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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Chapter Five - Foul and Fair

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Lady Macbeth II
An Earldom of Buchan 1066 AAR


Chapter Five - Foul and Fair


It was well within my power to reject the match, which perhaps would have been a justified response to Chancellor Robert’s impudence, but even at such a tender age I could recognise the worthiness of Prince Macbeth as a potential husband. He possessed a solid claim to the throne, and, even given the change in succession laws after the overthrow of King Duncan, he even had a chance of being elected as the next king—he wasn’t too popular among his immediate family, but it was that very appearance of estrangement that served to raise the esteem in which he was held by the other powerful lords of the realm, such as Earl Gospatric of Lothian and my own liege, Duchess Gruoch of Moray. It was then, on those nights lying awake while awaiting the arrival of Macbeth and his retinue, that the seeds of my ambition were sown. I could actually control the destiny of Scotland, I thought as I wrapped the blanket tighter around myself to keep off the draught...someday, at least. My chest tightened as visions of majesty flowed through my head, all puppets dancing to my tune. No, not could control. Will. I will control it. I slept poorly those nights, drifting off too close to dawn.

Macbeth arrived on a cloudy evening, and his ‘party’ turned out to consist of only himself and a couple of servants, with the Prince on horseback and the others walking. Chancellor Robert, Marshall Donald and I hurriedly assembled in the courtyard of Ellon Castle to greet them, having received no prior indication of when he would arrive, and standing there in the cold I caught the first glimpse of my future husband. I will be honest and say I did not find him to be handsome, but he carried himself with a certain dignity and a certain...perhaps the best word is serenity. His servants helped him dismount, and after casting his eyes over those assembled, he approached and came before me.

“Countess Margaret, I presume?”

I curtsied. “Yes, your highness, that’s me.”

“It’s very nice to meet you. Chancellor Robert has told me a lot about you.” Before I could respond and ask exactly what he had been told and whether it was slanderous, he turned to Chancellor Robert. “Ah, Chancellor. I take it everything is ready for the ceremony to be held tomorrow?”

“Of course, your highness. It will take place in the Great Hall at noon, unless you desire something different? Perhaps the chapel would be a more appropriate venue?”

“Oh, no, uh, the Great Hall will be fine, I’m sure.”

Chancellor Robert bowed slightly. “Very good, your highness. I’m sure you must be tired from travelling, so allow me to show you to your quarters, if I may?”

“Yes, thank you.” Before departing, he looked at me and smiled thinly. “I will see you again tomorrow then.”

I nodded but didn’t anything, and I watched, shivering, as the Prince and Chancellor Robert disappeared into the keep.

“Come on then, my lady, let’s get out of this cold,” Marshall Donald said, drawing up alongside me. I jumped, having forgotten he was there.

“Oh, yes, let’s.”

***​

The betrothal ceremony was a straightforward affair, little more than two parties signing a contract and a chaste kiss, followed by a banquet in Macbeth’s honour, a spread of whatever food was available in the kitchens hurriedly thrown together. The real purpose, though, was to allow me and my future husband a chance to get to know one another a bit better, and, as such, we were seated next to one another.

“So Countess,” Macbeth said as I gnawed on a chicken leg, “I am curious to know how you feel about this union. I know it must be quite intimidating, the idea of committing yourself eternally to someone you have never met, because I have felt intimidated by the prospect of it myself.”

I chewed a bit longer than I needed in order to give myself a few extra seconds to think of a suitable reply. “I think it is a good match, better perhaps for me than it is for you.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You are a Prince, while I am a mere countess.”

“Ah, true, but you have land, whereas I am landless.”

“For now, but is it not true that one day you could be king?”

Macbeth frowned. “It is true, but it is not something I desire.”

I stared in disbelief. “Not something you desire? Are you an absolute fool?” I perhaps said this a little too loud, as Chancellor Robert shot me a horrified glare from across the table. I blinked hard and cursed my tongue for running away from me. “Forgive me for misspeaking so, your highness. I don’t know what came over me.”

Fortunately, Macbeth was more amused than offended. “It is quite all right. But truly, there is little chance of me becoming king anytime soon. My niece is only a few years older than me, and will likely live many decades yet.”

“Yes, well,” I said, quietening my voice, “but what if some...unfortunate accident should befall Queen Galienda and take her before her time? Unexpected tragedies happen all too often. Say such a thing occurred; would you then refuse the crown?”

“I...” Macbeth shook his head, “...would rather not talk about this. First those women out on that blasted heath, now you...”

“Women? What women?”

“Oh, some mad old crones approached our party and said I would be king. I told them to go away and they did, but I keep thinking back to them, wondering why they would say that.”

“That I cannot answer.” I took a sip of watered-down wine and regarded my future husband closely. “But they sound like wise women to me.”

“No, they were nothing but foolish old hags. The truth,” said Macbeth, “is that I shall not be king hereafter.”

Oh, we’ll see about that, I thought, tapping my fingers together. We’ll see about that.
 
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stnylan

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As ever teh two are not exactly well-suited for each other.
 
Chapter Six - Queen Hereafter

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Lady Macbeth II
An Earldom of Buchan 1066 AAR



Chapter Six - Queen Hereafter


My marriage to Macbeth took place in the year 1096. It was a relatively simple affair, with the ceremony taking place in the chapel of Ellon Castle, followed by a sumptuous (well, sumptuous by Buchan standards) banquet. To be honest, it all went by in a bit of a blur, and suddenly I found myself a married woman. Macbeth, being landless, came to live with me in Ellon, and the first thing I did was to appoint him to my council as spymaster. While not the most obvious candidate, given his lack of ambition and being, in general, a soft sap, he has a good understanding of intrigue and can plot with the best of them. For his first assignment, I sent him to spy of Duchess Gruouch of Moray, my liege.

Now is perhaps a good time to talk about Buchan’s place within the Kingdom of Scotland. I was, and still am, not a direct vassal of the king or queen of Scotland, but rather pay homage to the Duke, Duchess, Mormaer or Mormaeress of Moray, a powerful lord or lady who rules from Inverness and has dominion over most of the northern parts of Scotland. This didn’t present much of an issue in my earlier years, as the then Duke of Moray, Malsnechtan spent the entirety of my childhood in hiding, paranoid about plots on his life, and thus I never even met the man. People called him the ‘Ill-Ruler’, and I got very annoyed when people laughed when I asked what illness he suffered from. Very, very annoyed.


Turns out it was consumption

That changed when Malsnechtan died and he was succeeded in 1091 by his sister Gruoch, who probably should have been a bit more paranoid. That said, I didn’t really see much of her either, as she shunned social engagements and apparently lived a very austere lifestyle, subsisting on just bread and water, to be the point where she resembled a walking skeleton. Anyway, Macbeth spent a while skulking around Inverness, ingratiating himself incognito with various courtiers, retainers and others of lower rank in the employ of the Duchess, until it came to his attention that Gruouch wished to expand her domain—by taking away mine! Upon learning this, I made it clear to Macbeth in no uncertain terms what was to be done—the Duchess must die.

My husband, to his credit, did not let me down. All his ingratiating had led to him befriending a man who worked regularly as one of the Duchess’s most trusted guards, and in exchange for a few gold coins...well, let’s just say that one night the Duchess went to sleep feeling altogether too secure in her person. It was clear she had been murdered, given the blood and screaming and so on, but the guard didn’t talk, and it was never traced back to me. Altogether, a very pleasing bit of business.


Duchess. Dead

Well that was one problem out of the way, but the larger issue, that of Scotland itself, still remained unresolved. Queen Galiena, fat, lazy, cowardly Galiena, remained on the throne, and Macbeth still resisted my attempts at persuading him that she ought to be replaced. As it turned out, however, outside forces would intervene. In 1098, the queen was excommunicated. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, given that her two predecessors had also been excommunicated, and again it was at the behest of Earl Morcar ‘the Hunter’, the Saxon lord of Mercia who had the Pope’s ear and desired lands in southern Scotland. And again, Morcar and his Irish allies invaded Scotland, seeking to depose the queen and keep us weak. And again, the invaders won.


Not queen hereafter

Queen Galiena was forced to abdicate and was stripped of all her titles. And the person they chose as the next king of Scotland?


Yes, it was Macbeth, proving that you can’t fight fate, or in the case the prophesies of three mad old women. Upon his ascension, I lost a spymaster but gained a crown, which I would say was an altogether fair trade.
 
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As ever teh two are not exactly well-suited for each other.
In some ways they're quite well-suited, in others...not so much

This is excellent fun! Have immensely enjoyed catching up with the story so far, and eager to see more? :)
Thank you for reading, and here is more
 

DensleyBlair

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People called him the ‘Ill-Ruler’, and I got very annoyed when people laughed when I asked what illness he suffered from. Very, very annoyed.
Hehehe.

Turns out it was consumption
:D

A very canny bit of business, ending up with Macbeth so smoothly on the throne. Where next for Lady Macbeth?
 

stnylan

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Let us hope this Macbeth proves a little less concerned with daggers.
 

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Cromwell

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A sell deserved award, Margaret is very well written indeed. I am sure Scotland will prosper with a Queen so skilled in assassination...
 
Chapter Seven - Seduction Within Tent

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Lady Macbeth II
An Earldom of Buchan 1066 AAR



Chapter Seven - Seduction Within Tent


If I’m to be honest (yes, such a thing is possible), becoming queen didn’t change that much with regards to my day-to-day existence. After all, I was still countess of Buchan and had to administer to the needs of my demesne. And then there was the rather thorny issue of the inheritance laws of Scotland. Since sometime in the 1070s or thereabouts, the Kings of Scotland had been elected by the great and powerful lords of the realm, rather than passing to the oldest son as it had in the past. What this means, I would come to realise with a sense of deepening despair, is that there was no guarantee that my son, should my union with Macbeth produce a son, would even be in consideration as a successor. The fact of the matter was that, in practical terms, I was exactly where I had been before with regards to placing a Buchanan on the throne. My hypothetical son would inherit a claim and very likely nothing else.

And as the years passed, that son continued, and to this day continues, to remain hypothetical. One difficulty with regards to bedroom matters lies with how much time Macbeth and I spend apart—being a king is a lot of work, as Macbeth often complains to me, and, for the record, so is being a countess, but you don’t hear me moaning about it. And even when we do get the chance to lie together, my husband is...not overly enthusiastic. I am uncertain what the precise nature of the problem is, whether he cares little for producing children as they will not bear his name or simply lacks the necessary drives, but Macbeth has repeatedly demonstrated a distinct dearth of interest in the procreative act. It did not bode well when, on our wedding night, he actually fell asleep in the middle of it, which would have been funny if it wasn’t so painful to be sixteen and have a fully-grown sleeping man suddenly land on you, and possibly excusable as it had been a long, tiring day, but when it happened again, a few weeks later, well, let’s just say that was when I appointed him spymaster and sent him to Inverness.

Hmm, perhaps I have divulged some things here that I shouldn’t have, but don’t get me wrong—Macbeth is, I believe, a good man, albeit one who has committed a few murders here and there, but that’s beside the point. The trouble is that Scotland needs more than a good man; it needs a strong king, one who can defend the realm against outside threats. Shortly after Macbeth became king in 1099, Countess Isobel of Carrick invaded Clydesdale, bringing along her ally, Earl Gilbride of Argyll. Another new king, another foreign invasion, but this time, I said to myself with a face of thunder and a heart of steel, things will be different. In defence of Scotland and in support of my husband, I pledged my own personal levies to the cause. Having scraped together four hundred or so men, I, after ignoring much protesting from Marshall Donald about how it was improper for a woman to go off to war, donned my armour (well, actually it was my father’s armour from before he reached maturity, but never mind that) and we marched for Clydesdale to link up with the king’s army.

(Also around this time, a messenger from the Pope arrived at Ellon Castle, mentioning something about a ‘crusade’ to liberate Egypt from the heathen. Now, I’m pretty certain I told the messenger that I’d consider sending my forces, not really having any intention to consider it at all, and thought that would be an end to it. It turns out the Papal messenger went away with an entirely different idea, fully believing that Buchan’s soldiers would be up and rearing to go, but more about that later.)*

With the extra troops from Buchan, the numbers were more or less matched at a couple of thousand soldiers per side. So, with no one wanting to risk a decisive battle, the king and I laid siege to Turnberry Castle in Carrick, while the enemy invested the castle at Dumbarton. It turns out that besieging a castle is not only extremely boring but also extremely manly, a siege camp having little in the way of entertainment for a noble lady, and soon I began to develop ideas about how to possibly quicken the process. I knew that Earl Gilbride was quite an old man with perhaps a weak heart, and it had not escaped my attention that, as I had grown into womanhood, the attitudes of the men around the court in Ellon towards me had shifted—where once they had treated me with the strained deference of an adult required to pay homage to a child, they now would try to make me laugh, pay me incessant compliments; in short, they would flirt. At first I found it disconcerting, adopting a cold, aloof demeanour towards them, but I soon found that if I gave them something, any little thing to cling on to, they would be wrapped around my finger in no time. So, one night, I snuck out of the camp with only a small retinue of guards and made for Dumbarton.

After a couple of days, I arrived at the camp and, disguised as a lowly harlot, I attracted no attention other than the obvious sort. That evening, upon locating Earl Gilbride’s tent, I evaded the guards, snuck inside and made myself comfortable, having already ascertained that the Earl was currently feasting and would most likely retire to bed shortly. That he did, and when he entered he belched and then stopped dead in his tracks upon seeing me in his bed, wearing not much of anything. He frowned and shook his head.

“What is this?”

I tossed my head back and said, in my most seductive tones, “I thought you might like some...company.”

“Is that right?” He appeared to think. “Well, it has been a long day, and I could certainly use some relaxation.” He approached the bed with a lusty gaze. “Yes, some relaxation is definitely what I need...and what kind of relaxation would you be able to offer me...Lady Margaret? A night of passion and then a draught of poison, is that the plan?”

My heart leapt. “What?”

He laughed a cruel laugh.” Did you really think I would not recognise you? You’re the queen, lass. I was at your wedding, for crying out loud.”

“Oh.” I’d forgotten about that. “Well, er, maybe we can come to, er...”

He grabbed my arm, yanked me out of the bed and pushed me towards the exit. “Come on, out you go.”

“Wait, no, at least let me get my...”

And so my first attempt at seduction, suffice it to say, was not a success, but while it probably wouldn’t have achieved anything anyway, the thrill of it had given me a taste for such sordid dealings, and, even as I was thrust out into the camp with barely enough clothes to conceal my modesty, I knew that I would have to try it again.

In other matters, Macbeth lost the war, and Clydesdale was taken by Countess Isobel. While the men of Buchan were involved in this titanic struggle, husband and wife fighting side by side in proof of their mutual love and devotion, I received word that a messenger had arrived from the Pope asking, to everyone's collective confusion, why none of my soldiers were in Egypt. Seeing as the war with Carrick was over, I decided I had better go along with this crusade thing, even though I swear I never agreed to it in the first place, and readied the ships. I was too late. Before they could embark, another Papal messenger arrived, bringing a stark message:

Countess Margaret, you have been excommunicated.


Gregory VII: rake, imbecile, poet.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*I was certain I selected the 'I will consider it' option. I definitely intended to, but I guess I misclicked
 
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Fiftypence

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Hehehe.



:D

A very canny bit of business, ending up with Macbeth so smoothly on the throne. Where next for Lady Macbeth?
Next up is despairing at elective law

Let us hope this Macbeth proves a little less concerned with daggers.
It is a concern, for sure

A sell deserved award, Margaret is very well written indeed. I am sure Scotland will prosper with a Queen so skilled in assassination...
Thanks, and yes, she's pulled off one assassination plot, while perhaps conveniently not mentioning the ones that never went anywhere... ;)
 

DensleyBlair

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What is it with Popes and their obsessive fixation on remote parts of Scotland? Can’t a god fearing* northern queen catch a break from the Holy Father?

*product may not match description
 

stnylan

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How irritating of the Holy Father to take her at her word. Doesn't he know the Scots generally never knowingly tell the truth to anyone south of the border?
 
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Cromwell

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All this trouble from his holiness over your tardieness in going to Egypt is giving me flashbacks to medieval total war 2. It didn't matter how many holy sites were occupied by saracens he always had to declare a crusade on me for taking one province in western Europe somewhere...
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Magnificently done.
 

vandevere

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Liking this...
 

El Pip

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It was @DensleyBlair s nomination for Character Writer of the Week that helped me find this (it has taken me a while to find time to catch up I admit) and I'm very glad he did, as this is excellent.

Aside from the obvious, the excellent writing and amusing Shakespeare references, I am particularly enjoying the sardonic captions and Margaret's brutal directness. I do hope I have not caught up just in time for this to crash to a halt. *fingers crossed*
 
Interlude I

Fiftypence

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Interlude I
Footsteps ring out on the flagstones of Ellon Castle, interrupted only by the occasional roll of thunder. A figure holding a brief candle shuffles along the darkened corridor. It is Countess Margaret, unable to sleep. Whereas once she could fall into a sound slumber without trouble, in recent years, such restful sleep has been a rare luxury. The night is cold. Her children sleep soundly, despite the inclement weather. Martha, her youngest, has reached the age where her wailing no longer echoes throughout the castle. Such wailing has been a constant feature of life here over the last several years, and so Margaret assumed that, with her youngest now nearing her fourth year, peace would return to Ellon. Yet still she cannot sleep. It is the strangest thing—now she finds that the empty space in her bed, the absence of Macbeth on these nights when he is away holding court at Dunkeld Castle, seems to take on a form of its own, a monstrous, cold, lonely entity that seeks to smother her whenever she dares to relax even a smidgen ...

Margaret walks, guided only by flickering candlelight, and, as she weighs up whether to seek out the warm embrace of Duff, she comes to a door, typically heavy and wooden, from behind which light is visible through the cracks. She stops to examine this door. It is the strangest thing, for she cannot for the life of her remember what lies behind it or, indeed, ever having seen it before—no wait, that’s not completely true. It is familiar, but the details remain stubbornly buried in the depths of her memories. Curiosity gets the better of her. She twists the latch and opens the door.

It leads to a small room, containing various old parchments, bits of broken furniture and a tremendous quantity of dust, and also ... She bends down to pick up the orb. It is shiny, polished glass, glowing an unnatural glow, and as she gazes into it she cannot escape the feeling that all this has happened before, distant, foggy memories now surfacing of being compelled to ... confess? No, not confess exactly, but rather to ... narrate? Yes, that's it, to narrate her life story to an unseen audience, an audience she senses lies in some reality far removed from her own. And as the orb draws her ever inward, there can be no doubt ... it is happening again ...
 

stnylan

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Because she really wants a ghostly audience knowing everythign :)