Udric was summoned to the King’s chamber, the messenger stressing that the King was in no mood to be kept waiting. His heart plummeted to the very soles of his boots. He felt he needed to visit the midden on his way to hear his punishment so great was the fear and dread.
“I am coming with you. That little whelp will have told so many lies to my father,” stated Aethelstan forcefully, ignoring Udric’s protests that he needed to put his own case to King Edward.
The two young men strode confidently across the courtyard where the offence had been committed. Udric’s head was held high with a self assurance that was acting of the finest degree. They were admitted to the King’s chamber by the huge bodyguard. For one fleeting moment Udric thought that the man did not seem as massive as he used to be, surely a figment of his over-active imagination.
“My Lord King,” Udric bowed deeply then stood silent, unafraid to look the ruler of England in the eye. There was a moments silence when the only sound was the settling of twigs in the brazier. Edwin shuffled his feet, studying the rushes with uncommon intensity.
When the King spoke his voice reflected the tiredness of body and mind which were taking their toll on his health. “Well Udric, son of Udda, I am told you attacked my son Edwin, here in the courtyard and would have killed him had you not been prevented. Is this truly what happened? Prince Edwin tells me that the assault was entirely unprovoked, that you have insulted him on many occasions. How say you?”
Prince Aethelstan snorted, partly in disbelief at the story Edwin had told his father and partly because he could not contain the laughter which had almost erupted when he heard that Edwin claimed there had been no provocation. The King glared at him before turning back to regard Udric expectantly.
“My lord King, we have been taught that jibes and taunting are to be ignored unless they affect the honour of a man or that of his family. For several months Prince Edwin and I have grown apart though I do not think much of it was of my doing. He cast aspersions upon my mother’s chastity which did affect the honour of my family. I appreciate that my family are not of noble birth but lessons here have taught me standards of behaviour which should be applicable to all, high or low-born. I ask your pardon but do not regret teaching Edwin to keep his opinions about my family to himself.”
“That is boldly said, young man. Tell me what did my son say of your mother, the young woman who I saw wed to your father right here in my court?” The King’s voice had developed a steely edge which should have warned Prince Edwin that matters were not going his way. When he attempted to interrupt, the King barked at him to hold his tongue.
Edwin reddened at the abrupt command from his normally mild tempered father. He fell silent but Aethelstan could see how difficult it appeared to be.
Udric was reluctant to admit to the king that the young prince had accused him of being a bastard, progeny of his mother and the King himself. He settled for merely mentioning that Prince Edwin had called his mother a ‘peasant whore’.
“I have a feeling that that is not the whole truth, although God knows that is bad enough. Do you honestly think Edwin, that lord Algar would be Udric’s good-father if there was even a hint of impropriety? You will apologise to Udric and mind your manners in future.”
‘If looks could kill’, thought Udric, ‘I would be dead right now.’ Edwin’s apology was accompanied by such a potent look of hatred that it was almost tangible. Prince Aethelstan stood impassively, his face giving nothing away as the pantomime was played out in front of King Edward. He left after bowing briefly to his father followed moments later by Edwin, sullen and subdued, already plotting his revenge. Udric bowed to the King who smiled and nodded approvingly.
From "The King's Chalice" historical novel by Janet K.L. Seal