered. But Adelise shook her head, while Ælfflæd lowered hers. The duke turned to his fellow lord, Osmund of Kent.

“Have you nothing to add?” he asked. “To ask? You commanded the realm’s armies not that long ago.”

Osmund simply shrugged and shook his head. Hlothere could only curse under his breath as a reply.

Osmund reeked of ale, as had been commonplace these days. The siege, perhaps, had gotten to him, though his wife had admitted to Ælfflæd and Adelise that he had not been the same since the war against Aquitaine, when he had been in command of the English armies in the field.

Unstated was that getting whipped as he had - including being driven east and living like a brigand for over a year - was the cause. A cause that was tied to Ælfflæd becoming queen.



I broke my uncle, she realized.

And yet she could not replace him. She already knew she had permanently made an enemy of Duke Sigeric of Essex with her war declaration and his subsequent firing as her chancellor. She could not afford to humiliate her uncle and further push him toward her enemies.

Those enemies were growing by the day. She had attempted overtures toward Duchess Ecgwyn as the girl had come of age. She even had sent her a small gift to commemorate the birth of her first child. There had been little in reply - aside from rumors she bided her time to strike at the queen.



And Duchess Aevis was also becoming a question. She had departed Lydford midway through her pregnancy, which had resulted in the birth of twin girls. Despite maintaining regency duties, however, she did not return from her manor in Leicester.

Technically she had no need to - Ælfflæd was perfectly capable of ruling. And the fight over her council and the war had shown Aevis’ honorary position was powerless. But it still raised the queen’s suspicions that her cousin had all but abandoned her in a time of need - or so Adelise insisted to her.



Of course beyond loyalty, Ælfflæd couldn’t think of a reason why someone would willingly subject themselves to being trapped inside of a keep, with their only escape a passage that could still result in capture - a capture that might well only be averted by the arrival of one man.

“What of my husband?” Ælfflæd asked. “Any word from him?”

“No riders have made it to us,” Hlothere said.

“Our spies have heard that the heathens believe he assembles his men in Brittany,” Adelise said. “However, they will take time to make it across. Time we may not have.”

“Would they not flee if Geoffrey moves against them?” Osmund asked.

“They likely fear Geoffrey will fight them anyway,” Adelise said. “So they make plans to storm the town, hoping to capture the queen.”

“How much time do we have?” Osmund asked Hlothere.

The Duke of Northumbria scratched his temple, then his beard, his gaze darting away from those gathered. “I er… probably a few weeks.”

Adelise rolled her eyes at Osmund’s lack of attention. “I said earlier, uncle, days, perhaps a month if we are lucky. It’s unlikely Geoffrey will be across the channel to save us by then.”

“Then we must retreat from here,” Osmund said. “Our families are here. We cannot let them fall victim to these heathens.”

Osmund sounded selfish, but Ælfflæd knew he spoke the truth. Osmund’s son and heir, her 15-year-old cousin Ælfsige, was here in Lydford. So too was Avelina, Duchess Adelise’s daughter, as well as the Duchess’ new husband, the very youthful Jordan, heir to the county of York. Hlothere’s wife, Duchess Ealflaed, was among Ælfflæd’s ladies, even if their children remained in Northumberland.



It was true, some had left. The daughter of Duchess Maud of East Anglia was back with her mother. The brief time as a lady for Ælfflæd’s youngest maternal aunt, Duchess Seaxburh of Essex, had ended when the queen had fired Duke Sigeric. But those that remained were close to her supporters - losing them could endanger her position further.

“If we are to make our retreat from here then,” Hlothere began. “We must do so soon.”

“Retreat… is not an option,” Ælfflæd said. “I will not abandon Lydford.”

The councilors traded looks at one another, none appearing too happy over her comments.

“I understand you wish to wait for the king,” Osmund said. “But it is unlikely he arrives in time.”

“Lydford will not fall easily,” Ælfflæd insisted. “It took Geoffrey a great deal of effort to take it, and he had four times the men.”

“But we have far, far fewer than Ecgwyn did,” Adelise repeated. “We may not be able to cover all the places on the wall. And trying to hold the keep, while we could make their work bloody, I fear will not ultimately be successful.”

“Yes, yes, exactly,” Hlothere said. “That’s why we must retreat.”

Ælfflæd eyed the Duke of Northumbria. He was craven, and a terrible military man. So of course he had no faith in holding the keep - he could not stand anything that put him at risk.



“This is craven talk,” Ælfflæd said. “Believing ourselves beaten before they have tried to attack us.”

“It might be,” Adelise said. “It might not be. The risk either way is far too great. You would fall into their hands and all would be lost.”

The words sent a chill down her spine. The thought of falling into the heathens hands again… memories of her first capture bubbled to the surface. Suddenly she felt cold. And alone.

“Perhaps we should take a few moments to regroup,” Adelise said. “This is a difficult choice. While a decision must be made soon… there is little benefit for it being made at this very instant.”

Ælfflæd managed a slight nod and the councilors made their way out of the solar. Only Osmund and Adelise remained. But the duchess turned to the duke and said: “Uncle, if I might have a moment with the queen.”

“I would be of aid in any discussion,” Osmund said. “Given my experience…”

“No,” Ælfflæd said. “I wish to speak with Adelise alone.”

Osmund frowned and glared at the pair. But he did eventually make his exit from the solar, leaving Adelise to shake her head.



“We will need to send him a case of ale,” Adelise said. “That will pacify him.”

Ælfflæd sighed and nodded. It was another problem, but at the minute it seemed so unimportant.

“I can’t run,” she told Adelise. “I cannot surrender this to the heathens.”

“It is temporary,” Adelise replied. “We will retreat and then strike with your husband’s forces.”

“My father had Wiltshire returned to him,” Ælfflæd said. “It did not lessen the humiliation.”

“The humiliation was not losing Wiltshire,” Adelise said. “The humiliation was the capture of his wife, daughter, brother, mother and a host of others. And it will be far greater if you fall into their hands.”

“I said I would be better than him,” Ælfflæd said. “And at best, I am committing myself to be the same.”

“You are committing yourself to be worse if you remain,” Adelise said. “If you retreat and fight again, then win the war, you will avoid that fate. But only if you retreat.”

Ælfflæd shook her head. “Do you remember what Lida said about my son?”

Adelise nodded. “That Berard told her that the prince argued with your husband in your defense?”

“My son was willing to challenge his father because he believes in me,” Ælfflæd said. “I remember when I believed in my father. And then I remembered what happened when I no longer did.”

“Elf…” Adelise began.

“I do not want my children… my eldest son, to look at me and have the same shame I did for my father,” Ælfflæd said. “I can’t bear him to think of me like that. Not after he believed in me.”

“And when they capture you?” Adelise replied.

“They will not capture me,” Ælfflæd said. “They may take this town, but not me. Not again. I will die before I let that happen again.”

“So you are to sit here, and demand that we fight to the last… for what, so that he might have a memory of his mother, rather than the person in the flesh?” Adelise demanded. “And you are to sacrifice everyone else in the process?”

“You and the others could go,” Ælfflæd said. “This is my war. This is my town. My keep. It is my responsibility. Not yours.”

Adelise rubbed her temples and shook her head. She was silent for a moment as she walked back toward the table and leaned up against it, dropping her head and releasing an exasperated sigh. But she did eventually pick her head up, gaze at Ælfflæd and with a raspy, tired voice say:

“Perhaps there is honor in charging forth, if the alternative is hiding away for the remainder of your days,” Adelise said. “I can imagine a situation where a ruler, knowing there is no hope, no salvation coming, straps on his or her armor, and charges forth into the fray, looking for a good death.”

She paused for a moment as if to gather herself for the final flourish.

“But Elf, this is not that. Lydford may be lost, but the war is not. Your husband does gather in Brittany. He will come across the channel, so he swore. And this defeat shall be avenged. You should be there to do the avenging, not be one who is avenged.”

“It did not help my father,” Ælfflæd noted.

“Because he never avenged what happened,” Adelise noted. “But that won’t happen here. You gambled that Geoffrey would come to our aid. He has. Do not ignore that now.”

In a way, she wanted to. She knew how furious Geoffrey was when he found out about her decision to go to war. So she knew what awaited her when they were reunited. Her only hope had been that she had been so successful he had to be muted in his critiques.

This was the exact opposite.

“Do you know what he’s going to do to me when he sees me?” Ælfflæd asked.

Adelise sighed. “If I could advise you to go anywhere else… I would. But it is safest to escape to Brittany. The rest of England is ravaged by smallpox, save Cornwall… and I would not place any trust into Duchess Ecgwyn for your safety. Or mine.”

“She remains friendly with Aevis,” Ælfflæd noted.

Exactly,” Adelise replied.

Ælfflæd knew the sisters did not get along. But things had gotten worse over the past year, with the duo barely on speaking terms, even when Aevis was around. They each suspected the other of plotting the other’s downfall, specifically to seize their duchies. Ælfflæd could do nothing but encourage harmony for the sisters, but they had fallen on deaf ears.

However, that was another problem which was forced into the background. Instead, Ælfflæd stood from her seat, ready to face the one that stared her in the face.

“Prepare for our escape,” Ælfflæd told her. “We will move under the cover of darkness, tonight. Have Hlothere, Osmund and your ladies prepare themselves. Brittany is where we head.”

“It will be done,” Adelise said.

Ælfflæd then frowned at her next thought. She didn’t want to do this. But she could not, in good conscience, do anything differently.

“Tell the guards to wait two days,” Ælfflæd said. “Then negotiate the surrender of the town.”

Adelise’s eyes grew wide. “They have the food to last…”

“But not the men to survive an assault,” Ælfflæd reminded her. “And it will be brutal if that happens - worse than when Geoffrey took it. Make certain you explain there is no surrender except if there is no looting, pillaging, or anything else by the heathens.”

“It may well happen if they take it by assault, yes,” Adeise said. “But… they would be weakened, and easier for your husband to crush when he lands here.”

“I will not let these people suffer for me,” Ælfflæd said. “They have suffered enough.”

Adelise frowned but nodded. “As you wish.”

Ælfflæd didn’t wish any of this. But she could do nothing else. She had gone into this war looking to earn her place - to prove herself a true queen.

Now she realized she might have bitten off more than she could chew. Forced from her home, losing her only keep, and left to rely on allies to save her. All while those around her think her weak and ineffectual.

Thoræddohtor indeed.

….

The sky was cloudy, and the moonlight almost non-existent that evening - proving it the perfect night to flee. And flee they did.

They traveled through the passage in the keep, which went underground, underneath the sharp ravine that separated the keep and the southwest section of the wall. It was the least valuable area to siege - for there was no good way to attack the keep from that position, and thus, the guess was that it would be the least guarded.
It had worked for Ecgwyn when she escaped Geoffrey, and on this day, it worked as well for Ælfflæd.

She went after her knights but before most of her adult ladies, save Lida and Duchess Ealflaed of Northumberland, who were given special treatment due to their husbands.

They were led by her one remaining commander, an Ashkanazi Jew with Greek roots named Kalonymos, who was not the greatest of leaders on the battlefield but excelled in scouting and pathfinding. He seemed perfect for this occasion.



The shorter route to the coast was to Sutton, but that also figured to be the most dangerous, since the invaders likely had more men and sentries to the south. It would take hours longer to go to the east, toward Exeter, but it was believed to be safer.

Despite that, they still traveled under the cover of the extreme darkness, with the fog only decreasing visibility further. Guides, trained to navigate just off the road in less than ideal circumstances, allowed them to make their way forward, albeit somewhat slowly.

Occasionally they heard the sounds of horses in the distance, which they could only assume to be sentries, since travelers would avoid the roads at night, especially in these circumstances. Brigands also likely wouldn’t be active, since there would be no one worth preying on at this time.

To aid in their secrecy, they traveled without horses and pack animals, which might give away their location by sound or smell. It meant abandoning most of their valuables and clothes in Lydford but there was little else they could do. When it came to food, they packed lightly, since they were around a day away from their destination.

They also traveled in two separate groups of about 15 people, which added to the anxiety since either party could get lost, or get discovered and captured.

Whenever horses or people were heard, the party was brought to a stop. Not a sound was allowed to be made. The only child with them, Adelise’s daughter Avelina, had her mouth covered by her mother.

The nerves increased as the night gave way to the early morning, though the fog only increased in thickness as the sky began to brighten.

“God shrouds the eyes of our enemies,” Lida said. “He grants us passage.”

That was something Ælfflæd was not willing to believe just yet. It was true she had made it farther than when she had tried to escape Wiltshire as a girl, but they were not safe just yet.

When the fog did lift in the late morning, however, giving clear sight to the cloudy sky above, they had made it over halfway to Exeter. Given they had left not long after sundown, that was actually poor progress. But they were moving forward, and every step took them further away from the clutches of the heathens.

It was near sundown when Exeter finally did come into view, allowing them a walled city to stop for the evening. Secrecy was again taken, with the nobles taking great lengths to disguise themselves - all as travelers making their way toward Lydwicnasse, at the mouth of the River Exe.

Which meant their journey was not over yet - they still had to travel the next morning further south. But Ælfflæd could be grateful for a decent bed at the inn, sharing a room with Adelise, Ealflaed, Lida and young Avelina. Few words were spoken, since the queen was in no mood to talk.

She had fled her home. She was about to flee England again. She was not yet safe, and would not be until she made it to her husband… which promised it’s own set of problems.

No, Ælfflæd had nothing to say. And very little to hope for.

The next morning they continued on. The second party, containing the rest of her ladies, as well as the less important members who traveled with them, who had arrived later the night before, also left a few hours after them.

This trip was shorter, taking only until midway to reach the small village that was not far off the river. It was small, a mill and a few houses, with the dock further off. There, a small sailing ship floated in the shallow river, which Ælfflæd had been told would take them across the channel.

But that ship would not depart until sunset, which signaled a whole new set of dangers.

“Night travel? That is hardly safe,” Osmund said.

“Fatimid boats patrol the coast,” Kalonymos said. “It is safest to go when visibility is low.”

“And if we hit rocks?” Hlothere asked.

“It is why we put out at sunset,” Kalonymos said. “A little more sight and it fades by the time we reach the sea.”

“You could go home,” Ælfflæd told him. “Take your son and return to Kent.”

Osmund shook his head. “I am your chancellor. I cannot abandon you now.”

It was perhaps the most heartwarming thing her uncle had ever said to her, and Ælfflæd was shocked to hear it. All she could muster in reply was: “Th… Thank you, uncle.”

He bowed before her and smiled before returning to his son and a few knights.

Perhaps I underestimated him after all, Ælfflæd thought. I will need to commend him… all of them… when we get through this.

Her eyes drifted back to the ship and the horizon beyond.

If we get through this.

….

Their late departure meant the other party had time to arrive, which they did in the early afternoon. Then it was just a long wait until the sun got low in the partially cloudy sky, and the group boarded the ship. The water was choppy, causing the row boat that took them out to the ship to wobble, and didn’t exactly inspire confidence over the safety of their journey.

It left Ælfflæd’s mind racing through the possibilities - that they would be caught by the raiders, despite the darkness and be hauled off. Or they would strike something and she would drown in the cold, dark sea.

It sent a shiver down her spine. Though, she reasoned, if she did drown, Guilhem would immediately ascend to the throne and Geoffrey would not hesitate to protect their son.

He would not fight this war for me, she thought. But he would fight it for him.

It left it difficult to get a night’s sleep. But that might have been impossible anyway, for there wasn’t a lot of room for it. They were all cramped onto this ship, with the knights and guards above deck, but the queen, her nobles and their closest into the hull. The queen was afforded room to sit, as were Adelise, Osmund and Hlothere. But that was it, with everyone else made to stand - save Duchess Ealflaed, who sat on her husband Hlothere’s lap.

Few words were spoken. There was no privacy, and the nerves were real. A few people had to squeeze out and head above deck due to seasickness - they did not wish for anyone to vomit in such close quarters. The smell alone would be enough to force them all out onto the deck.

Towards the end of the trip, her cousin, Osmund’s son, didn’t, and vomited on the leg of a knight and Ælfflæd's lady Escarlemonde. There were groans and a few shouts but little else since few could speak ill of Osmund.

The smell, however, grew sickening over time, and Ælfflæd forced herself above deck before long. A vicious rock of the boat knocked her as she came up, throwing her to the deck. It would bruise, but the cold sea air was a welcome change from the smell of unwashed people and vomit.

Another welcome sight was land, just coming over the horizon in the morning sun.

….

A few hours later, Ælfflæd was on a rowboat, making her way toward the shore in St. Malo. It had been where she had met Geoffrey back some three and a half years before when he prepared to invade England in her name.

Today, however, Geoffrey was not there, as she learned he was headquartered in one of his uncle’s manors in the Brittany countryside, to their east, near Huelgoat. Which meant it would be more time before they managed to reach her husband.

This time, Ælfflæd was able to ride, as they could purchase horses for the nobles and knights, even if the others were made to walk.

That trek took another five days, with rainy weather delaying them one of the days. It left Ælfflæd and the others dusty, dirty and exhausted by the time they reached the commune around the manor.

It was made worse by the news that Lydford had fallen. It was not a surprise - she had given instructions for a negotiated surrender after all - but it was another sign of how poorly they had fared.

And how poor my decision was, Ælfflæd thought.



Dejected, dirty, haggard and exhausted, the queen and her nobles certainly did not look the part of their illustrious backgrounds when they arrived in the manor commune. That probably played a role at the surprise and doubt when Ælfflæd’s presence was announced to the guards at the gates of the manor.

They had sent word to Geoffrey ahead of time though they had not heard word back from those riders. Instead, Ælfflæd was refused her entry until someone who might recognize her was found. Thankfully, since she was queen, that did not take too long.

It was Berard who came forth, and Lida’s eyes lit up when she saw him, having not laid eyes upon him in a year and a half. She ran forth, calling his name… only to be grabbed by the guards.

“Let her through!” Berard ordered. “That is my wife!”

The men did as they were told and the lady ran up to her husband and jumped into his arms, gripping him tightly. Berard reciprocated, kissing her deeply.

“I have missed you so,” Lida told him.

“And I you,” Berard said. “There was not a night where I did not think of you… and worry.”

Ælfflæd felt her heart melt. And then she felt a twinge of jealousy, knowing such a reunion with her husband was well beyond her grasp for a variety of reasons.

“Sir Berard,” a guard spoke up. “Are they who they say they are then? Is this the queen?”

Berard’s gaze turned toward Ælfflæd and she could see his brow furrow and eyes narrow. “Yes, that is her. And with her the Dukes of Northumbria and Kent, along with the Duchess of Mercia. Let them past.”

The guards grew wide-eyed, and their faces turned red, likely embarrassed at their refusal to believe their extremely high-profile guests.

They marched through the gates and up toward the large manor. As they did, Osmund came up just behind the king's advisor.

“We are grateful for your presence here,” Osmund said. “The heathens cannot linger long in Lydford, knowing the king makes his way there.”

Berard’s frown did not change and the advisor to the king said nothing. He was angry, and Ælfflæd knew nothing they could say would placate him. His wife had been in danger and he blamed them for it.

No, he blames me for it, Ælfflæd said. And he is right.

Her stomach twisted, for she knew if this was Berard’s reaction, what awaited her with Geoffrey was likely much, much worse.

They were led into the main hall, which was surprisingly, largely empty of people, even servants. Everyone who was present was standing in line with Geoffrey, who himself was seated on a throne in the hall, dressed in a purple trimmed tunic and wearing a golden, jewel encrusted crown.

Ælfflæd knew this family well enough to know now that despite the guards’ surprise, their arrival was not a shock for the king. Their riders had reached him - he just never allowed them to deliver a return message. Why else would he be so well dressed if he didn’t already know of their arrival?

Standing by Geoffrey was his cousin Rogier, along with that frightful Dane, Knud. Ancel, son of Duke Foulquesson, was also present.

They all looked on in silence, which Ælfflæd cared little about. Her gaze became fixed on the person she worried for the most - her son.

How would he react to seeing her? Would he be happy she was safe? Or frustrated and disappointed in her humiliating failure? She almost did not want to find out.

She did not need to wait long for the answer.

“Mother!”

Prince Guilhem rushed over to greet her, squeezing her tightly. He had grown since the last time she’d seen him, over a year and a half before, and he was a bit taller than her now. He still looked a boy, however, which suited her just fine.

And suddenly the emotions came out. Her eyes stung as the tears welled in them, her heart raced and she squeezed her eldest as tightly as he had her, enough to force the air from him.



“I thought I might never see you again,” she said.

“I was worried too,” he said. “When I heard they had laid siege to Lydford and you were still there… And then when news reached us that it fell...”

“We escaped,” Ælfflæd said. “As you see. Days ago. And… we are here, now.”

“And safe,” Guilhem said.

A loud clearing of the throat broke up the moment as Ælfflæd turned to the source of the sound - her husband, who eyed the reunion while resting his head on his fist.
“Guilhem,” he said as he motioned with his head for the boy to return to his side.

The prince’s shoulders slumped for a moment, but he smiled once more at his mother, who snuck a wet kiss on his cheek before the boy returned to his father.

The happiness of the moment faded quickly however, and her sense of dread returned as she looked at her husband. He did not appear overly angry, but he certainly was not overjoyed at her escape.

“King Geoffrey,” Osmund said. “Thank you for receiving us. As I told your advisor, Sir Berard we---”

Geoffrey raised his hand, interrupting Osmund. The Duke of Kent fell silent.

Two months,” Geoffrey said. “I told you over two months ago to flee Lydford. I know those messages went through.”

They had. While communication over the last month had been impossible, the last message that had gotten through was telling Ælfflæd to retreat to Brittany.

“We… hoped to hold out until you arrived,” Duchess Adelise said. “But they had begun to build siege equipment and it… we did not have much time left.”

“Ah, I see,” Geoffrey said. “I was able to judge the situation from Bordeaux better than you could with the heathens outside your gates. Not exactly reassuring for the advice my wife is being given.”

The tone and words were unmistakable. Geoffrey was talking to the Queen of England and three of her most powerful vassals as if they were children.

And perhaps even more surprising to Ælfflæd was how Hlothere and Osmund simply took it, lowering their heads and dropping their gaze from him. Adelise, at least, did not flinch, though she said nothing.

However, they were her vassals. It was not on them to speak. That was her job.

“I did not wish to appear craven,” Ælfflæd spoke up. “They recommended I leave. But I insisted we remain… that our defenses could hold until you arrived.”

Geoffrey’s brow rose. “So it is my fault for not arriving sooner?”

“No,” Ælfflæd said. “It is mine for misjudging the situation.”

In truth, she did believe he could have arrived sooner. His mother had been a passive-aggressive woman all her life and her son sometimes followed in her footsteps.
But she knew that before. And that she clung to a hope that Geoffrey would be bigger than he was… that was her mistake. One she would not look to repeat again.

“I would hope your councilors would provide better advice,” Geoffrey said. “Even mine have been able to convince me to change course, on occasion. Perhaps you need better men… and women.”

Ælfflæd could see Osmund and Adelise frown at that, though Hlothere’s head was so far down his chin was pressing against his chest.

He was granted a reprieve however from the gaze he cowardly looked to escape from, when Geoffrey spoke next.

“You all are dismissed,” Geoffrey said. “Berard, you and your family have the day together. Knud, you are free to do as you please. Ancel, we will continue our conversation later.”

They all nodded and bowed. Then the king turned his gaze to the English contingent.

“As for you, I don’t care where you go,” Geoffrey said. “Just out of this hall. Except my wife. She stays.”

Ælfflæd wondered if there would be some resistance to that. And perhaps there might have been, had she not been Geoffrey’s wife. But she was, and the lines of what constituted affairs of state and affairs of marriage were blurred. So they retreated, with the closest thing to a show of support being Adelise gripping Ælfflæd’s hand and touching her shoulder before departing.

Once the room was clear, Ælfflæd expected Geoffrey’s white-hot temper. The same fire that had nearly sent her to the dungeons when she questioned his refusal to visit his dying aunt. Or the one that had destroyed quite a few chambers in the past.



It was a fire she had steeled herself for in the preceding months, as the war turned south and she knew coming for his aid was unavoidable. He controlled it, barely, in front of the others. But now...

And yet, Geoffrey simply sat there, cup of wine in one hand, while he stroked the beginnings of a new beard on his chin with his other. He eyed her, no anger on his face. He said nothing.

Ælfflæd glanced around, wondering if something was to happen. Were guards to appear and haul her away to a dungeon? Was she supposed to simply stand here? Go to her knees? Say something?

Her stomach twisted further and further as she stood there, the silence maddening. Why is he saying nothing? Why is he doing nothing but drinking his wine and staring at me? Why does he not react? He surely has been waiting months… no over a year for this. What does he wait for?

Finally, it got too much for Ælfflæd to take any longer.

“Have you anything to say?” she demanded.

Geoffrey’s stone gaze finally broke. A smirk formed on his thin lips.

“No. I do not,” he replied.

Her eyes widened. “After all of this… you expect me to believe you have nothing to say?”

Geoffrey grinned. “Your armies in the Holy Lands are mauled. The home I took and rebuilt for you burns. You have run from the kingdom you claim to rule. And now, you come to me, muddied, smelling of horses, the sea and God only knows what else, begging for aid. I think that says it all, really.”

And there it was. His anger had not faded. It was simply sated by seeing her humiliated.

“To take such pleasure out of the suffering of your wife… the mother of your children…” she retorted.

“I take pleasure in seeing God met out appropriate punishment for your foolish actions,” Geoffrey said. “Just as I did when my uncle rushed off to battle the Bretons, only to find himself on the verge of defeat. But back then, he sent my sister to beg. At least you have the courage to do it yourself.”

Somehow, Ælfflæd did not feel that much of a compliment.

“But I have even less obligation to aid you,” Geoffrey replied. “For you and your vassals have insisted that I am not truly your king. That I am merely your consort.”

You said I am a ruler in my own right,” Ælfflæd reminded him.

“As a vassal,” Geoffrey pointed out. “As my uncles are. Or the Count of Limousin. Or the barons. Instead you think yourself my equal. And that… that… is laughable.”

“The nerve,” Ælfflæd began.

“Oh, should I leave you to your own devices?” Geoffrey asked. “I no longer have to worry about Berard in my ear since his wife is safe, so perhaps I should just release my men. They are deserving of a rest.”

Ælfflæd frowned. “You wouldn’t… it would look poor upon you.”

“It would,” Geoffrey said. “But unlike you, my dear, there are few who can do about that. You? The heathens would have you. Your lords likely would do the same.”

“You would let me suffer?” Ælfflæd demanded.

“I can just as easily rest my men, wait a few years, and then break them all,” Geoffrey said. “Then place our son on the throne. He will understand that he is to do as I tell him - as will the people I have actually overseeing England.”

“They will rebel,” Ælfflæd warned.

“They will rebel anyway,” Geoffrey replied. “And even if they don’t, I’m left fighting wars I did not ask for there anyway. So what is the difference?”

She wanted to tell Geoffrey he was wrong, that there was more to it than that. And there was… but the ultimate threat - that their soon to be 11 year old son would be his puppet, was not something she could counter. Not when Geoffrey was willing to also crush England if they dared resist.

“So it comes to this,” Geoffrey said as he stood. “Fealty. I did not think I needed to do this with you, but you have forced my hand. Swear fealty to me, or I shall take my armies from Brittany, return my ships to their various ports and return to Bordeaux with our children.”

“Our children… are here?” Ælfflæd asked. “Besides Guilhem?”

“I brought them, yes,” Geoffrey said. “I thought they should see how their father fixes their mother’s mess. But if you do not make your oaths to me, they will return home, with me.”

“We have an alliance,” Ælfflæd replied.

“I would defend you if you were attacked,” Geoffrey said. “But you were not attacked. You attacked them, at an inopportune time for me. Precisely because it was an inopportune time for me. I have declared an intent to fight the heathens yes… but I can simply remain in Aquitaine while England burns, saying I defend my realm from their raids.”

Ælfflæd glared at him. She wished to yell at him. To slap him. But she knew she could do none of that and receive the aid she so desired.

“And if I do swear fealty?” Ælfflæd asked.

“Then my men and I go across the channel, and we crush the heathens,” Geoffrey said. “England is defended, Lydford is liberated and you are restored… to your rightful place as queen of the English, who is second to the King of Aquitaine.”

It made Ælfflæd want to vomit - to submit herself to him in this way. It was perhaps the greatest humiliation she had ever suffered - worse than anything with Ana de Perigord. To be made to officially place herself, a monarch in her own right, second to a fellow monarch… explicitly.

It was the opposite of why she had done this. She wanted to free herself. To prove herself capable of standing on her own. To not be a puppet.

I can’t accept this. I have to deny him. My father…

She knew her father would never accept this. Her father would not compromise until it was too late. It was what left her and her mother in Tunis for so long - refusing to spend the gold to free them when it could be used to fight the war. They were the sacrifice… all for naught.

Ælfflæd closed her eyes, resisting the tears that were causing her eyes to burn. She understood now. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she understood why her father did it. Why he abandoned her. And it didn’t make her feel any better.

Lips trembling, hands gripped together so tightly they had turned white, Ælfflæd dropped to her knees.

“I swear to you,” she said. “I swear to you, husband, that I am your woman. Never to act against you. To come to you when called. To abide by your rules and your decrees.”

“King,” Geoffrey said. “Not husband. King.”

Ælfflæd gritted her teeth. “Yes, my king. I swear those things… to you.”

“Then rise, my lady, and embrace your king,” Geoffrey told her.

She glared at him for a moment, but rose to her feet and did as she was told. He responded by gripping her tightly, whispering in her ear: “Never again, my dear. Never again.”

He let go and she pulled away, while he dusted himself off, if anything, mildly irked that his fine clothing had been tainted by the grime of her weather-worn attire.

“Is that all?” she asked, her voice trembling. “Am I free to go?”

“Go where?” Geoffrey asked. “You cannot return to Lydford until I have driven the heathens away. Are you to run to another of my uncle’s manors? Or perhaps all the way back to Bordeaux?”

“I would not think you wish me with you,” Ælfflæd said.

Geoffrey laughed. “Oh no, dear wife, you have it wrong. I want nothing more than you with me. At all times. I don’t want you out of my sight, so that you might be tempted to do something you should not. We shall be as we should have been this whole time - husband and wife, together.”

He retreated back to his throne and plopped himself down on it. “Now clean yourself. I know you may have forgotten while in England, but the Queen of Aquitaine cannot go about looking and smelling like a filthy peasant. I will not have my bed sullied in such a way.”

Ælfflæd eyed him, wondering if perhaps she should remain like this, as to make him suffer as she would when she would be forced back to his bed. He wouldn’t like this, but he had humiliated her already, treating her as a “filthy peasant”. Why not embrace the role?

But she did not wish to appear to her children in such a matter, so she dismissed the thought. Instead, she turned to leave - though she stopped when she heard Geoffrey clear his throat.

She turned her head back to him, with brow raised. “Yes?”

“Yes, my king,” he said. “And I expect you to do as all my vassals do when they depart my presence. They bow respectfully.”

Petty little boy, she thought. He looks a man but every bit the child who pretended to be a squire.

But it would get her out of there quicker, so Ælfflæd, brow furrowed, gave an exaggerated bow before him, enough that her coif actually shook loose, and a few stands of black hair fell in front of her face.

Geoffrey laughed. “That fire and will is useful, my dear. But make certain you point it at the right people. Otherwise, I shall be forced to put it out.”

Then he waved her off, dismissing her in a manner fit for a servant, not a vassal. But Ælfflæd was sick of him and wanted out of this chamber, so she swallowed her pride and left.

She needed a bath. The warm waters would hopefully wash away the stench of the last week from her person, and restore her properly in order to greet the only people she cared to see in the whole of this manor - her children.
…..

As much as things could change in a year and a half with adults, it was nothing compared to how it often went with children.

They could grow like weeds, change facially, look like entirely different persons… and behave as such as well, especially with younger children.

And Ælfflæd had two younger children she was anxious to greet.

She had not seen them since the wedding of her sister-by-law Aines to the Duke of Toulouse, with her forced to say goodbye to them once more not long after in Bordeaux. That had been over a year and a half ago.

Margo was a child of three and a half years when Ælfflæd saw her last. Her babe, Prince Geoffrey, was only six months. She had heard of them in stories, but seeing them and hearing them would be different - especially the young prince. She was anxious to hear what he sounded like after all this time.

She had bathed alone, with only servants attending to her and had been dressed in clothes that had been prepared for her - taken from Bordeaux. It was another sign her husband had expected her.

But her anxiousness and impatience over seeing her children grew too much to resist and she did not bother to get herself ready besides being dressed - her black hair was allowed free and undone. It would have been uncouth had she expected to receive actual guests, but since it was her children she could care less.

The children were in the chamber with Geoffrey’s cousin Rogier, who’s wide-eyes upon seeing her likely betrayed his shock at seeing her with head uncovered. But he recovered, bowed before her and then departed, closing the door behind him.

It was almost surreal. Margo was taller than she had been before and thinner in the face with her remaining baby fat gone. She was dressed as a proper little girl, her dark hair done in a ponytail.



But even stranger was that a small boy who Ælfflæd did not recognize at first, was behind Margo, almost hiding. But given his age, similarities to Guilhem and Margo, she soon realized it was her youngest child.

And then another harsh reality struck her - my own son doesn’t recognize me. And he’s scared of me.

But the boy was soon scooped up by Guilhem, who brought him toward her.



“Come now little brother,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of our mother. I know she has probably missed you more than any of us.”

Ælfflæd shook her head. “I have missed all of you the same. My sweet children. I wished you were with me so many nights… but…”

But not recently, for fear they would have suffered her fate. It was painful to even think that Geoffrey had been right about that, so she simply pushed it from her mind.

“But we are here together now,” she said as she kissed the younger Geoffrey’s forehead and then squeezed Guilhem tightly. Margo hurried over and joined in the embrace.

“Is papa angry with you?” Margo asked.

“Margo,” Guilhem said. “I told you not to ask about that.”

“But mama knows better than you,” Margo said.

“Quiet,” Guilhem told her.

“It’s fine,” Ælfflæd said, not wishing her children to bicker. She looked at her daughter, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Your father and I have had a disagreement. We have had many over the years as married people often do. When you are wed, you and your husband will not always agree either.”

“Why is he angry?” Margo asked.

Ælfflæd sighed. “Mama did… she had to do something your father did not understand. It’s complicated but when you’re older, you will understand.”

“Why is it compli… compa… compli..ated?” Margo asked.

“Because you don’t understand it,” Guilhem told her. “Now, hush up. Mother does not need to be bothered by so many questions. She has had a difficult trip.”

“It’s alright,” Ælfflæd replied. “A lot has happened. I’m just happy we’re all together again.”

She then picked up Geoffrey, who remained tense. She attempted to relax him by giving him a few tender kisses, and whispering how she missed her baby boy.
But Prince Geoffrey didn’t say anything, looking at her with almost a curiosity in his big brown eyes.

“He doesn’t really talk,” Margo said. “I play with him all the time, and he laughs and cries, but he doesn’t have many words yet.”

“Oh…” Ælfflæd said, suddenly feeling a bit of dread. Her youngest was essentially two years old and both Guilhem and Margo had learned Occitan words by that age. Heck they both even had picked up a few Saxon words by that point. That prince Geoffrey hadn’t…

He has been without parents for most of his life, she lamented. The nurses can’t give him what I could. Or even his father could.

“It’s alright,” she told him. “Mama is here now. And I will not let you go again easily.”

If there was one bright side to her husband’s decree it was that - she would be by his side for the foreseeable future and with him came their children. Since apparently it was fine for him to place them near danger, but abhorrent for her to have them in England, even when it was peaceful.

She smiled at her children again but her eyes fell on Guilhem. “I heard you have been my strongest ally here in my absence.”

Guilhem blushed. “I was angry when father… he spoke some terrible things in his own anger. But I didn’t like it, and said he needed to come help you. He wasn’t happy with me."

Ælfflæd’s smile grew wider. Apparently, Guilhem was less a puppet than Geoffrey let on. “My brave prince - the ability to stare down one of Christendom’s most powerful kings… it is something that would be of aid to anyone who will one day rule.”

Guilhem blushed. “Thank you mother. I… I just didn’t want him to abandon you. He was angry, but I know why you did it. You just wish to continue the work of my grandfather, and great-grandfather.”

That was part of it - Ælfflæd did wish to continue the work of her grandfather as well as better the efforts of her father. Of course, that she wished to win herself her crown and prove herself something other than Geoffrey’s puppet also was a factor, but there was no need to bring that up to her son.

“And how have you been Margo?” Ælfflæd asked. “I know it has been difficult without us.”

“It has been lonely,” Margo said. “Everyone left when you went back to England and papa went to Iberia. Grandmama Marguerite came back for a time and I would sit with her… but then she got sick and now Papa said she's gone to God.”

Ælfflæd lowered her gaze. She had heard Marguerite was ill, but Geoffrey’s last order that reached them, commanding that they abandon Lydford had not mentioned her health. Apparently she had died in the interim.

Given her complicated history with her mother-by-law, Ælfflæd could already feel the conflicted feelings at the news. But seeing the sadness on her own daughter’s face influenced her here.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ælfflæd said. “Your grandmother… she was many things. But I know she loved you all as dearly as she did your father and his siblings.”

Margo and Guilhem nodded, though the latter soon turned his attention past his mother and toward the doorway. When Ælfflæd turned, she saw her cousin Adelise standing there.

“Forgive my intrusion,” the duchess said. “I was just hoping to speak with you.”

“It’s alright,” Ælfflæd said. “Children, mama needs to speak with her cousin if you could give us a moment. But don’t worry - there is still much you have to tell me of how things have been since I last saw you. So I will not be long.”

Again, Guilhem and Margo nodded. Both embraced her with a tight squeeze before Guilhem picked up his brother and the three left the cousins alone in the chamber.

“A smile?” Adelise asked her. “I assume that reunion went well.”

Ælfflæd nodded. She could see it in their faces. They still loved her. They still cared for her. They were worried about her and thrilled to see her safe. Despite her failure, and even her son, who had some understanding of how this situation came to be.

It was the most she could have hoped for.

But the business could not stay on that forever.

“How did the… other reunion go?” Adelise asked. “When we were cleared from the hall, the guards wouldn’t even let us in earshot. I heard no yelling. And you do not seem worse for wear.”

“Geoffrey did not yell,” Ælfflæd said. “Nor did he turn violent. But there are other ways to humiliate someone. And he called upon them.”

“How?” Adelise asked.

Ælfflæd’s voice trembled and her hands shook as she recalled it, her anger returning in full force. “He forced me to my knees… to swear fealty… to him! And not as his wife, but as a vassal does their king.”

“Oh my,” Adelise said. “I thought he might do… but nothing that extreme.”

“The only good thing is that it was private,” Ælfflæd said. “It was just him and me. Not even Berard was present. So I did not have to endure it in front of my children, or my lords.”

Adelise nodded in response. They sat in silence for a time before the duchess’ face grew perplexed. Her mumbling drew Ælfflæd’s attention further.

“What is it?” she asked.

“He could have done that in front of your lords,” Adelise said. “He had no problems dressing us down when we arrived. But he waited until we were gone to do that.”

Ælfflæd eyed her. “Are you to tell me he should be commended for showing restraint?”

Adelise shook her head. “No. What I think is he was calculated in what he did. If he humiliated you in private, it was because he wishes it to remain that way.”

“What do you mean?” Ælfflæd asked.

“I mean he could have truly undermined you if he forced that ‘oath swearing’ in front of others,” Adelise said. “He didn’t, because he wanted you to know he rules over you. But he didn’t want others to know that. At least not in that way.”

“So… he doesn’t want people to know what he’s done,” Ælfflæd reasoned. “He wants to keep the appearance that I am still the true and proper Queen of England.”

Adelise nodded. “For his bluster, Geoffrey doesn’t want to actually deal with us. He wants to make sure you don’t do anything he doesn’t approve of. But he still wants you to handle the English lords. And you would never be able to do that if he publicly humiliated you.”

“So he needs me,” Ælfflæd said. “Even if he won’t admit it.”

“Yes,” Adelise said. “It means your position is not as weak as you think. He is angry with you. He will seek to limit you. But he is not yet willing to remove you.”

Yet,” Ælfflæd said. “He did threaten to do so in time.”

“Like anything else, if it becomes too much of a headache then Geoffrey will look to relieve it,” Adelise said. “But I suspect you have more rope than we realized. If he does not do it over this…”

“Well he also will keep me close,” Ælfflæd said. “So that I cannot make decisions without him knowing.”

“For how long?” Adelise wondered. “Eventually he will desire something else and cannot leave England unattended. Someone will have to go.”

“Bide my time,” Ælfflæd said. “Eventually he grows tired of us. And then slowly regain my footing.”

“Indeed,” Adelise said. “Not a defeat. But a tactical retreat.”

Ælfflæd nodded. And as frustrating as it was, she did have plenty to draw from in her kingdom’s recent history. Her father was hardly alone when it came to defeats.
The northmen had driven most of England to their knees. But Alfred of Wessex persevered and eventually drove those vikings to the sea.

The Bastard of Normandy had bested her distant cousin Harold Godwin and claimed the crown. But the lords bided their time, and eventually wrested control away from the Normans.

Morcar of York had led the English to ruin against the Franks in Normandy, but her grandfather had for a brief time restored the balance. And after he himself was defeated by Foulques of Anjou, he had worked to make England the holiest kingdom in Christendom.

Losses were sadly a tradition for English monarchs. But so too was being resolute and managing to emerge triumphant in the end.

And in that, her goal was clear.

My son will be king, she thought. And when he is, it will be of two kingdoms. I will not hand him a fief subservient to Aquitaine. I will give him a true kingdom, one he can be proud of alongside Aquitaine. In England, at least, he will be known as Guilhem Ælfflædsson.

She crossed herself.

So help me God.
 
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It is a cheat, usually, which is why it is used very sparingly by even medieval and renaissance writers, whose audience would fully accept the concept wholesale. Much more likely to see demons, phantoms or some form of 'lies' on stage than an actual ghost helpfully granting expodtion.
Yeah fair. Foulques actually got a bit of that during the end of his life - the spirits of his siblings were far more demon in nature, taunting him, than gentle guidance. His end send-off and Agnes, was nicer, though I suppose Agnes being paralyzed is low-key terrifying as well.

But yeah, it has been shelved for now, to return at the end (so, you can probably guess when we'll see it).
 
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stnylan

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Why do I get the feeling this is all going to blow up in Geoffrey's face, again, at some stage? The little display of power ... well, it leaves me feeling very queasy. Like a playground bully he struts his stuff. At the same time ... insisting on something he cannot actually enforce, that seems typical of his short-sightedness. Fair to say I assume he did not talk to anyone else of that particular charade.

I cannot help but think of how his father and Marguerite so often ended up opposing each other. It looks like Geoffrey II has found a whole new way to turn one's wife into one's foe. Oh he was doing it before, but this whole little scene feels like a tipping point.

Guihelm's faith in his mother, and his care for her, bespeaks of trouble in the future yet as well. Has Geoffrey already lost this war, I wonder? I worry greatly, because the scene with the children was touching indeed, but it felt massively threatened.

And Thoræddohtar - quite a heritage to claim there both good and bad. Touching close to old griefs for Ælfflæd. But still, her situation is not the same as her late lamented father. To begin with she still has a future to fight for and to hope for - the union of crowns under her son. Thoræd ended up with nothing, more or less. I sadly feel though that Ælf remains in some sense a weak character (as in, not that the characterisation is weak - it certainly is not - but that Ælf seems easily led). Her decision at Lydford is changed, she relies on Adelise (rightly or wrongly) after meeting Geoffrey, and at the family reunion she is defended and looked after by her still-a-child son. Old griefs.

For all that we talk of Geoffrey being infantile, in a sense I do think that Ælfflæd remains still the child hoping her father will save her from the siege of everpresent memory. Like there is something broken there, that keeps holding her back, keeping her captive. A prisoner of her fears.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Theme of this chapter for me? Competence of Geoffrey 2. He's grown, a lot.

The tone and words were unmistakable. Geoffrey was talking to the Queen of England and three of her most powerful vassals as if they were children.
As soon as this hit, I knew everything was going to be ok. He's thought it through, has a plan and immediately dictated control of the room. He's channeling his father a lot here.

And perhaps even more surprising to Ælfflæd was how Hlothere and Osmund simply took it, lowering their heads and dropping their gaze from him. Adelise,
Growing as a political and a statesman.

And yet, Geoffrey simply sat there, cup of wine in one hand, while he stroked the beginnings of a new beard on his chin with his other. He eyed her, no anger on his face. He said nothing.
And now, he does something his father could never do. Punish his wife, but constructively. Everyone, EVERYONE, benefits from him doing this. Its one of the most masterful bits of poltical manouvering we've seen from Anjou so far.

Then my men and I go across the channel, and we crush the heathens,” Geoffrey said. “England is defended, Lydford is liberated and you are restored… to your rightful place as queen of the English, who is second to the King of Aquitaine.”
It was the opposite of why she had done this. She wanted to free herself. To prove herself capable of standing on her own. To not be a puppet.
A firm dose of reality, to demonstrate that England is a vassal state of Aquitaine and she better act like it or bad things will happen.

Petty little boy, she thought. He looks a man but every bit the child who pretended to be a squire.
Again, this is just establishing authority. Its private. Its alone. Hes doing it to make a point, not to just be childish. Though it's the closest he's gotten to going to town on her with his anger, it was controlled well enough. He's done VERY well here.

Ælfflæd eyed her. “Are you to tell me he should be commended for showing restraint?”

Adelise shook her head. “No. What I think is he was calculated in what he did. If he humiliated you in private, it was because he wishes it to remain that way.”
Adelise nodded. “For his bluster, Geoffrey doesn’t want to actually deal with us. He wants to make sure you don’t do anything he doesn’t approve of. But he still wants you to handle the English lords. And you would never be able to do that if he publicly humiliated you.”

“So he needs me,” Ælfflæd said. “Even if he won’t admit it.”
Exactly, heres the second part to it. G2 gets a nice pliant England with crusading pedigree for his son, England gets a much better guarantee of protection as a vassal state, and the Queen remains in charge and without much in the way of a leash, but she has limits and has been reminded of them.

I can only applaud G here. Hes turned a disaster into the greatest demonstration of Kingly quality of his entire reign.

And he did it in private. Few will ever know how well he did. But everyone benefits from the results. Excellent work.
 
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codie

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If Geoffrey has shown us anything here it is that he has certainly inherited the worst qualities of his father and grandfather. Much like Foulques he won't miss an opportunity to show his dominance, while like Geoffrey 1 he enjoys privately intimidating those closest to him... This situation also can't bode well for the relationship between Guilhem and his father, they had fought before, but now, with Geoffrey's confidence higher than ever, I can see more conflict, that may prove deadly should Geoffrey push his son too far once he's an adult. Still, despite the many setbacks Ælfflæd may return to England one day, free of her husband's odious behavior, at least for a time.... Great job!
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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He's still very young. Making mistakes. Pushing too far. But he's showing skill, planning and cunning here.
 
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Midnite Duke

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Some horrible roleplay. When did King Geoff go from brave & zealous to craven & cynical? I am shocked that he did not have his favorite harlot leave her Bordeaux bordello to sit at his side for the dressing down. The whole English thrill ride has reemphasized to me that you never, ever fight a claim war for someone who will not be your vassal. This reason that the war is being lost is that the AI outplayed the boy-king and his feelings got hurt. Geoff taking the children away from Elf ranks with his grandfather imprisoning Bouchard and his father asking his Marguerite to abandon her daughter. I feel that Elf would probably fight and die rather than a second flight risking capture. Thank you for writing and may you and your family be safe and happy.
 

alscon

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Ælfflæd's escape brought back memories, but it was hope that drove her forward. Hope that made her hold out that long, too. And it is that feeling she's clinging on to still. Hope that Geoffrey will lower his guard again one day, that without much time to plan beforehand, his impulsivity will cause him to make a mistake towards his "vassal". Hope that Ecgwyn and whoever else may threaten her hold on England doesn't take that desastrous war as a reason to overthrow her. Hope that Guilhem will work towards her dignity. It is all she has left, and that is why she doesn't break now.

Geoffrey on the other hand clearly enjoyed this, and he waited long enough for it. Where Ælfflæd has hope, he has confidence. He just needs to take care that it doesn't become overconfidence, and he may very well be able to keep England on a leash, just like he planned to do.
 
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Midnite Duke

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I have always disagreed with Alan Jackson's greatest song. Of Faith, Hope and Love; I find Hope to be the Greatest!
 

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Why do I get the feeling this is all going to blow up in Geoffrey's face, again, at some stage? The little display of power ... well, it leaves me feeling very queasy. Like a playground bully he struts his stuff. At the same time ... insisting on something he cannot actually enforce, that seems typical of his short-sightedness. Fair to say I assume he did not talk to anyone else of that particular charade.

I cannot help but think of how his father and Marguerite so often ended up opposing each other. It looks like Geoffrey II has found a whole new way to turn one's wife into one's foe. Oh he was doing it before, but this whole little scene feels like a tipping point.

Guihelm's faith in his mother, and his care for her, bespeaks of trouble in the future yet as well. Has Geoffrey already lost this war, I wonder? I worry greatly, because the scene with the children was touching indeed, but it felt massively threatened.

And Thoræddohtar - quite a heritage to claim there both good and bad. Touching close to old griefs for Ælfflæd. But still, her situation is not the same as her late lamented father. To begin with she still has a future to fight for and to hope for - the union of crowns under her son. Thoræd ended up with nothing, more or less. I sadly feel though that Ælf remains in some sense a weak character (as in, not that the characterisation is weak - it certainly is not - but that Ælf seems easily led). Her decision at Lydford is changed, she relies on Adelise (rightly or wrongly) after meeting Geoffrey, and at the family reunion she is defended and looked after by her still-a-child son. Old griefs.

For all that we talk of Geoffrey being infantile, in a sense I do think that Ælfflæd remains still the child hoping her father will save her from the siege of everpresent memory. Like there is something broken there, that keeps holding her back, keeping her captive. A prisoner of her fears.
I think part of Geoffrey II's character is his "shows" always have that unrefined and risky nature to them that his father's lacked. There's usually some aspect he's missed which causes some problem - like his uncle forgetting his lines in Brittany. He's had more success than failures, but his shows with Ælfflæd have already caused him headaches. Would the alternative of cracking down on her be perhaps more pain in the short-term but something better long-term? It's something to think about.

I think Geoffrey II here is probably trying to get his wife to fall into line more akin to his mother - who, at least during his life, outwardly "knew her place." Her challenges to Geoffrey I tended to be private, their wars behind closed doors. But Geoffrey II can't do that no matter how much he tries. His wife is a powerful woman now in her own right. He can't just take her down. Even in his threats, it's clear it would be her and England.

And yet to bring it all full circle, Geoffrey's "shows" is what got him in this mess. He created his "Boudica." Now he forever risks her rebellion, which could take place in a variety of ways. His tone here does him no favors.

The Prince still has quite a way to go. But I think there is always going to be a greater sympathy for Guilhem for his mother. He spent far more time with her, and, as he grows, he's less likely to run into conflict with her. I am still working on the next chapter (playing around with different perspectives) but there is a chance we get a first real look at his POV for it.

Ælfflæd is her father's daughter. I don't always do a great job at explaining what I have in my head in the text, but she is a sharp contrast to her sister, Æthelræda, her husband's former sister-in-law. There was a charm and a grace to Rae that Elf simply lacks - I think Tunis did a number on her, but that lack of grace at times is more her being Thoræd's daughter more than anything else. In looks (her physique) and in personality.

Her father also suffered from being more a passenger to events than a driver of them. Even his winning of the Holy Lands was him finishing a task set into motion by his father. Left to hold it, Thoræd was left to react and simply couldn't handle it. He struggled to hold England together, and toward the end of his life was again more a passenger than a driver of the actions of the nobles around him.

And we now arrive at Ælfflæd, who suffers similarly. She is not driving events - save for one moment which she was led toward action rather than really pushing for it herself. I think part of that is just the precarious nature of her position - there is strong footing in there, but plenty of weak places for a misstep. Part of that is trauma - as you note, there's probably something in there which hasn't been overcome thanks to her capture.

I do think it's interesting to note the childish nature that Ælfflæd unwittingly possesses. I think you're right to believe part of that is Tunis. There's a mix to both avenge what happened as well as being doomed to repeat it.

Theme of this chapter for me? Competence of Geoffrey 2. He's grown, a lot.



As soon as this hit, I knew everything was going to be ok. He's thought it through, has a plan and immediately dictated control of the room. He's channeling his father a lot here.



Growing as a political and a statesman.



And now, he does something his father could never do. Punish his wife, but constructively. Everyone, EVERYONE, benefits from him doing this. Its one of the most masterful bits of poltical manouvering we've seen from Anjou so far.




A firm dose of reality, to demonstrate that England is a vassal state of Aquitaine and she better act like it or bad things will happen.



Again, this is just establishing authority. Its private. Its alone. Hes doing it to make a point, not to just be childish. Though it's the closest he's gotten to going to town on her with his anger, it was controlled well enough. He's done VERY well here.




Exactly, heres the second part to it. G2 gets a nice pliant England with crusading pedigree for his son, England gets a much better guarantee of protection as a vassal state, and the Queen remains in charge and without much in the way of a leash, but she has limits and has been reminded of them.

I can only applaud G here. Hes turned a disaster into the greatest demonstration of Kingly quality of his entire reign.

And he did it in private. Few will ever know how well he did. But everyone benefits from the results. Excellent work.
And then there is this take, which I find interesting! I think there is some merit in it - Geoffrey II has grown a bit. Part of it is certainly he had time to cool down, but he also didn't do something mad like attempt to throw her in a dungeon.

I've mentioned it before, but part of Geoffrey II's story is he came to power at a relatively young age. And he lacked experience - perspective-wise, we hadn't really seen that before. Foulques had been in control of Tours for a few years prior to the story starting. Geoffrey I left for Aquitaine, and when we really get his POV permanently, he's been ruling a duchy for a decade and a half. We didn't see the growing pains with them. We do with Geoffrey. And despite her age, Ælfflæd has them as well.

With Geoffrey here is a 27-year-old man who has a far greater command over his court then he did at 16. I wouldn't call it the respect his father had, but there's certainly a control and a hesitancy to cross or disappoint him. There's always been an effort to play at being his father, but it is probably where he comes the closest to executing it.

I actually would tie that in to my response above to @stnylan - I think a lot of this does look good. And he does pretty much put the English lords and lady in their place. The oversight/flaw in the whole thing? Ælfflæd herself. He plays it like he thinks his father would... and I don't know that's the right call here. It *might* be, but Ælfflæd is not Marguerite. And there's the tone is a bit hit or miss - more on that below.

I do wonder how Geoffrey I would have handled this. A public humiliation pretty much ends Ælfflæd's chance at breaking free, but also forces a far more hands on situation. I suspect he would have probably hauled her back to Bordeaux and locked her in a tower, while dictating policy through her council. He definitely doesn't let her see her children, given he barred Marguerite from seeing Aines when the latter was sick. Also he'd probably be sleeping with Adelise at this point so...

It would be different and I do think Ælfflæd probably would have hated it more.

I'd say the most far-sighted aspect of Geoffrey is he's either realizing some limits, or at least his tolerance to what he's going to put up with. I leave it up in the air whether he realized it himself, or someone got through to him what shaming Ælfflæd would mean, but he didn't shame her in public. There's certainly an aspect of Ælfflæd being second to him publicly, but at this point, it's probably not any more than what many would have expected to begin with.

I will fully speak to the fact the "childish" aspect is the need to literally force her to knees. As well as his pleasure at her suffering. There was smugness to his behavior here that rubbed her the wrong way. There's validity in what he speaks for sure. How he says it, however, does affect things. I think this probably is among the most nuanced performances an Angevin has done, especially in the face of something that elicited such rage initially. But it's certainly not perfect, and could well blow back on him eventually.

An aside, your analysis is different than the others here, and I did enjoy that, since I strive to achieve some level of balance when writing a scene like this. And if people line up on both sides of this strife between husband and wife, then I feel like I've done a decent enough job with it!

If Geoffrey has shown us anything here it is that he has certainly inherited the worst qualities of his father and grandfather. Much like Foulques he won't miss an opportunity to show his dominance, while like Geoffrey 1 he enjoys privately intimidating those closest to him... This situation also can't bode well for the relationship between Guilhem and his father, they had fought before, but now, with Geoffrey's confidence higher than ever, I can see more conflict, that may prove deadly should Geoffrey push his son too far once he's an adult. Still, despite the many setbacks Ælfflæd may return to England one day, free of her husband's odious behavior, at least for a time.... Great job!
And we return to the other side of it. There are aspects of both his forbearers here. I don't think he's quite reaching either level - Foulques was pretty horrific to Haldora, and Geoffrey I could be terrible to Marguerite. Time away from both men probably lessens how we view their actions, but I'm not sure anything quite matches Geoffrey I's demand that Marguerite abandon Beatritz to join him in Aquitaine (back when his father lived). Nor Foulques threats to Haldora.

But while not reaching that level, Geoffrey's rubbing Ælfflæd's nose in her failure - and it's notable that it's a staunch change from before. He spent time building her up to meet his ends, but then tears her down when she steps out of line. That's self-serving in and of itself. Boudica against Burgheard/Ecgwyn, Baron Ælfflæd to him.

There will be issues between father and son in the future. I think that was unavoidable, given their ages. Either Geoffrey gives his son land, and puts him on a potential collision course as a lord (and heir to two kingdoms) or he doesn't... and deals with issues that way.

As for Ælfflæd, she's got plenty more things ahead in her future. the situation may not be conducive for her being free of Geoffrey in the short-term.

He's still very young. Making mistakes. Pushing too far. But he's showing skill, planning and cunning here.
Yeah, he's older, but he's not even 30 yet. There's quite a bit he still has to learn. This could have gone much, much worse for every one involved. Of course, as I've said, there are swarmy aspects too. It's no fun if it was perfect!

Some horrible roleplay. When did King Geoff go from brave & zealous to craven & cynical? I am shocked that he did not have his favorite harlot leave her Bordeaux bordello to sit at his side for the dressing down. The whole English thrill ride has reemphasized to me that you never, ever fight a claim war for someone who will not be your vassal. This reason that the war is being lost is that the AI outplayed the boy-king and his feelings got hurt. Geoff taking the children away from Elf ranks with his grandfather imprisoning Bouchard and his father asking his Marguerite to abandon her daughter. I feel that Elf would probably fight and die rather than a second flight risking capture. Thank you for writing and may you and your family be safe and happy.
I imagine, had they met a year earlier, Ana probably would have been close by. But... I think here Geoffrey realizes that's throwing fuel on the fire. He can achieve his ends without resorting to that. He gets his kicks out of the English being forced to flee and come begging for aid. There's also the fact his children are present - he wants to play the conquering hero to them, but flaunting Ana around would be a heel move. It's one thing to have Ana on campaign when Ælfflæd isn't around - but another to have her when Ælfflæd is present. It would not earn him much love from his children.

Kingdom chasing is... messy. It can work if you're an empire, but yeah, otherwise, it's not worth the hassle. Too many things can go wrong. One of the major issues is the AI doesn't handle alliances well. They seem to struggle to calculate it. England was also an odd situation because they had territory in the holy lands. If this were a war against Scotland, for example, I probably wouldn't have cared as much.

I will note Geoffrey didn't quite do as his father or grandfather would have done. I don't think either would have brought their children in this situation. I fully say that it's done to pump his ego - his kids can see their father "save" England and their mother. But it does have the knock on affect of reuniting Ælfflæd with her family. I believe Geoffrey I would have been petty enough to deny her that.

And yeah, Elf had no desire to end up captive again. She'd go out fighting.

Thank you for your well wishes!

Ælfflæd's escape brought back memories, but it was hope that drove her forward. Hope that made her hold out that long, too. And it is that feeling she's clinging on to still. Hope that Geoffrey will lower his guard again one day, that without much time to plan beforehand, his impulsivity will cause him to make a mistake towards his "vassal". Hope that Ecgwyn and whoever else may threaten her hold on England doesn't take that desastrous war as a reason to overthrow her. Hope that Guilhem will work towards her dignity. It is all she has left, and that is why she doesn't break now.

Geoffrey on the other hand clearly enjoyed this, and he waited long enough for it. Where Ælfflæd has hope, he has confidence. He just needs to take care that it doesn't become overconfidence, and he may very well be able to keep England on a leash, just like he planned to do.
I think Ælfflæd's belief in Geoffrey eventually losing interest in England is probably justified. He's always been more interested in the title of "King of England" or "King of Two Realms" than actually ruling the two places. The only tricky part for Ælfflæd might be in a few years, Geoffrey might decide that their son is a suitable enough person for oversight. Of course, that might well be a "mistake" as Guilhem is not as much a puppet as Geoffrey thinks.

There are other internal threats as well to Ælfflæd and England. I really want to start getting into those, hopefully with the next chapter - a tricky task as the next chapter is a battle chapter. Part of the reason why I've been writing different portions from different POVs to see which gives me the best framing opportunity for all I want to put in there.

Geoffrey definitely enjoyed it. There's a level of it which does come off as childish - in some ways more so than outright malicious. His ego was damaged by Ælfflæd challenging his authority, and now his ego is satisfied after her setbacks. He also did not forget his uncle's actions in Brittany, which Geoffrey wished to punish but couldn't. I suspect part of his action here is also making up for that, and doing it to someone he believes can't strike back as Foulquesson could have. In that sense, you can certainly make the case for the "bullying" aspect of this encounter.


I have always disagreed with Alan Jackson's greatest song. Of Faith, Hope and Love; I find Hope to be the Greatest!
I think Ælfflæd probably rolls with hope, more than she'd like. But the love is there too - she does love her children. Faith... hmm... I wonder about that.

To all - I did enjoy the reaction to this chapter. This balance was... hard. Geoffrey's character to this point required a strong reaction, and one where he probably stepped too far in some way. Obviously, there has to be some resistance for Ælfflæd - her character requires it. But take Geoffrey too far, and the character becomes really unlikable. Not that he's that likable now, but there's a level of "he's trying to do right, even if he fails."

But there's also a mix of "well Ælfflæd did kind of place him in a tough position" - so she's not blameless either. A Geoffrey who doesn't so fire is weakened. And likewise, Ælfflæd for all her issues, needs to show a strength and resolution in the face of the fire she has brought down.

In my original draft, I took Geoffrey too far. I cut out an entire section and toned it down (my wife really helped there). I think it still achieves the ends - many of you still didn't like what he said/did, but there's also a level of "well, what did Ælfflæd expect?" in there. And she retains her strength as well. So I enjoyed the differing takes - I feel as if it means I struck a balance.

As for the next chapter... we'll see how it goes. I've been playing around with POVs. I've written a bit from Geoffrey's, a bit from Ælfflæd's and as mentioned above, a bit from Prince Guilhem's. I don't switch perspective in chapters often, so I'm likely just going to pick one of the three and go with it. But I'm not sure who it will be yet, though I am leaning toward the prince.

Thanks as always for your commentary, feedback, and readership. It can literally bring a smile to my face, as it did when I read your varied responses.
 
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guillec87

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I do like the way Geoffrey reacted... it was harsh... yes, and he might have enjoyed a little too much the punishment. but as the De Normandy Duchess said, he could have done all in public... and he did not... as for Elf, what she had gotten was not that bad... be a nice puppy and you can keep your kingdom... maybe she has learned that you can not count on another's kingdom's Army... and that is a total lection in Real Politik... think what dynasties ties have done to many countries... like Spain and the Hapsburgs and the endless wars in the Netherlands, the German Empire and France... when their real enemy were England and the Turk
 
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tpmcinty

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I have been reading the story. It has just been hard to find the time to reply recently.

I have enjoyed the last few chapters. I knew Marguerite was on borrowed time and I found her death scene well written. I think Geoffrey might have at one point found he had some regrets but with him I am never sure.

Ælfflæd sure did get herself in a mess. She is lucky Geoffrey understands the world better than she does otherwise I think he would have left her to her fate. I agree with his handling of the situation in making her privately swear to him thus not making her look like his vassal to others. I think Ælfflæd is now beginning to see the high price she is going to pay for starting the war and not consulting Geoffrey.
 
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Bullfilter

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An epic chapter. Took me a couple of sessions to finish off (as I was also concurrently writing a long chapter of my own in one of my AARs ;) ) but it was - as always - well worth it.
“Perhaps there is honor in charging forth, if the alternative is hiding away for the remainder of your days,” Adelise said. “I can imagine a situation where a ruler, knowing there is no hope, no salvation coming, straps on his or her armor, and charges forth into the fray, looking for a good death.”
I had a vision here of Helm’s Deep, and that a bold sally would be met by Geoffrey arriving, the rising sun behind his back on “the morning of the third day”. But no. In this case, “run away” was the less glorious but far more practical answer, even if Elf’s own version of wilful immaturity had to be talked down first.
Petty little boy, she thought. He looks a man but every bit the child who pretended to be a squire.
Yes, but it could have been much worse. And he’s not the only one with persistent father issues having affected their judgement and stunted their emotional growth, even while driving ambition and strength. Double edged swords all round.
Geoffrey laughed. “That fire and will is useful, my dear. But make certain you point it at the right people. Otherwise, I shall be forced to put it out.”
A bit petty, yes, but I’ll bet it pales against the initial anger you must have felt when the AI Elf first cooked up the whole fiasco. She got off lightly! And Geoffrey recognised too much lashing out now would only end up in a self-inflicted wound.
“Bide my time,” Ælfflæd said. “Eventually he grows tired of us. And then slowly regain my footing.”
Eating a little humble pie is better than starving to death.
I do think it's interesting to note the childish nature that Ælfflæd unwittingly possesses. I think you're right to believe part of that is Tunis. There's a mix to both avenge what happened as well as being doomed to repeat it.
I definitely agree too. They are both somewhat childish in their ways. But then again, aren’t we all? ;)
But there's also a mix of "well Ælfflæd did kind of place him in a tough position" - so she's not blameless either.
They suffer for and deserve, but ultimately endure, each other. The price paid for personal and familial ambition and dominion over mighty realms.

Looking forward to the heathens being ousted from Lydford. But the disaster there and in the Holy Land, plus a small pox plague, doesn’t augur too well for England’s immediate future. Fiction and game foreshadow modern reality, with Brexit and COVID! :eek:
 
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RykaS

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I mean, I'm all for Ælfflæd figuring out how to eke out some way to stabilize her position, but how much has she reflected on what a disaster she placed herself in? You can't be equals if you have nothing to offer the other party. As Geoffrey said, her vassals will rebel anyway, the political landscape was already treacherous and she sent what little military power she had to die so she could get crowned earlier. This will be an economic and political disaster for both countries for years to come, and I'm not convinced Ælfflæd's fully grasped that. It's like she thinks Aquitaine is an infinite loot piñata and there will be no blowback on Geoffrey for her poor performance.

Like, ma'am. We all know d'Anjou is ancient Occitan for "Team Petty Forever" so I don't know what you expected to happen. I can only imagine the literal hellfire Marguerite would have called down on her if she were still alive. Ghost Agnes would be over her shoulder like, "I wish I had been given a kingdom and 4k men so I could show you losers what I could do"
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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The problem england has is that the only thing it has over aquitaine is reputation, specifically piety and crusading cred. In every other way, aquitaine wins. They're richer, stronger, larger, stabler, in a better position and have a better ruling system.

Aside from the Christian rep, england only has the bonus of adding to aquitaine army whenever required. Now...a very good ruler can change that. England is, as we know using all the powers of OTL and hindsight, absurdly well situated to get very rich very quickly with trade and artisan farming/production. It's also, if stable at home, almost impossible to take via foreign invasion. So if a ruler can fix the stability situation (i.e. rule strong and well, and fix the inheritance system), and start the process of integrating england into the European trade networks, they'll make bank very quickly.

At that point, the tables turn. Aqutiane will have almost no way of forcing england to act, whilst england will not only be in a fortified position but have a lot to offer aquitaine for favour and reward.

Basically, what I'm saying is if and when someone inherits both, England should get a lot of investment and strength out of this. Whether they can keep it all together once fixing england however is...debatable.
 
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ReconUHD

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I am glad to see your work continuing. I have missed out on months of update and need to catch up.
 
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JabberJock14

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Whew, back after... well I wouldn't call it a break. I've still been writing. Just haven't been able to get this chapter edited well enough to post. Until now anyway. But first, much delayed replies to your excellent comments:

I do like the way Geoffrey reacted... it was harsh... yes, and he might have enjoyed a little too much the punishment. but as the De Normandy Duchess said, he could have done all in public... and he did not... as for Elf, what she had gotten was not that bad... be a nice puppy and you can keep your kingdom... maybe she has learned that you can not count on another's kingdom's Army... and that is a total lection in Real Politik... think what dynasties ties have done to many countries... like Spain and the Hapsburgs and the endless wars in the Netherlands, the German Empire and France... when their real enemy were England and the Turk
One of the tricky parts of writing characters with rather pronounced flaws is finding the balance to keep them semi-likable (or at least tolerable). It was easy to have Geoffrey fly off the handle here and do something that... perhaps might have been justified in medieval sensibilities, but not ours. That said, people like to overstate what was justified too - the Angevins provide good examples with Henry II imprisoning Eleanor, but not killing her despite her aiding rebellion against him. Or John having his reputation wrecked for the death of his nephew, despite the fact his nephew attempted to take the crown from him.

Those provide good reminders that medieval rulers could face repercussions for their actions, especially against their families, despite how rebellious they might be. So Geoffrey could be limited in his punishment while still being harsh on a personal level. Keep a lot of the dirty laundry away from the lords, especially since discord might well inspire future problems among the English lords. In that there is an additional takeaway for Ælfflæd - that her gambit, in a way, did pay off. Geoffrey's here, fighting, and he's hesitant to completely shove her aside in public.

The real enemy is an interesting question though - in some ways, it's a moving target! Not everyone understands that though - as you'll see in the next chapters.

I have been reading the story. It has just been hard to find the time to reply recently.

I have enjoyed the last few chapters. I knew Marguerite was on borrowed time and I found her death scene well written. I think Geoffrey might have at one point found he had some regrets but with him I am never sure.

Ælfflæd sure did get herself in a mess. She is lucky Geoffrey understands the world better than she does otherwise I think he would have left her to her fate. I agree with his handling of the situation in making her privately swear to him thus not making her look like his vassal to others. I think Ælfflæd is now beginning to see the high price she is going to pay for starting the war and not consulting Geoffrey.
That's ok! As you can see, it's been hard for me to find time to write these chapters the way I like!

Glad you liked them. Marguerite's end was something I had been playing around with for a while, but while I run through scenes in my head, I often don't write them down. It means the end product ends up being something that is an amalgamation of different ideas I had over the months prior. In all of these, Geoffrey comes to realize some level that despite his own feelings of insecurity over his brother's place, and perhaps a slight bit of guilt over his ascension at the cost of his brother's life, it was how it had to be. How he realizes it changed depending on the version, but that's the basic premise.

With Ælfflæd it is complicated. She certainly has been made to endure humiliation, as well as seeing her immediate freedom curtailed. But she did ultimately get what she wanted - Aquitaine coming to England's defense. And she knows she can push Geoffrey somewhat and survive. There will be cost... but she can try to balance how much she is willing to stomach. Before, it was all guesswork at how Geoffrey would react.

In short, Ælfflæd has better learned the limits of her position. Now it's time for her to put what she's learned from her predecessors - the likes of Agnes and Marguerite - and see how she can pull off her goals within those limits.

An epic chapter. Took me a couple of sessions to finish off (as I was also concurrently writing a long chapter of my own in one of my AARs ;) ) but it was - as always - well worth it.
I had a vision here of Helm’s Deep, and that a bold sally would be met by Geoffrey arriving, the rising sun behind his back on “the morning of the third day”. But no. In this case, “run away” was the less glorious but far more practical answer, even if Elf’s own version of wilful immaturity had to be talked down first.
Yes, but it could have been much worse. And he’s not the only one with persistent father issues having affected their judgement and stunted their emotional growth, even while driving ambition and strength. Double edged swords all round.
A bit petty, yes, but I’ll bet it pales against the initial anger you must have felt when the AI Elf first cooked up the whole fiasco. She got off lightly! And Geoffrey recognised too much lashing out now would only end up in a self-inflicted wound.
Eating a little humble pie is better than starving to death.
I definitely agree too. They are both somewhat childish in their ways. But then again, aren’t we all? ;)
They suffer for and deserve, but ultimately endure, each other. The price paid for personal and familial ambition and dominion over mighty realms.

Looking forward to the heathens being ousted from Lydford. But the disaster there and in the Holy Land, plus a small pox plague, doesn’t augur too well for England’s immediate future. Fiction and game foreshadow modern reality, with Brexit and COVID! :eek:
Thank you! I know what it's like to be working on long chapters, so no worries. ;)

That was likely Ælfflæd's hope, but ultimately, it was not borne out by what happened in the game. I couldn't get the men across in time and Lydford fell. Thankfully, Ælfflæd was not captured. (An aside - that could have been really bad and made me regret my lack of interest in this war, since Ælfflæd may not have bought herself out of jail, died there and left Guilhem as King far too early). So her escape was quite good for me, and I'm glad she was talked into it!

We all carry the marks of our upbringing! Ælfflæd is certainly not immune from them, just as Geoffrey's upbringing left marks on him. It makes them both prone to rash, stupid decisions that focus on the short-term, rather than the long term. I almost want to say their somewhat similar mindsets should make them good partners, since each has a pretty good read on the other's shortcomings. But much like Geoffrey's parents, like personalities can be mutually destructive so...

It's true - had Ælfflæd been there initially, things would have been much, much worse. Humiliation, possibly a trip to the dungeon... Here, she gets a private humiliation but she does also find out what she can and cannot do. In that, as Adelise notes, there is a lot of leeway. It's clear Geoffrey doesn't want to be King of England in anything but name and rank - the ruling aspect is open to others. And in Geoffrey's defense, administering that much area is difficult! Again to call back to the real life Angevins, Henry II dealt with England, Normandy and Anjou, but Eleanor and Richard handled Aquitaine/Poitou/Gascony. So Ælfflæd can count on her importance... at least until her son comes of age.

In any case, I do see these two far more as "partners" than any of my other couples. Reluctant partners to be sure, and I don't think either one fully trusts the either for a variety of reasons. But it is different than Geoffrey I/Marguerite, where there was a show of union for necessity but lacking in actual political splits. Foulques/Beatritz was a more traditional medieval marriage, with Beatritz running the aspects of rulership Foulques had little interest in but staying out of foreign/military policy. Here, Geoffrey may not view Ælfflæd as an equal, but he is implicitly handing her a great deal of power and working hard to make sure she maintains that power... just not over him.

Yeah England is pretty nasty in my 1139! Disease everywhere but Lydford and Cornwall, heathens taking the former... not going great! Let's hope things improve soon for both this fictional world and the real one!


The problem england has is that the only thing it has over aquitaine is reputation, specifically piety and crusading cred. In every other way, aquitaine wins. They're richer, stronger, larger, stabler, in a better position and have a better ruling system.

Aside from the Christian rep, england only has the bonus of adding to aquitaine army whenever required. Now...a very good ruler can change that. England is, as we know using all the powers of OTL and hindsight, absurdly well situated to get very rich very quickly with trade and artisan farming/production. It's also, if stable at home, almost impossible to take via foreign invasion. So if a ruler can fix the stability situation (i.e. rule strong and well, and fix the inheritance system), and start the process of integrating england into the European trade networks, they'll make bank very quickly.

At that point, the tables turn. Aqutiane will have almost no way of forcing england to act, whilst england will not only be in a fortified position but have a lot to offer aquitaine for favour and reward.

Basically, what I'm saying is if and when someone inherits both, England should get a lot of investment and strength out of this. Whether they can keep it all together once fixing england however is...debatable.
Yeah, England has a bit of a problem when it comes to their direct relationship with Aquitaine. Part of their issue is that the realm just... lacks a strong figure to build around. And in this case... that's the nobles in CK2 causing their own problem! They united to force William into elective monarchy, bypassed Robert, who was the strongest lord because he was a Norman. Then they assassinated Morcar because... well I don't know. But someone didn't like him. They chose a Godwin after, he got killed in France, and then went with a weak king who held one territory. Ælfflæd's grandfather did well, but pretty much maximized what he could do.

That means the nobles probably can push around the king/queen. But it meant England kind of went the way of early Capetian France with a very decentralized state as opposed to stronger centralized state William actually did in OTL. If England really wanted to stand a chance against Aquitaine, it would need to submit to a strong lord - which in this case, only Duchess Adelise of Mercia or Duke Osmund of Kent fit the bill. But Adelise is a Norman, so they don't like her either. And Osmund never seems to seek the throne. It leaves England out of luck.

It's possible "England" would become strong after Guilhem or whoever Angevin inherits it... but in the time that they take to make England into a real power, would it be the Saxon/Norman England that it is now? Or would it have been mostly transformed into an Occitan land, where the lords themselves have more in common with the King of Aquitaine than his own people? OTL saw a split happen, but the Angevins were not part of France and indeed, lost most of their possessions in France within a generation. If Henry had taken Toulouse, or Philip II wasn't a political mastermind, perhaps England is far more "French/Occitan" than it ended up.

I don't actually have an answer, because while I have played around "post" story, I wouldn't commit to anything being the official epilogue. I might in time, but I kind of want to see how my characters are at that time before moving forward.

I am glad to see your work continuing. I have missed out on months of update and need to catch up.
Thank you! And don't worry, you have time! I have not been as frequent with my updates of late. I think the next three should follow in good order, but it's hard to say these days with all this going on.

To all - apologize again for the delays. This next bit was intended as more of a one-shot POV, featuring the prince, but it got really long and unwieldly as I decided to use it as a big set up for the next couple of years of gameplay. The bad news is it took a while to get done. The good news/bad news is that I had to split it into two parts, so there will be an update today as well as next week for sure.

Hope you all enjoy! Thanks for your patience as well as your fine feedback and excellent commentary!
 
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