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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Chapter 10- January 1069

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Not a face in the room displayed any signs of disappointment or anger when the messenger sprinted into the room. Said messenger was a fresh-faced young boy, panting from the run. Murchad guessed that he wasn’t the most fit, or that he was just young. Young people weren’t always the most athletic. It was a skill one gained with age.

Cathbad stood up from the Chancellor’s seat and asked the messenger, “What happened? It must be urgent, if you ran here this quickly.”

“I think I know.” Tryggve started rapping his fingers along his chin. “Tell me of the plan’s success, boy.”

“Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, is dead!” Domnall’s face twisted into a satisfied smirk. Murchad’s face did not do the same. He had known of and approved of his son’s plan, or at least, the desired result.

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Murchad was not particularly happy about the news, but he was far from sad. He knew his son and his wife wanted it, and if he could gain an alliance from the Sudreyjar king for it, he did not mind the cost. And Murchad, above all else, was a family man.

Bjorn tipped his head, his fiery locks swinging to the side. “Um… why do we care about this?”

Domnall let out a low growl briefly before abating it. “If you would remember, we want him dead.”

“Yes.” Cathbad stroked his chin. “Congratulations on your marriage, Domnall. I wish you great luck in obtaining the bride.” The jibe flew over the prince’s head.

“So,” Tryggve inquired, “would you like to book a ship? Or do you think the bride will come to you?” This one did not.

Domnall curtly responded, “I will take that former option, thank you very much. I must leave, and soon.”

However, there was one thing everyone was forgetting, and while Murchad knew it, he guessed the rest of his council, minus possibly Cathbad, did not. “Cathbad, are you sure my son won’t be taking a trip to a Swedish prison?”

Cathbad smiled, baring his surprisingly white teeth. “You caught on. See, Domnall, you shouldn’t rush into these things. She’s free. The Swedes even took the liberty of dumping her back in York.”

Tryggve remarked, “Quite impressive. Sending her to a town under siege, bypassing the Norwegian forces via their allyship, knowing that they will soon win.”

“Wait, what?” Domnall’s face morphed into one of surprise, quickly transforming into anger. “Of course… Of course the Viking siege of York is progressing smoothly. I must depart!” And so he did. He promptly left the council room, in a rather ill-advised move.

Murchad chuckled at his son’s youthful naivety. He also trusted that things would end well for him. At least, with some help from his father. “Bjorn,” he ordered, “take a host of about ten men, or however many you think suitable, to accompany my son. I don’t want him at risk in a city under siege.”

“Yes, sir!” Bjorn marched out of the room, leaving just Murchad, Tryggve, and Cathbad. Abban had not arrived in the first place, as he was managing the Church’s donation of food to the peasants, who were suffering from a particularly harsh winter that year.

“Excellent.” Murchad took his seat at the head of the table. “Now, Cathbad, if you could recount for me what else is happening across the straits, that’d be excellent.”

“Well,” Cathbad reclined in his seat as he recounted all of the thing he’d found while out on diplomatic missions, “things aren’t going particularly well for the English, one might say. There’s no Norman threat yet nor likely ever. William the Bastard’s been humbled, and from what I hear, he’s under the thumb of his in-laws. Or something like that, anyway.”

“Alright, alright.” Murchad was completely fine with not having an aggressive pseudo-Frenchman on his borders, poised to strike into Ireland whenever he felt like. “What about the Norse?”

“Oh, the Norse.” Cathbad and Tryggve shared a look and a smile. “Well, they’ve captured York. Probably should’ve told Domnall that.”

“Yes, you should have.” Murchad glared at his Chancellor for making such a massive folly. “Now he’s walking into enemy territory without a clue in the world.”

Tryggve interrupted him, a smirk on his face. “I’m sure the Norse will take no issue with one so accepting of them.” His voice was lined with venom, his words bordering on treason.

But Murchad considered himself a forgiving man. Nonetheless, he reprimanded his spymaster, “You know that to be wrong. If they’re willing to take each other out, I doubt they’ll look favourably on Domnall.”

“Anyway,” Cathbad continued, cutting off his lord, “Not only is Morcar dead, his brother was killed in battle as well. Without their commanders, the northern half of England has, ah, collapsed. There’s not much between them and London at this point, so Godwinson’s survival is in some doubt.”

“Great.” The Earl, however, wasn’t paying much attention. “Now, we’re going to fetch my son and make sure he’s warned.” He marched out of the room, clearly expecting one or both of his remaining council members to follow.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

York was a… desolate place when Domnall arrived there. The Norse had clearly left their mark on the town, and very few dared roam the streets openly.

However, there was something very strange; no soldiers patrolled the town. Domnall saw no soldiers patrolling a freshly occupied town. Domnall, Bjorn, and the five men they had brought with them were the largest military force in York.

And yet, it could hardly be said that the Viking forces had done their work in the town. Bodies lined the streets, and blood stained the stones. Bjorn kicked a corpse to the side for his lord. Quite an honourable move.

Domnall gazed over the town, just watching. Watching as the people went about their daily life, completely unaffected by the sacking that had just happened.

People bought and sold goods with dead bodies not far from them. People collected their few remaining things from the burnt husks of their houses, ignored by their fellow upstanding citizens. Horse-drawn carts made their way past Domnall’s escort several times, paying no attention to the pools of blood their wheels ran through as they went. Said blood splashed onto the passerby, who did not seem to mind their already filthy robes developing a new shade of red.

Not only was it tragic, it was disgusting. These peasants had given up on life. Their hope had been lost, and what did they do? They did not take their own lives, that was good. They did not choose to fight back, either, however. Instead, they did nothing. They simply accepted their lot and bowed to the Norse boot pressing into their back.

After much searching, Domnall found Helga in a stable, sleeping. Her golden robe was stained with dirt, and her hazel braid had unravelled. But it did not matter for Domnall. He still found her beautiful, nonetheless.

She remained asleep as he walked up to her. He bent over and calmingly told her, “I am here now, my sweet. I am here for you.” He brushed the hay off her silk-clad arm and planted a kiss on her cheek.

The movement seemed to wake Helga up. When she saw Domnall, her normally bored face morphed into a confident grin. “I was hoping you would show up eventually. Or someone, at least. An attractive noblewoman like me has to attract some foolhardy suitor at some point.”

Domnall’s hearing was selective. He grabbed Helga’s hand and yanked her off the hay bale she was sleeping on, with her accidentally or not so accidentally falling into his arms. She steadied herself while still remaining in Domnall’s loose grip, brushing the hay off her robes. “Ugh. I suppose you wish to take me to Dublin now, marry me?” She brushed her hair behind her and flashed her lover a dazzling smile.

“Absolutely.” Domnall lowered his head to leave a trail of kisses along Helga’s neck, shifting the neckline of her dress much closer to the shoulder.

Helga giggled and gently pushed Domnall away. “Could we perhaps do it somewhere more sanitary? Like the comfort of your personal cart, perhaps?” Domnall did notice the unspoken assumption his lover had made, and was ashamed to say she was wrong. He thus sidestepped the issue.

“Say the word, my dear, and I will save you, rescue you from your misery.”

“Heh. I wouldn’t call it misery, per se. More like lordly neglect.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “What kind of man, with a beautiful young wife eager to please him, barely visits her in two years of marriage? A eunuch could give me more pleasure than he did.”

That was indeed a tragedy. What man could turn down the offer of lying with someone like Helga? Certainly not Domnall. And he told her as much. He pulled her closer to him and bragged, “Do you remember our first night together? I can do that for you every night, if you wish.”

“Oh, Domnall.” Helga pretended to swoon and pulled Domnall in for a kiss.

When the couple broke for air, Helga remarked, “You know, staying in Sweden was not that bad, honestly. They treated me almost like I was one of them.”

Domnall shook his head. “But if you were in Sweden, you could not be with me.” He planted another kiss on her lips, but this one was much more fleeting.

“I suppose that is true.” Helga giggled coldly. “I must thank God you were here to rescue me, or I would be a young noblewoman on her own in an abandoned land. Being held for ransom would be one of the better things that could have happened to me.” She then aimed her gaze at the floor of the stable.

“You need not worry. I can take you away from all that.” Domnall wrapped Helga in a tight hug. “I will be your saviour. I can promise you that.” He planted a kiss on her head, regardless of her disheveled hair.

Helga smiled up at her lover. “Of course. I appreciate the… effort… you have taken to ‘save’ me.” Her, ah, peculiar choice of emphasis went unnoticed. Perhaps that was because she pulled him into a passionate kiss soon after, one that pulled her off her feet.
 
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Chapter 11- 17 February 1069

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Harald III ‘Hardrada’ Sigurdsson was feeling happier than he had ever been in his entire life. The legacy of Canute the Great was once again fulfilled, and Harold Godwineson the oathbreaker was soon to be punished.

After the fall of York and the deaths of the brothers Hwicce, Harald’s Norse forces had no issues on their way to the capital, which put up less than a month of resistance before falling.

A good Viking would have put the city to the torch, killing all those who remained inside. In this aspect, Harald supposed he was a failure. He had let his son Prince Magnus convince him to show mercy.

He did, however, suppose that it was easier to rule over a nation still somewhat intact. And if he didn’t want to constantly deal with peasant revolts, he might want to keep the local noble structure at least partially intact. As long as they paid their taxes and did not revert to their pagan ways, he would let these petty nobles keep their titles. He asked only for their loyalty and their tribute.

Magnus stroked his blonde beard as he surveyed the King’s, or rather, former king’s, keep. The gates had been thrown open, and both royals understood that they were to face no resistance as they confronted the King and imposed a peace upon him. “Quite an imposing keep. We should expand it, solidify our authority.”

The King of Norway chuckled. “You mean yours, son. I’m not staying here.” That was true; Harald intended to go back to Norway once the post-conquest turbulence from England had been settled. Magnus would de facto rule England under his father’s authority, preparing him for the succession. As the king was nearly halfway through his sixth decade, it would not be long before that came to pass.

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“Yes, mine.” Magnus then turned around, sweeping his gaze over the town as he walked backwards. “This place will need to be fixed. I cannot even say we caused all the damage; these Angles are apparently too stupid or too desperate to even fix their own fortifications.” He disdainfully gestured to the city of London. The small fires everywhere, entirely Norse-caused but Angle-maintained, the houses that lacked roofs or were sheared in half, the roads torn up, the crumbling walls surrounding the keep.

“You’ll have a whole Kingdom’s worth of a treasury to do that with, son.” Harald clapped his son on the back. “But what I care about is the throne. Come on, now.”

“All right, all right. You can have your glory, Father.” Magnus coughed into his hand, spitting up blood. “Bah.” He waved the blood off his hand, letting it drip onto the already filthy streets.

Harald and Magnus barged into Harold Godwineson’s throne room flanked by ten Norse soldiers. It turned out that the escort was unnecessary, because the King and Queen were the only people in the room.

Harald Hardrada marched forward and wrenched Harold off his throne, while Magnus signalled the guards to restrain Queen Eadgyth. Neither put up any resistance.
Harald smiled as he took his rightful place upon the English throne. “Kneel, Godwinson. Kneel to your new liege.”

Harold looked as if he wanted to spit, but he did eventually kneel. His glare at the usurper remained unflinching, but he did pause nonetheless. “Wait. You called yourself my liege. Surely the dead do not owe loyalty in Heaven?” The Viking king rolled his eyes at the assumption Godwinson would be going to Heaven. He somehow doubted that greatly.

“You misunderstand. You will stay my vassal. I will not give you the luxury of a warrior’s death, nor a king’s.” He would not be going to Valhalla any time soon, or ever if Harald had anything to say about it.

“You bastard!” Harold got up as if to strike Harald, or perhaps encourage his enemy to strike him down, but neither happened. Instead, Harald gave the English former king a slap across the face, sending him reeling. He then stood up and pressed his boot down on the defeated king’s chest.

“I wish you great fortune in Dorset, my valiant foe.” Harald spat in Harold’s face before shouting, “Guards! Take him and his wife away!”

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Tailltu, Countess of Dublin, reclined in her chair. The chairs seemed to be getting increasingly small as the years wore on; she knew this was likely a symptom of her aging, her eating, and her pregnancy.

She had yet to announce it to her family, which she planned on doing very soon. She knew all four men would be surprised to have another child to look after; everyone had thought her barren after birthing Donnchad fourteen years prior, but they were apparently wrong.

She’d never particularly enjoyed laying with her husband, and it was a task that had grown increasingly difficult as they both aged. She had grown bigger, and they were both much less fit than they used to be.

Murchad wandered into their chambers, buried in some sort of scroll. A medical textbook, perhaps, or a legal decree, to be read out the next day in the town square. Likely nothing interesting, regardless of what it was. He sat down on the bed and kept perusing his paper.

“Ahem.” Tailltu coughed loudly into her hand to attract the attention of her husband.

“Yes, my wife?” Murchad set his scroll to the side and stared intently at his wife, his eyes slowly scrolling, no pun intended, down to her swollen belly. “You’re pregnant, I see. Well done.”

Capture 32.PNG


Tailltu hadn’t expected her thickheaded husband to notice the bulge in her stomach on his own. “Yes, I am. I’m hoping for a daughter, myself. I have enough sons to last for the rest of my lifetime.” She exhaled loudly and slumped back in her chair. Despite going through three pregnancies already, and another that miscarried, she had still never grown used to them, as some women claimed to.

A frown developed on Murchad’s face. “Hm. I too hope for a daughter.” He sighed and walked over to his wife, planting a kiss on her brow. “Do you need a tonic for your exhaustion?”

“Bah. I’ll be fine. A good sleep will help more than any of your cures.”

Murchad frowned at his wife’s insult before walking away and returning to his scroll, dejected. “Okay then, Tailltu.”
 
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Chapter 12- 23 June 1069

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Yet another son to marry off, yet another trip to a foreign land. This time, Murchad was paying a visit to the Duke of Lothian. His second son Enna came with him, as he was the one being offered.

One unusual thing about this arrangement, however, was that he’d been invited. It was Lothian who had reached out to him, offering a marriage alliance. Allegedly, Enna was to be betrothed to the Duke’s eldest daughter.

“So Enna,” Enna perked up as soon as he heard his name, “How old do you think your bride’s going to be? The older the better.”

Enna chuckled, his voice in the very awkward position between a high childlike tone and the deep tone of a fully fledged man. Murchad hoped he wouldn’t be in that position for long, or his ears might shrivel up prematurely. “I’ll bet you seven gold pieces that she’s less than ten.”

Murchad might not have been the best with numbers, but he wasn’t about to fall for such a rigged bet. “You’re betting way too generously, son. I’m not taking that bet.”

“Aw.” Enna frowned. “I was hoping I could get some easy money from you.”

“I’ll tell you what. Seven gold pieces say you’ll have to wait a decade until she’s of age. How’s that for a deal?”

“I’ll take that bet.” Enna reached out and shook his father’s hand, sealing the bet.

Shortly after, the Duke and Duchess of Lothian, or at least presumably so, walked out of their castle to greet them.

“I presume you’re the Earl of Dublin, then?” The young man was the first to speak, dressed in a gold shirt and wearing a golden headband. He really did like gold, that was for sure.

“Yes. Who are you?” Murchad was pretty sure he knew, but he wanted to check. He could be a fancy bandit, for all the earl knew.

“Duke Gospatric Dunbar of Lothian, of course.” Gospatric gave Murchad a short bow, despite technically being his superior.

Capture 33.PNG


He took two steps backward and wrapped his arms around the woman beside him. “And this is my wife Etheldreda.”

Etheldreda nodded and greeted the couple’s visitors, “Greetings. I see you received my husband’s invitation.”

Capture 34.PNG


“Yes indeed. Let’s get down to business, shall we?” They were outside at that time, so the Scottish couple decided it would be best to conduct negotiations in the keep, apparently. Neither Murchad nor Enna minded staying outside, but the hosts got to choose the conditions, he supposed.

Etheldreda and Gospatric seemed to be quietly arguing a lot on the way back to the keep. What about, Murchad neither knew nor cared. Although it really did feel like he should care, he did not. He just wanted a noble marriage for Enna.

“So,” Murchad remarked when they reached the throne room, “you asked for my son’s hand in marriage?”

“Yes indeed.” Gospatric walked up to Enna, inspecting him with one roving eye. “Is this him?”

Enna nodded. “It is excellent to meet you, Father.” It would never cease to be strange for Murchad, hearing his sons call another man their father.

Gospatric apparently found it even stranger. “I will never be able to get used to a man twelve years my junior calling me Father. Closer to a brother than a father.” He shook his head. “Anyway, we need to talk later. You seem like a wonderful man.” Enna’s face lit up with a gentle blush.

Etheldreda walked across the room and tossed open the doors. Shortly after, two children came tumbling in; a boy and a girl. They immediately started arguing with each other.

“Dolfin!”

“What?”

“Why’d you have to push so much?!”

“I wanted to hear what they were saying.”

“Now you got us both caught!” The girl was interrupted by her mother coughing into her hand.

“So you admit to eavesdropping, Etheldreda?”

“It was Dolfin’s idea!” The girl pointed to the boy behind her, presumably her brother. Murchad could definitely see the resemblance each bore to their parents.

“No, it wasn’t!” Both Etheldredas glared at Dolfin until he backed down. He sheepishly admitted, “Yes, it was.”

Murchad asked Gospatric, “Who are they? Your children, I presume?”

Gospatric smiled widely and nodded. “Yes. My eldest son Dolfin and my eldest daughter Etheldreda.” He chuckled and added, “My wife got to name them.”

Etheldreda the elder rolled her eyes and walked over, holding her daughter’s hand. She gently smacked her husband upside the head, causing him to chuckle. He still backed away, though.

“So,” Enna asked, “is she my future bride?” He took a few steps forward and kneeled down to look Etheldreda the younger in the eye. “Hello there.”

Etheldreda the mother confirmed Enna’s question with a stern nod. “Yes. And my daughter knows it too. Say hello, Etheldreda.”

Etheldreda the daughter crossed her arms, shaking off her mother’s grasp. She marched up to Enna and violently poked him in the nose. “You’ll be my husband in a few years, right?”

“I believe so. How old are you, girl?”

“Seven.” Etheldreda held out one hand, holding up only five fingers. She then realized her mistake and started counting up to seven from five.

Murchad sighed. It looked like Enna had won the bet. He took a bag of gold from his pocket and tossed it at his son, clocking him in the head.

“Oww…” Enna rubbed his head and quickly pocketed the gold before the Lothian ducal family took notice.

While Enna was distracted, Etheldreda had busied herself stroking his stubble. “Wow. Father doesn’t have one of these. Is this something most men have?”

Enna then broke down laughing, causing Gospatric to take notice. He scooped up his daughter in his arms and commented, “Alright, I think that’s enough discussion.”

Etheldreda still reached out and snagged her small hand on Enna’s chin. She glared at him, telling the whole room, “You’ll be mine now. You’re not going anywhere, understand?”

Enna chuckled in his awkward teenage voice. “I understand, my dear.”

Murchad grabbed his son’s shoulder and urgently whispered in his ear, “Please don’t call a seven-year-old girl that. You’re making my skin crawl.”

Enna waved him off. He whispered back, “It’s fine. It’s not like I want her now. Or potentially ever.”
 
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And the kids were eavesdropping. That's hilarious.
 
Chapter 13- 7 Oct 1069

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Tailltu laid back on her bed, clad only in a plain white robe. She was already going into labour, about two weeks late. She’d done it three times, but she was much older this time, much frailer. And that posed some health risks.

Domnall was no help; he may have been adept at theology, but in terms of biology he was even less knowledgeable than his father. He kneeled at his mother’s side, speaking calmly, trying to soothe her.

Tailltu snapped at her son, “How many decades do you think I’ve lived? I’m no innocent teenage mother, I’ll be fine.” She tried to sit up, only to wince in pain. She let out a pained grunt before falling on her back.

Helga’s expression remained cold. A small smile formed on her face. “Do you need help? From a trained professional, perhaps?”

“Bah.” Tailltu growled as another spasm of pain ran through her. “Let me know when you find one of those around here. And no, my husband doesn’t count.”

“Aw.” Helga’s face did not change despite her words. “I thought he was the medicine man around here. Is that not the case?”

Tailltu was not in a mood to be trifled with, especially not by her impudent daughter-by-law. Helga enjoyed teasing the heavily pregnant countess, she knew that. Both women knew that. As the older woman glared at the younger, Domnall gently tapped his mother’s arm. “Um, should I go find one?”

Tailltu bitterly replied, “Unless your… lovely… new wife is willing to serve as a midwife, I wish you luck.”

Helga chuckled and shook her head, her single hazel braid being tossed from side to side. “Oh, I could never do that. I’m afraid I don’t have the constitution.”

“Go, then.” Tailltu glared at Helga, who returned the sentiment with her icy stare. “Find me someone who’ll do something other than taunt me.”

“That can be arranged. Come on, Domnall.” Helga grabbed her husband’s arm and pulled him away from his mother.

“Wait, Helga!”

“What? Mother dear needs her privacy. Murchad will help much more. Come on!” Domnall was still reluctant to follow his wife out of the room, abandoning his mother.

Tailltu agreed with Helga on this matter; she did not need anyone to hold her hand. She ordered her son to leave the room, an order which seemed to finally convince him.

Helga and Domnall then began prowling the keep for their father, to their knowledge the best equipped person in the keep to help his wife deliver their baby.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They found him at the sparring grounds, sparring with Enna. The son seemed to be winning over the father, but it was far from one-sided; both put up a good fight.

Helga had always been interested in watching her brothers duel, even if she had no interest in doing so herself. The younger Domnall had typically beaten Gudrod, and watching Murchad and Enna duel, she understood why.

Murchad took a very cautious approach to the duel. He focused mostly on parrying his son’s strikes, rather than initiating any of his own. He blocked most all of his son’s hits successfully, but he had no chance of landing any hits.

Meanwhile, Enna’s armour was spotless, even as his boots kicked up sand at every step. He continued to press the offensive, wearing his father down. Helga knew that Murchad’s stamina was wearing down, and he would eventually let down his guard for just a moment, just long enough for Enna to win.

“Hey!” Domnall was apparently not as patient as Helga. “Mother is going into labour. Could you help her, Father?”

“What?” Murchad’s head turned from his duel, allowing Enna to land a solid blow on his midsection. The earl winced, stumbling back and feeling his ribs. “Oww… that was unsporting of you, son.”

Enna shrugged and holstered his sword. He then reverted to stroking his newly growing beard. “I won, fair and square. It’s not my fault you got distracted.”

Helga, smiling, backed Enna up. “Your son is right. I can tell he would have won anyway. Your stamina can only last so long.”

“See, I told you!” Enna had a gigantic smile on his face as he teased his father.

“Anyway,” Domnall did not look remotely pleased at the burgeoning argument in front of him, “would you help Mother, Father?”

“Um…” Murchad averted his eyes. “I don’t exactly think I’m the most qualified to be doing that.”

“What?” Domnall raised one suspicious eyebrow. “You’re supposed to be some sort of apothecary, aren’t you?”

“Well, um, yes I am, but I have no experience in midwifery.” Murchad flushed a light shade of pink. “Do we seriously have nobody who can help?” He retreated into his own thoughts while his children discussed.

“Um, Helga,” Enna inquired, “why don’t you help her? Without her, you probably wouldn’t be married, after all.”

That was the first Helga had heard of Tailltu doing anything about that. “What?”

Under Helga’s cold stare, Enna quailed. He made his excuses and ran off. She would have to make a note to interrogate him later.

Or she could just ask her husband, which seemed an altogether more practical option. “What did your brother mean by ‘without her, you wouldn’t be married?’”

“Pardon?”

“Your brother said that without your mother, we wouldn’t be married. What did he mean by that?”

“He meant that Mother helped murder Morcar. I’m surprised he thinks you don’t know that.” And Helga was surprised Domnall knew. The timing behind it wasn’t subtle in the slightest; one talk with their Spymaster Tryggve and it became clear who was behind Morcar’s death.

“Ah-ha!” Murchad interrupted the conversation with his epiphany. “I think I know who to call.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A red-haired woman with a scowl on her face came out of Tailltu’s chambers, carrying an infant. She greeted Murchad, Domnall and Helga outside. “Wow, I didn’t expect an audience. Is another boy so dramatic, Mister Four-Sons?”

Murchad’s eyebrows perked up. “Another son? A bit of a shame I didn’t get a daughter, but oh well. Any word on what Tailltu wants to name him?”

“Yep.” The red-haired woman immediately answered Murchad’s question. “Meet Ruadacan mac Murchad ua Cheinnselag.”

“Ruadacan it is, then. I like it.” Murchad bent over to kiss his infant son’s head. He then scooped up the babe in his arms, slowly rocking his calm form.

“Great.” The new midwife crossed her arms and glared at Murchad. “Now, if I could leave, that would be nice.”

“Do whatever you want, Conchenn.” Murchad’s attention stayed on his son. “You don’t owe me that favour any more.”

“‘Favour,’ my arse. More like a threat.” Conchenn continued to glare at Murchad. “You sure I won’t be arrested now?”

Murchad nodded at his impromptu midwife, a calm smile on his face. “Yes. I still encourage you to come by more; I find myself enjoying your company more every time you do.”

“Bah.” Conchenn waved Murchad off. “Like that’s gonna happen. Your wife’s nice, though. I wouldn’t mind talking with her more.”

Murchad chuckled, his gentle voice unwavering. “I think that’s the first time I’ve heard anyone say that before.” That was true; Helga found Tailltu an extremely unpleasant person to be around.

Conchenn then walked off, while Murchad took his new son inside his chambers to see his mother. This left Domnall and Helga standing alone, together, in the hall.

“So,” Helga propositioned, “How about we retire to our chambers for the night?” She gently pulled on her husband’s shirt, planting a kiss on his chin. He hadn’t moved his head quickly enough.

Domnall smirked. “I have no problem with that.” He pulled Helga into a lustful kiss.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The couple had not yet made it to their chambers when they were sidetracked by the arrival of Cathbad, beside another orange-haired man neither recognized.

“Greetings.” The stranger performed a short, sharp bow. “My name is Gilla-Patric, the Earl of Ossory. I presume you are the Earl of Dublin? And his wife?”

Helga was flattered by the comparison, but she couldn’t honestly say she was. She didn’t have to, however. Domnall took up that responsibility. “Yes, that is true. What did you want to tell us?”

Cathbad interrupted. “I was in Ossory recently when I heard the news of the Welsh invasion. So I went to find the Earl-”

Domnall cut his father’s chancellor off. “Wait, what? The Welsh invasion? Of where?”

Cathbad sighed. “My apologies, Earl Mu- Domnall. I was about to get to that. The Prince of Deheubarth has captured Desmond, forcing its Earl to surrender. Gilla-Patric here wanted assurance of our protection in case they extended further.”

Helga chuckled good-heartedly, but in reality she had absolutely no sympathy for the Earl. It wasn’t even like they could offer much in the way of protection to begin with. They had barely any more troops than Ossory, less than a third of what Deheubarth was rumoured to have.

Domnall had equally little, it seemed. He grunted and replied, “I’m not sure what we can do to help. Do you see over a thousand troops anywhere?”

“Well,” Ossory explained, unshaken by the initial refusal, “I know your father has twice the amount of troops you have, and is soon to leave this world. I was hoping you could convince him to lend his aid as well.”

Helga turned around so the earl didn’t see her laughing. He clearly hadn’t done his research before coming, or he would have known that he’d gotten the generations mixed up. It was Domnall’s grandfather that owned Leinster, and his father that owned Dublin.

But Domnall didn’t bother to correct his assumption. “I am afraid we simply don’t have the troops to commit to anything right now. If you do get attacked, however, then we can talk.”

“Oh. All right, then.” Gilla-Patric’s face showed precious little of his disappointment. He shuffled off, unescorted by any guards, nor indeed by Cathbad.

Cathbad snickered and complemented Domnall, “I didn’t think you would be so successful in your deceit. Good job.” A backhanded compliment if Helga had ever heard one.

Domnall rolled his eyes and began to speak, but Helga beat him to it. She giggled, planted a kiss on his cheek, and told Cathbad, “I taught him that, didn’t I, Domnall dear?”

Domnall didn’t respond, instead sweeping her up in another lustful liplock as he pushed open the doors to their chambers. Helga responded eagerly.
 
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Chapter 14- 29 March 1070

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Murchad’s father Diarmait, his brother Enna, and nephew Diarmait the Younger had arrived in Dublin. The city’s earl hadn’t seen any of them in years, and he greatly looked forward to their reunion.

Diarmait was clad in a thin robe made of red silk. Murchad thanked the Lord his father had worn a thick wool tunic underneath, else he would have been showing entirely too much skin.

Meanwhile, Enna wore a long robe of pure white, and Diarmait wore a plain brown shirt and pants. It was well-woven, though. Extremely high-quality, from the look of it. Murchad wondered if his brother wanted to become a priest. Certainly not a bad line of work for anyone, although it would mean losing any claim he had to the lands of either his brother or his father.

The entire family had left their keep to greet the visiting relatives; Murchad, Tailltu, Domnall, Helga, Enna, Donnchad, and the newest addition to the family, Ruadacan. The youngest Cheinnselag son, only five months old, rested calmly in his mother’s arms.

Diarmait the Younger rushed forward at the sight of the baby. “Aww! So cute… what’s his name?”

Tailltu shot either her son or her nephew a motherly smile, Murchad couldn’t tell. Her old clothes were already rather stretched by her weight, not to mention her recent pregnancy, but she seemed comfortable enough. That, and she was still somewhat pleasurable to lay with, so Murchad didn’t mind it much.

Tailltu then answered Diarmait, “Ruadacan.”

“Can I hold him?” Tailltu froze at that. She didn’t know what to say.

Murchad did, though. “Sure. Just make sure to give him back afterward. Can’t have you running off with a surrogate son.”

Diarmait gently scooped Ruadacan out of his mother’s arms, who only sighed in response, and started cradling the newly crying baby. He looked up at Murchad and informed him, “I don’t think that’ll be a problem. I’ve never wanted to be a father anyway.”

Enna the Elder, stern expression still on his face, walked up and clapped a hand onto his son’s shoulder. “Like father, like son in that aspect, I suppose.”

That could not have been flattering for Diarmait; told by his father that he never wished to be a father. He didn’t seem to mind, though. He turned around and hugged his father, an awkward proposition considering he still had his baby cousin in his arms. “I know you still love me anyway.”

Enna stiffly reached down and hugged his son in return. “Yes, I do.”

Meanwhile, Domnall was introducing Helga to Diarmait. The old man was looking his granddaughter-in-law up and down approvingly. “My my, grandson, you picked out a good one!”

Domnall glared at his grandfather, but Helga looked considerably more neutral, perhaps even proud, of the description. She chuckled coldly and favoured Diarmait with a brilliant smile. “Thank you, dear grandfather. As of now, I’m afraid my husband lays claim to me, but I will gladly accept the compliment.”

Domnall turned his glare to his wife. “For now? What are you planning, witch?”

Helga hummed innocently, pretending she didn’t understand what Domnall was saying. “Nothing, nothing.”

Domnall sourly retorted, “Likely story.” Murchad snickered. He knew Helga wasn’t planning anything at the moment other than taunting his wife because he had Tryggve or one of his agents following her every move. Neither Helga nor Domnall had spotted the Spymaster yet, so Murchad considered that effort a success.

“So,” Diarmait the elder turned his attention from Helga’s body to his eldest son’s face. “Would you like to show us around? These old bones can’t stay out here for much longer.”

“Of course. Right this way, father.”

As usual, Donnchad and Diarmait ran off to play, neither of them much interested in warfare or sparring or politics. Enna might have stuck around, but he decided to leave as well, doing God-knew-what. Tailltu also wisely left, this time to feed Ruadacan. This left only Diarmait and his sons in the room.

Enna the elder remained standing ominously beside the fireplace. He wasn’t one for such comforts as chairs, apparently. They weren’t even particularly plush chairs; the ones in Murchad’s sitting room had fabric in them, but they were far from fully stuffed.

Diarmait the elder, meanwhile, revelled in the luxury, sinking into the biggest, fattest chair he could find, which wasn’t saying much, and ordering a servant to bring him mead, in the largest glass they could find.

As she hurried off to do that, Murchad made himself comfortable as well. Unlike his father, he decided to go without alcohol.

“So,” Murchad began, “Are you here to talk about business, or pleasure?”

Diarmait sighed. “Business, I’m afraid.” He muttered, “Why does it always have to be business?” before continuing. “I’m worried about the Welsh, son.”

Of course he was. Murchad wasn’t surprised in the slightest by that news. He even said as much. “I knew it. It’s fine, Father. Nobody’s seen them within a hundred kilometres of our coast since last year.”

Of course, that wasn’t enough for the old man. If he wasn’t already dying, Murchad was convinced the stress from this mess would do the trick for him. “Likely they’re already here, just waiting for a chance to strike. I just know it.”

Murchad dryly remarked, “The Welshmen aren’t hiding in your country, and they’re not hiding through that doorway, either.” He pointed to the door from where his servant Rannveig was waddling, carrying a tray with two jugs of mead on it, despite the fact that Murchad hadn’t asked for one. Maybe she just assumed.

She was also pregnant, and Murchad hadn’t been able to figure out the father, no matter how hard he made Tryggve try. She also hadn’t given up any names upon questioning, forcing her earl to demote her to a servant. He didn’t want to hurt her for such indiscretions, and wouldn’t on any conditions, so this was the only recourse available to him.

Capture 36.PNG


“Um, Rannveig,” Murchad grabbed her arm on her way out, forcibly turning her around. “You didn’t need to deliver two mugs. I don’t feel like a drink right now.”

Rannveig neutrally pointed to Diarmait, who had grabbed both mugs and was taking turns drinking from each. Both of the earl’s sons rolled their eyes.

When Murchad’s head turned back to her, Rannveig had a patient smile on her face. “I thought he would need two. Clearly, I was right.”

“Yes, you were. You may go now.” Rannveig hurried off, leaving the men to continue their discussion.

“So, where were we? Oh, yes. My security measures. Ever since I heard of Deheubarth conquering Desmond, I have had Bjorn’s men patrolling the east coast of Ireland. They are to board any ship that doesn’t fly either my flag or yours. They are to force everyone on board to speak, and if anyone is caught using a Welsh accent, they are to be killed.” A ruthless tactic, yes, and Murchad did not like having to use it; he respected the Welsh on a cultural level. He simply couldn’t have them coming over to Ireland and plundering as they saw fit.

“That might be enough.” Diarmait was slowly nodding his head. Murchad had never thought his father a dull man, even in his old age, and he could understand what his son was doing. “I might do something like that.”

Murchad calmly reassured Diarmait, “I think I have it covered.”

Enna the elder finally interrupted, stepping out of the fireplace’s shadows in a quite dramatic moment. “I think you have something else to talk about, Father.”

“Right, right.” Diarmait yawned, spreading his arms wide. “You had something to announce, Enna.”

“I have joined the priesthood.” Murchad hadn’t seen it coming until that morning, when his brother’s dress had made it completely obvious. “I will not compete for Father’s inheritance. He clearly favours you as the elder son.” And the son who managed to get himself a wife, Murchad thought. He kept that one inside, however. No use stirring tensions where none needed to be.

“So that means you two won’t be fighting over the succession. Great, now I can rest in peace.” And so Diarmait did, falling asleep in his chair soon after. The brothers, his sons, exchanged looks of combined resignation and humour.
 
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Chapter 15- 15 December 1070

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Rannveig let out a loud scream as a contortion wracked her body. She apparently wasn’t so calm when giving birth. Murchad couldn’t exactly blame her, granted. He’d never given birth himself, and was very glad for it.

The earl stood by the foot of his courtier’s bed, but there was little he could do to help her. He was no midwife or physician. He could have called Conchenn, but Bjorn was still trying to find her. Apparently she’d been smart about avoiding him.

So it was that he just stood around awkwardly while his Spymaster Tryggve slipped into the room. He had mercifully provided his own chambers at the castle for Rannveig’s use; she normally didn’t reside in the castle directly, instead staying in the servants’ quarters.

Tryggve taunted Murchad, his voice betraying no humour, “I thought you were adept in medicine. Surely you can do something to help your poor servant?”

Murchad gritted his teeth and took the snide jab at his expertise. He deserved it, he thought, for lacking said expertise. He took a few deep breaths and tried to stay calm, considering the rather stressful situation between Rannveig’s legs.

Rannveig panted out, “I think… I think I have this under control. Just a few more pushes.”

Tryggve flatly ignored Rannveig as he told his lord, “I’ve had no luck determining who the father is, by the way. I suspect your son, but I can’t prove anything.”

“Hm.” Murchad stroked his beard. It took him a bit to realize the obvious, though. He hurriedly whispered, “She’s right there! Maybe don’t let her know about it?”

Rannveig overheard, proving the Earl’s objection completely pointless. She laughed. She had the daring to laugh at her own secrets potentially being exposed. Murchad had to respect that, deep down. It wasn’t a loud laugh, more of a dark chuckle. “I wish you luck, dear. I’m still not telling.”

Tryggve sighed. “So there is that. I will deepen my investigations further.”

But Murchad wasn’t paying attention. He’d just had an epiphany. “Ah-ha! I’ll find Tailltu!” She’d already given birth, after all, so she would know a lot about how to do it safely. She was no midwife, but she would do.

Tryggve interrupted Murchad on his way out of the room. “Surely you wouldn’t leave a woman giving birth on her own?”

Murchad snapped back, “Watch her yourself, if you’re that concerned.” and marched off. He didn’t mean to be snappish, but he was in a high-stress situation. He needed to take a walk, clear his head.

Murchad didn’t find Tailltu, at least in any reasonable amount of time, but he did find Helga and Domnall. The couple was resting on a wooden bench, watching Enna spar with a visiting Domnall Crovan. Helga’s younger brother had been much more willing to accept his sister’s marriage than her older one.

Helga patted her swelling belly; she had finally gotten pregnant, after nearly two years. She didn’t seem to notice Murchad until he announced himself, coughing into his hand.

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Enna had apparently learned his lesson from last time, and didn’t look away upon the guest arriving in the training grounds.

“Helga,” Murchad asked, “have you seen Tailltu?”

Helga scoffed. She didn’t even bother to entertain the question. “No. Why would I seek out that miserable wretch?” Helga wasn’t exactly one to talk on the ‘miserable wretch’ front, but her answer was the important thing, not the way she said it. Murchad had to remind himself of that.

Domnall was thankfully much more helpful in that department. “I think she’s in her study. Ruadacan’s with her, although I don’t know what he’s doing.”

Murchad quickly thanked his son and hurried off to Tailltu’s study.

A pained scream made the Earl turn around. The scream came from Enna; apparently Domnall Crovan had stabbed him with some sort of hidden dagger. Quite a cowardly move, but the young Norwegian noble was only smiling.

Enna shouted, “I give up! I give up!” Then he punched his victorious opponent in the face for good measure. “Jesus Christ, man. It was supposed to be a practice duel. You didn’t need to take it so seriously.”

Domnall shrugged, shooting Enna a lopsided grin. “Hey, a fight’s a fight. Maybe see my trick coming next time.”

Helga glared at her younger brother, but neither got up nor said anything, thus not attracting the attention of anyone but Murchad.

Domnall Cheinnselag, meanwhile, was significantly more active. He marched up and pushed the two combatants away from each other. He told his younger brother, “Come on, Enna. We’ll find something to patch you up.” The two then began to leave.

Enna protested, “What about the Crovans? Are you just going to leave them unpunished?”

The eldest Dublin son bluntly replied in the affirmative. “Just leave them alone. It’s Father’s duty to mete out justice, if there will be any.”

Murchad had no interest in doing so at the time. He needed to see his wife and see Rannveig’s birth through.
The agonized screams echoing throughout the castle indicated that Murchad had failed; instead of finding his wife, he dashed back up to the chambers where Rannveig laid, presumably with Tryggve watching her.

When he got there, Rannveig was cradling a newborn in her arms, with Tryggve watching intently. The doors hadn’t been difficult to open, but it was loud enough to startle the baby, making it start crying.

Rannveig snickered coldly when Murchad stumbled into the room. “It seems you are late. I had to go through that hell without you.”

Tryggve joined in on the act, remarking, “I thought you were going to find your wife. Did you fail, or was she disinterested?”

“The former. It’s a big keep. I couldn’t find her in time.” Both people present in the room with Murchad rolled their eyes.

“Ah, yes.” Tryggve turned back to Rannveig, a curious expression on his face. “Does the baby have a name?”

“Torfinn. He shall be named Torfinn Rannveigson, for no man will claim to be his father.” She planted a gentle kiss on the baby’s head.

Capture 38.PNG
 
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Well, this is one place filled with incompatible people.
 
Chapter 16- 24 December 1070

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Murchad’s face developed a content smile when he saw his Marshal, Bjorn, walk in with Conchenn; the much larger man had a firm grip on the apothecary’s arm, but she wasn’t trying very hard to escape.

When Bjorn let Conchenn go, she immediately slapped him across his bearded face. This despite the fact that he could crush her if he decided to get violent. Either she’d vastly overestimated the freshly bearded redhead’s temper or she just didn’t care. “You bastard! You should know that’s no way to treat an innocent woman!”

Bjorn did not take the attack kindly; he punched her in the face, sending her to the floor. Murchad actually got out of his chair and moved over to check on her; she might have been rendered unconscious.

“Bjorn,” Murchad lightly reprimanded the massive Norseman, “You’re just a bit stronger than she is, and I need her in one piece. Keep your temper in check, would you?”

“Bah.” Bjorn snapped back quite quickly at his liege, a daring move. “She earned it. I did nothing to earn a slap, just what was ordered.”

“See, that’s the thing, son.” Bjorn crossed his arms and glared at Murchad upon being called ‘son,’ even though he was in the perfect age range for it.

“You were saying?”

“As I was saying, son,” another glare from Bjorn, “I told you to get her. You went above and beyond in doing it personally.”

“I’m still awake, you know.” Conchenn’s snarky retort came from her ground, where the medicine woman still laid flat on her back. “One punch isn’t gonna knock me out. Not from this one, anyway. What, did he just become an adult yesterday?” She shot Bjorn a sardonic grin, despite missing two teeth, as the Marshal fumed.

Murchad calmly told Bjorn, “Why don’t you take a walk, Bjorn? I think I can handle Conchenn on my own.”

Once his Marshal was gone, Murchad offered Conchenn his hand, which she reluctantly took. She dusted herself off and remarked, “I don’t know why you hired a crazy viking for anything. Seems like a loose cannon.”

Murchad kept his enigmatic smile, though. His feathers weren’t ruffled by the insult to his Marshal. “On the contrary, Miss. He’s loyal and reliable to a fault.”

Conchenn rolled her eyes and muttered something, probably something disagreeable.

With his woman silent, Murchad got to the point he’d meant to make in the first place. “I swear, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to get yourself killed.”

“Nah, I just don’t have a temper for brutes.”

“Those brutes might end up sticking a sword through you if you’re not careful. Watch out, Conchenn.”

Conchenn raised a skeptical eyebrow and smirked dryly. “Didn’t think you’d care about me so much. Does someone tire of their wife?”

There wasn’t much use hiding it at that point. “Well, yes. I can confirm that much. Consider the courtship started.”

“And the last two years don’t count?” It had been over two years since the two had first met, now that Murchad thought about it. And now the couple would take the next step in that courtship, as the Earl was about to announce.

Murchad thoughtfully stroked his beard as he led Conchenn into his personal herb garden. It wasn’t a very large garden, but he had set up a table and two chairs in advance for the lady. Behind Tailltu’s back, of course. This was technically adultery. But Murchad doubted anyone else cared too much.

“So,” Murchad flatly told Conchenn, “You’re hired. Couldn’t find a better Court Physician around, and I’ve tried for two years.”

“I’m flattered. Thanks.” Conchenn took a seat at the table and massaged her forehead with her hands. Apparently she needed some time to comprehend the news. “Couldn’t find a better one. Now isn’t that a lovely job description?”

“Hey,” Murchad put up his hands defensively. “I tried to avoid sleeping with my Court Physician if possible, but that didn’t seem to be an option.”

Conchenn groaned and responded, “You’re not sleeping with me yet! Calm down there, buddy!”

Murchad chuckled and took a seat across the table from the woman who would hopefully become his lover soon.

Two cups of tea sat on the table, one in front of each person. Murchad definitely didn’t want to drink the tea, and he didn’t want to say what was in it. He wanted Conchenn to ask, instead. He knew she was the inquisitive type; he knew she would.

And she did, a few minutes later. She picked up her cup, swirled it around, and asked what was in it.

Murchad had a very funny response prepared for this exact scenario; he’d thought it through in painstaking detail the night before. “It’s a mixture of burdock root and nettle; I hope you enjoy it.” He couldn’t compose himself for any longer, and burst into laughter right after finishing his sentence.

Conchenn’s face remained sullen at first, but eventually she started chuckling, and that chuckling turned into a full belly laugh.
 
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Chapter 17- 27 January 1071

Bannerman21

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Conchenn had just finished her tea, a much healthier brew than the one Murchad had prepared for her a month ago, when the Earl strolled into her chambers. She’d left the door unlocked on purpose.

Murchad nodded at his lover and sat beside her, sitting himself on her bed. His right arm moved up to gently massage his Court Physician’s left shoulder.
Conchenn closed her eyes and savoured the relaxing feeling of being massaged. It wasn’t something she got often, being a commoner, and she needed some time to relax.

Capture 39.PNG


Not only that, but Murchad had been working her to the bone as his court physician. She’d proven to be surprisingly good at it, despite her humble, and perhaps slightly fraudulent, beginnings. She had cured a pregnant Helga’s Typhus, sparing both her Earl’s daughter-in-law and grandson.

Helga rested in her bed, coughing. Her singular brown braid bounced up and down as she moved, the child in her belly doing the same. There was absolutely no way that could be healthy for the child, and Conchenn let her know that.

The physician roughly shouted, “Stop that! You’ll damage the baby!”

Helga couldn’t respond, because she was still coughing. Upon receiving a gentle push from Conchenn, Helga laid back on the bed. Her face was hallowed and gaunt, her cheeks flush against her teeth. The chance of the pregnancy going through successfully… was not high.

Conchenn shook her head and sighed as she rested against the wall. She muttered, “I’d best pull up a chair. I’m going to be here for a bit.”

A few minutes later, Conchenn was sitting across from Helga as she rested. The sick woman occasionally roused herself to scratch at a rash, or cough onto the sheets. She stewed in her chair, trying to think of a good cure. She’d never dealt with such a serious disease before, but she would never let this one get the best of her.

That, and letting Helga die would likely make her persona non grata in Dublin; neither Murchad nor Domnall would stick up for her after such a failure. So she needed to find a cure quickly.

When she spoke, Helga’s voice was raspy, skeletal. It sounded like she was trying to speak through a thin paper tube. She managed to get out a few sentences, however. “It looks like something’s bothering you, Conchenn. Would it behoove you to explain?”

Conchenn rubbed her forehead and leaned back in her hard wooden chair. “I’m just trying to figure out a good cure for you. I know your husband’ll get my head on a pike if I mess up.”

Helga chuckled but didn’t refute Conchenn’s assertion. She whispered, leaving Conchenn straining to hear, “There’s something else. I won’t die in the next few hours, and you know that.”

Conchenn stood, or rather, leaned, still for several minutes. Once, she had to steady herself, or she would have fallen over and hit her bedridden patient’s legs. She was trying to figure out what Helga was getting at.

Helga shot Conchenn a small sickly smirk. Her teeth were yellowing, but whether that was a result of the disease was unknown. But she didn’t say anything, at least not until the irate physician prompted her to. “Yes? There’s clearly somethin’ you want to say.”

“Well,” Helga smiled innocently, “I’ve seen you around Father, and I recognize the look. I’ve seen it on Domnall.” She weakly raised an eyebrow before coughing violently once again. She muttered, her aloof tone momentarily dropping, “Gah. I am so bloody hot.”

Conchenn conveniently came up with a cure at that time, an ever so convenient excuse to abandon the conversation. She loudly proclaimed, “Ah-ha! I’ve figured it out. I’ll be right back.”

‘Right back,’ as it turned out, was something closer to an hour or two. But she did, eventually, return. She did so carrying a heavy bucket and a ceramic mug. She set both by Helga’s bedside, informing a very confused Norsewoman, “This should do the trick. Ice water, goat’s blood, and crushed dandelions. Take a mug of this every day, and your Typhus should be over in no time!”

Helga was less confused after the explanation, but significantly more skeptical. She itched at a rash on her ribs before, with shaky hands, taking the mug from Conchenn’s hands. The apothecary grinned confidently and took a seat.

Conchenn kept her cocky grin, despite Helga gagging when she swallowed the concoction. When she removed the mug from her mouth, her lips were stained red. She bitterly remarked, coughing while she did, “Oh, that is atrocious. You’re sure this will cure me?”

Conchenn smirked and nodded. “Eventually.”

And so it had; a month later, she was feeling just as good as she’d been beforehand.

“Conchenn?” Murchad was staring at his lover, gently stroking her shoulder. His soft voice struck through Conchenn’s memories, soothing her mind. “Conchenn? Are you there?”

Conchenn coughed awkwardly into her elbow. “Yes, of course. Sorry, I was just thinking about Helga. You know, her bout of Typhus a couple of weeks ago. The one good thing I’ve done as your Court Physician.”

Murchad’s smile reversed, turning into a frown. He sadly remarked, “Nonsense. You’ve done plenty more than that.” Moving his hand from Conchenn’s shoulder to her thigh, he smiled. “You’ve certainly made my nights better.”
Truly, her earl was a very funny man. Conchenn humoured him with a wry grin. “I warm your bed with my body, not my herbs. Idiot.” She straightened herself and planted a kiss on Murchad’s hairy cheek. He responded in kind, pulling her face to his.

Murchad pulled Conchenn into his lap, and the pair fell back onto the woman’s bed, entangled in a lustful ball.

The door swung open to reveal a very uncomfortable Donnchad, newly of age. He was a massive man, but he still acted the part of a boy when it came to… matters of the bedroom, one might say. He loudly coughed into his arm, announcing his presence in the most awkward way possible.

“Ah!” Murchad and Conchenn both scrambled off the bed, and even though neither had been disrobed, their intent to do so was still clear. Even someone as inexperienced as Donnchad would have figured that out.

Murchad looked away from both other people in the room. He asked his youngest son, “Could you just… um… pretend you saw nothing?”

Donnchad did essentially the same. He coughed into his arm a second time and answered his father, “I can do that. You have been completely faithful to my mother.” He just had to rub it in, didn’t he?

“So anyway, what do you want?”

“Murchad of Munster’s brothers are here. They’re asking for our… help… apparently.” He broke into a full-toothed grin. “I do somewhat doubt they’re going to get it, though.”

Murchad shrugged. “We’ll see about that. Stay here, Conchenn. I’ll be back for you later.” Conchenn had no issue with that; she wasn’t his wife. She had no right to appear beside her lover in public.

Conchenn listened in as father and son left the room, talking about some sort of Welsh threat.

“Apparently they’ve made their way up to Ormond. Maybe Ossory’s claim was right after all.”

“We’ll be fine; we have my father’s lands on our side, and I will own them directly soon. We have enough to fend off their raiders.”

“Do you want to have the honour of denying them, or shall I?”

“You are entirely too excited about this, son.”
 
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HistoryDude

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Abducting your Court Physician. Does this not strike anybody else as a bad idea?

Court Physicians can sabotage their clients.