The Shires of York
Chapter 3. Duplicitous Queen
Written by: By Joseph Murphy-James
Read the first four chapters of Joseph Murphy-James’ excellent six-part fantasy book series, The Shires of York.
3 – Duplicitous Queen
Queen Cartimandua and her army had returned to the City of York and the troops were camping outside of the city walls. Her Roman protectors were making haste in their retreat from their colony of Britanniae. The Queen had word of an army, led by Venutius, heading from Parisi lands towards the Brigantes. She understood him to be in the East Thriding, in the Wolds so she knew that his progress would be rapid. He had joined forces with the Angles, who had a reputation as fierce fighters. The Romans had fought alongside them, rather than face their combat. The Angles had been rulers of Roman Britain, except in name, and they were not likely to relinquish that role. A power vacuum was being created by the withdrawal of Rome; the Angles intended to fill it.
The Queen knew that she would lose if she faced Venutius with her army. Vellocatus, ever a soldier, wanted to fight.
He knows no better. It is his idea of honour. I will not lose and I will do whatever it takes to defeat Venutius.
“This is what I want you to do and this evening,” said Queen Cartimandua to Vellocatus.
They had been discussing tactics in the Queen’s Lodgings; she was not staying with the army.
“Here are a list of their names and their abodes. They are to be rounded up and kept under guard. They are not to be harmed. I want them alive.”
“Who are these people, my Queen?”
“They are all relatives of the King,” she said, “or close confidantes.”
The Queen gave Vellocatus a knowing glance.
“We will raise the stakes,” the Queen continued, “for we have five days, maybe six if we are lucky, before we have to face his army.”
“Meanwhile, I want a messenger to be sent. One of your bravest.”
“Yes, it will be done. Where is he going?” said Vellocatus.
“To the caves and he must ride like the wind.”
“You mean the Dragon’s cave?”
“Yes, my love, to the Dragon’s cave.”
He will die, thought Vellocatus.
“For what purpose?” said Vellocatus.
“You will have to trust me.”
“As always, my liege, with my life.”
“Before I do this duty, my Queen, tell me one thing,” said Vellocatus.
“If I can,” answered the Queen.
“These crystals, are they part of this?”
“They are, and the second will play a most crucial part in our success over Venutius.”
“Can you confide in me?” said Vellocatus.
“You look hurt, my dear,” said the Queen, “but you have no need. I will tell you but there are some things that should not be broadcast afar. What I will tell you is as such.”
He has been so faithful and a consort who has exceeded my expectations, in many ways. I owe it to him.
“Before I do though, let me tell you that I will need a second messenger and it will be a dangerous mission, to Venutius and his army. What he will take with him is of grave importance that only you, my dear, will I entrust. I will expect you to return, so take no unnecessary risks.”
“Your first messenger will need to start soon for he needs to travel nearly twenty leagues, over difficult and boggy terrain. Please see to it first and then I will confide in you the most important of information. See that he carries a messenger bird too. I need to know that he arrived.”
“I will do this now and I will send two soldiers, to ensure its success. I will also see to your other order, the King’s relatives, at the same time.”
“So be it,” said the Queen as Vellocatus departed for the camp.
Queen Cartimandua dismissed her servants soon after her consort left her lodgings. She removed her fine gown, dressed herself in the clothes of a peasant and walked into the city, towards the river to the only bridge. She was scrutinised by an Angle guard as she crossed; the Romans were thin on the ground. Just before the fortress, she knocked on the door of a rich merchant’s house, styled as a Roman villa. It was answered by the occupant’s servant who looked askance at the peasant woman standing before him.
“What do you want,” he said to the Queen.
“Give your master this, if you please,” Queen Cartimandua replied.
She handed the servant a message; it bore the seal of the Queen of Brigantes and the servant recognised it immediately.
“My master,” the Queen said, “says it is of the utmost importance.”
“My master is about town,” said the servant, “but will return shortly.”
“You must give it to him as soon as he returns, please.”
The servant was starting to become suspicious. He heard the sound of Queen Cartimandua’s noble born speech; her disguise was thinning.
Who is she? She is not who she appears. Recognition.
“Is will be done, you have my word, my Queen,” said the servant.
“Thank you. You must tell nobody but your master that I have been here.”
The Queen turned and left as the servant closed the door.
Godric returned to his home. His merchant business was becoming more difficult with the withdrawal of most of the Roman legions. Lawlessness was on the rise and he was paying more in bribes to keep his consignments safe. He yearned for a return of the certainties offered by Roman rule. It had gone for good, he knew, and a new order was being created.
I need to be on the winning side. I am too old for changes like this.
Godric looked around his hall, searching for his servant. He sorely needed something to eat and drink. He was just in his fifties, a fine age for the time, and he’d had a good life, up until now.
Why were they leaving? Why so quickly? It is most inconvenient.
His servant arrived and took his master’s outer tunic from him.
“We have had a visitor, master,” said the servant.
Godric looked up. Mostly, his servant was invisible to him, necessary to his life but of no consequence to him.
“Who?” Godric said.
“It was the Queen.”
“The Queen, here?”
What is she thinking, to come here so openly?
“She was disguised,” said the servant, “but I recognised her. She said not to tell.”
“Good advice. What did she want?”
“She gave me this for you.”
The servant handed Godric the sealed letter from Queen Cartimandua.
“Thank you,” said Godric and he retrieved a silver penny from his pocket and handed it to the servant.
“I saw nothing master. I will bring you some sustenance,” said the servant and he left Godric alone.
Godric took the letter and walked into his dining room; he used it also for his business dealings: counting takings, accounting, meeting with his clients or other merchants and for his rare bouts of entertainment. His house was styled in the Roman fashion where people sprawled to eat, a practice he held in disdain. He had no wife and no children; they had died during childbirth when he was young and he had not wanted to remarry.
It has taken me time but I am now comfortable in my own company. There are so few one can trust.
After seating himself at the table head, Godric tore open the seal of the letter to reveal the Queen’s delicate hand.
“My Dear Godric,
“I hope this finds you well for we live in strange times. I must tell you of grave news: Venutius has amassed an army and is travelling with it from the east to fight against us. I am taking steps to ensure his defeat and, Dear Godric, I hope that you can trust that my judgement on this is sound.”
My faith in you is unquestionable; I would die for you.
“I entrusted into your care something of great value, locked in a lined box and I am sure that you have it safe. I am sending my commander, Vellocatus, to collect it. I would ascribe its care to nobody else. He will collect it today and I know that I can rely upon you to ensure that he, and only he, collects it. He will have a letter bearing my seal and he will have the ring, the one you so generously gave me as a gift, for you and he have not met before.
“I know that I can depend upon you and you have my fondest affection.”
The Queen signed the letter in a swirling script.
Vellocatus stood in the hall of Godric’s home, a sealed box under his arm. He looked back as he cleaned his sword. Godric and his servant were prostrate on the floor. Vellocatus patted his pocket; the key to the box was there, as was Godric’s gold.
The Queen’s instructions were clear. I was to retrieve the box, dispose of Godric and not open the casket until I am at Venutius’ camp. Ensure that I return and do not fail.
Vellocatus opened the door and stepped outside where people were milling around, busying themselves with their daily chores. He mounted his horse and, with a soldier’s purpose, crossed the bridge and turned east.