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King Henry I: a Story of his Ascension

Updated on September 16, 2015
King Henry I
King Henry I | Source

1

She felt cold steel pressed upon her neck. She said, “Before you kill me, let me tell you your future first. I may help you get there.”

She heard a familiar voice whisper in her ear, “Then show me.”

2

It was nearly nightfall in the rural county of Cotentin when the man shoved her into a filthy alleyway behind one of the city’s wicked taverns. “Witchcraft bears severe penalties, young girl. Tell me your name.”

“Allura” She couldn’t see his face in the dark but his voice was powerful and recognizable.

“Allura, if someone important— say the King’s brother, for example— found a little girl such as yourself performing alchemy and tarot cards for the errant citizens of our nation, what do you think might happen to her as punishment?”

Her eyes were wide, her body trembled. “Well, sir. I’m not quite sure.”

“And dear, what do you think her parents would feel should they rest their wretched eyes upon their sweet daughter standing before a burning stake?” She said nothing. He removed the dagger from her neck. “Well Allura, you haven’t a worry.” He stepped into a stream of light coming from the tavern window to reveal his fair complexion and tall, thin face.

“My lord,” she tried to bow but his strong hands raised her slender shoulders up.

“Stand and listen. You are a sweet spawn of the Devil but if you are going to help me, it will be with your bitterness, understood?” Her stone-cold face nodded. “Delightful. Show me the cards and I shall show you benevolence.”

She reached into her ragged brown dress and revealed a deck of glittering cards bedecked with shimmering gold letter-edges and spectacular images of swords, cups, wands, pentacles, and mythical figures. She knelt down on the earth before her lord and closed her blue eyes to see the dreams of his future. She spread the cards before her in the dirt: three rows of twenty six. She then slowly swept her hands overtop the cards picking up cards carefully one at a time. In total she gathered ten cards and arranged them into what looked like a shield and spear, or perhaps it was a cross and scepter.

After arranging the cards Allura opened her eyes and scanned the board: The Fool, Ace of Swords, Two of Wands, Seven of Pentacles, The Hermit, The Hanged Man, Ten of Cups, Page of Swords, The King of Wands, and Death. “My sire,” the man raised his face from the cards to her face, “Your name shall be etched forever in history as Henry I, King of England.”

His eyes glowed and raised eyebrows scrunched his young forehead. He was only 19. He looked at Allura, “And you enticing Allura, you shall henceforth be known as Lady Sybilla.” Tension and elation filled her youthful frame. A Lady she thought...

Henry continued, “Once I am King, you shall be pardoned. We are going to England.”

3

Robert slouched in his great-grandfathers throne. His crimson robes smoldered like the dying embers of a once grand fire: it was dark with flashes of blue. His young eyes were sunken with purple circles. He sat thinking. Thinking about the men he killed in the name of God… about his brother William—Father’s favorite… and of course, his unattained glory.

“Robert, my Lord. We have heard news that you may want to know.”

“Edward. Alfred. Enlighten me.”

Edward said, “Your brother Henry is visiting England.”

“Rumor has it he does not feel safe in Normandy with your homecoming from the Holy War” Alfred added. “Others say he and William are plotting to take Normandy.”

“Some even claim that he is trying to steal English sovereignty,” Edward said.

Robert raised his head upright. “Gentlemen, from whom did you hear these lofty tales?” Edward and Alfred glanced at each other.

Robert said, “Well?”

Edward said, “Sir, it’s kind of hard to explain. There are a lot of stories floating from many mouths into many ears.”

“Well, isn’t the solution obvious?” Robert said. He waited for a response but only received silence. “We find Henry and kill him.”

Alfred replied, “But you mustn’t my lord. If William and Henry actually are in an alliance then you shall face the rain of English forces upon our shores. They will surely lap the beaches and flood our castle gates like a biblical deluge.”

Robert’s eyes were cold and red. Edward said, “He is right, my lord. There is no killing Henry without provoking England herself.”

Robert snapped, “Then we shall invade her unsuspectingly.”

“Sir, it is suicidal. It is senseless. We cannot afford another war even with the Norwegians by our side. Your best option is to let the rumors be rumors and to govern lands. Your people have missed you. Some have grown restless,” Edward said. Alfred nodded in agreement.

Robert’s eyes were dark, “Yes.” He knew they were right but there was also a sparkle of mischief in those blue eyes, “I have no choice but to act hidden from Man’s eyes. I shall be Henry’s shadow and if he ventures to England then I must not let the opportunity pass by.”

Alfred asked, “What do you intend to do?”

Robert gave him an impish smile, “I will assassinate William and take the English Isle under my wing.”

4

William’s dull green eyes stared down at a feast of food displayed before him. He gorged his red round face with the thighs of chickens. When his food was gone, his appetite was displaced towards the thighs of women. “Walter, more please.” His noble passed him a dish of gravy, potatoes, and mutton. He glanced at his object of admiration. They would never marry in reality—only in William’s lonely dreams. He said, “Matilda, my dear, art thou famished? Please dine with me.”

Matilda grimaced, “My lord, I haven’t much an appetite this evening. I haven’t been feeling too good.”

“We’ve had this dinner planned for weeks. It was your mother’s idea,” William said.

“William, we cannot avoid sickness. Disease clings upon us as burdocks attach themselves unknowingly to our robes. Please, I am not hungry.”

William’s appearance was scarlet. “You’re not hungry? Ranulf, what is the status of our food stocks amongst the providence of London? Are they ravenous? Are they dying? Ranulf, my people hate me, yes? Why can’t I provide them with what they need?”

Ranulf said, “Sir, the famine is devil’s work. God shall ultimately prevail and bless our crops again.”

“Minister, I asked you a question.”

Ranulf said, “There are talks of disapproval.” William furrowed his thick brows. His face was an intense shade of red and purple.

Walter chimed in, “But my lord, with the arrival of your brother Henry…”

William cut him off, “Quiet you imbecile!”

Matilda said, “Henry is coming to London?” She has not seen Henry since they were children. They kissed once. No one knew about it.

William turned to Matilda, “My dearest, take my apologies. I had no idea tonight’s dinner would turn so quickly into politics. I will see that someone tends to you until you feel better. Also, please take something with you to eat. It would be discourteous to leave a feast untouched while there is famine haunting my people’s streets and homes.” Matilda raised herself from the table gently. He took a single biscuit and left the room under her own power. She couldn’t wait to get out of there.

When she left, Walter continued, “When he comes to London tonight, he may help turn our fortunes around. Did you hear how he turned poor little Cotentin into a bustling city? Some folks thought his state was impossible when your father left him landless. He truly proved himself, sire.”

Ranulf replied, “But haven’t you heard about Cotentin’s problems with witchcraft and paganism? We have enough Druidic devil worshippers here in England to handle. William, would you really trade a starved city for a city of sins? At least with the former we can hope to save their wretched lives.” William popped another bottle of aged red wine.

Levas, the court Jester gave Ranulf a contorted look. “English, Druidic, or Wiccan, We’re all dead without our chicken.” The king chuckled before sinking his teeth into a fresh chicken thigh. Levas leaned towards Ranulf and whispered, “Look my superior, the King is diffused because he is amused.” Levas winked and Ranulf dropped his head in disbelief.

“Walter, you are right. With the arrival of my brother the kingdom’s woes shall vanish. He shall be the horse to my wagon. My people will once again love me and he shall be the catalyst.”

Ranulf replied, “My lord, please listen to me…”

William said, “No, you are dismissed from my presence, Ranulf.” He turned to Walter with a smile. He took the last sip of wine from his glass and said, “Walter, let us prepare for Henry’s arrival. You and I shall go hunting and deliver tonight’s feast.”

5

The rocky shores of England make great ports thought Henry as he was exiting the ship with Lady Sybilla. “Your possessions will arrive at the King’s palace this afternoon. Enjoy your stay in His Majesty’s realm. Welcome to London,” said the captain as they walked across a wooden plank from the English Channel to English grass.

“Thank you, captain. Your seamanship is commendable. It was a lovely trip,” said Henry. Lady Sybilla bowed graciously to the captain in agreement.” Henry flashed a smile to her. Not bad. He prepared her well to be a lady.

“Hey, that was pretty good back there.”

“Oh, that?” She was obviously embarrassed. “It was nothing.”

“No, no, no. That was great. You looked natural. If you keep it up, you may attract some gentlemen callers here in London. Maybe even a noble,” Henry joked.

Nobility she thought. Not me, not a little girl from the country; especially not a witch.

“In any case,” Henry continued, “Do you have the things?

“Oh yes, I remembered them,” she said.

“Magnificent. Now listen. We must split up. William is only expecting my presence. He may know something isn’t right if you are with me.”

“What do you propose I do?”

“From my knowledge, there used to a comfortable inn a block removed from the King’s residence. Take this.” He handed her small sack from his pocket. “This should be plenty to get you everything you need. I’ll meet up with you there tomorrow at mid-day,” Henry said.

“Thank you, my lord.”

“You may call me Henry.” He smiled and left.

Lady Sybilla watched Henry leave. After she looked down inside the pouch he gave her and her eyes opened wide. She never seen that much money before in her life— not even in her dreams— and there she was holding it. It was hers.


6

Robert saw everything. Dressed in the ragged clothes of a farmer, he saw Henry walk onto the ship to London: Robert followed suit. Henry resided in the royal cabin: Robert was under the deck directly beneath his brother. He was Henry’s shadow and he was very careful not to be seen or heard. He even carved a small peep hole in the ceiling of his room to get a better listen. However, much to his disappointment the trip was completed in relative silence. Robert thought he heard the voice of a woman at one point: he wasn’t sure.

When the ship came to a halt and the passengers rose to the top deck to exit, Henry was already gone. He peered across the London landscape to pick Henry out of the crowd. No luck.

“Sir, your luggage,” said the captain.

Robert snapped out of his thoughts. “Ah, thank you kindly.” Robert immediately began scanning the crowds for his brother again.

The captain’s eyebrows wrinkled around his old blue eyes, “Don’t you look eerily familiar, my friend.” Robert tried hard to keep his face steady. “My with your golden locks of hair and sharp jaw line, I thought I was standing before the late William I himself! The Conqueror they used to call him.” The captain put his hand upon Robert’s shoulder.

Robert replied, “No sir, I’m just a farmer.”

The captain joked again, “Are you sure? I transported William II’s brother on this very passage this afternoon. Don’t tell him I said this but you look more like the King than he does!”

Robert thought that’s because he was a bastard child. He turned back to the captain with a smile, “Thank you once again for the trip. I must be getting on my way.”

“Very well my lord!” The captain said it with a limp bow and laughed as he led Robert off the ship.

7

Matilda was within one of the many guest rooms of the King’s palace when she heard the trumpets sound announcing Henry’s arrival. Just the thought of him… Her cheeks were flushed pink and her lungs felt as if they were ready to take flight. She fixed her long wavy hair in the closest mirror, dashed powder across her youthful complexion, and bounded out the bedroom’s French stain-glassed doors.

She hurried down the corridors and beneath several stone archways to enter into the Great Hall. There— beyond the endless columns of oak seats and tables and below the towering mantle of a great fireplace—there he stood with Levas. The poor fool Levas was on his knees before Henry praising him like a messiah. Her youthful energy surged her to shout across the room… “Well, Well…”

8

“Bonjour. If it isn’t the astounding Henry, the last son of William I!” exclaimed Levas. The little redheaded man cracked a toothless grin and bowed.

Henry laughed, “My gratitude, sir.” He placed his hand upon his shoulder and said, “Stand. Shake my hand and tell me your name.”

Levas recoiled for a moment, “Oh surely a slave such as I cannot be worthy enough to touch the hands of royalty… especially as the old Scottish pug that I am.”

“Nonsense,” Henry said as he grasped Levas’s hand. “Your name?”

“Levas. The others like to call me ‘the Fool.’ I serve your brother, my King William as his court jester.” Levas frowned in obvious embarrassment.

“Well listen here, Levas. This is just between you and I, got it?” Levas nodded with hesitation as Henry moved closer to him. Usually when William would move towards him this close, it was to smack him upside the head. When that happened, they would both burst into tears of laughter. “You are not to serve me as anyone or anything other than a friend.”

Levas was confused for a moment. His aging brain had to take an extra moment to process the information. I’m a slave. I don’t have friends. All my friends are dead.

“Levas,” Henry said with confidence, “I assure you, you have more friends than even the richest Kings.”

“Your benevolence is a well overflown of crystalline waters. Sir Walter Tyrrell, the baron of Castlenock was right about you, you know. He said, you were the answer to London’s woes.” Levas dropped down to his knees, “I shall stand by your side if it may grant me a sliver of hope.”

Henry was intrigued, “And what is it that you hope for my friend?”

Levas replied, “Freedom.”

“Consider it granted. But first, I need you to do something for me. Something dangerous,” said Henry. He motioned Levas to come closer once more. Henry whispered something into Levas’s ears that shocked him. Even so, Henry could see the dark excitement in his brown eyes.

Shortly thereafter they heard a voice from across the Great Hall that said, “Well, well, Henry of Cotentin. I never thought I’d lay my eyes on you again.”

Henry’s heart nearly exploded when he saw her. It’s been nearly ten years since their first and only kiss. Henry remembered it well.

9

Robert faltered his way through the bustling streets of London looking for Henry before finally settling for a drink at an inn not too far removed from the royal palace. He was exhausted from the trip. His angular face dripped with beads of sweat and mud. His clothes were hot in the afternoon sun. His throat was craved for thirst. “A pint of ale and a glass of the cleanest water you have available,” Robert said to the bartender as he slapped down several silver coins. He then heard a voice coming from the other side of the room.

“You’re either planning to drink quite a lot or you’re leaving the bar keeper a generous tip.” Robert didn’t realize that he placed down three pounds; he meant to leave denarius. “So stranger, what do you do for a living to have the liberty to spend this much on drinks while the rest of the city starves?” Robert was annoyed. He was ready to argue—or fight if necessary—until he saw those luminous, sparkling eyes.

“Who are you?” Robert asked.

“Sir, you may call me Lady Sybilla.”

Lady, huh? Aren’t you a little young to be married to nobility?” Robert said with suspicion.

“I’m old enough to be widowed. My husband went to the Holy Lands never to return.” Lady Sybilla cast a gloomy downward glance towards the corner of the room.

“Such a sorrowful beginning to your fresh life,” said Robert.

“Yes, I tend to forget when I am here in the tavern. I drown my nightmares by the drops.”

“What’s your poison?” asked Robert.

“Aged red wine. Only the driest and richest will do.”

Robert motioned to the bartender to fix to glasses of their finest aged red wine. Lady Sybilla noticed something peculiar about this man. He looked like a farmer but possessed the currency of a noble or even a king. The more she thought about it the more she studied him. When the two glasses were placed before them and their cups have been filled Lady Sybilla took her slender hands and placed them before Robert’s sharp chin. She took the cloth from her sleeves to wipe the mud and sweat that was disguising his appearance. She stared into his eyes… through his eyes. But then she noticed something that gave away a clue. She knew exactly who this stranger was and she was terrified. She then did what she had to do. She reached down to hold his hand and shattered him with a kiss square on the lips. Off of his middle finger on his left hand she slipped off his royal ring that had engraved into it the words Robert I, King of Normandy.

10

Henry and Matilda talks for hours in the Great Hall long after Levas had left to serve the other nobles visiting the palace. They talked about their childhood: the glorious days of yore. They talked about when they first met in the royal court yard. They were only nine. They talked about their first kiss and how vivid it sticks within their memories. They talked about everything since Henry’s father past away and he was forced to live in Normandy under Robert’s authority. About how he was left landless… powerless. About how she had to grow up in the monastery following her father’s death in the Battle of Hastings. It was sad news. However, Henry and Matilda had always been each other’s objects of admiration and nothing made them happier than being together, especially after all these years apart. They would often think of each other. Dream of each other, even. Now here they were, together in London here in King’s Great Hall. Both nineteen years of age, and their nightmares seemingly vanished in each other’s presence. Henry hesitated— just for a moment as he was in mid-sentence: He thought these very thoughts within that single moment before he placed a gentle kiss upon her gentle lips. She shivered and pressed back with teeming pleasure.

They both jumped back from each other at the sound several blaring trumpets: The King has arrived.

11

“Well, stranger. I had quite a great time with you this evening but I really must get going. I um—I have a previous engagement to attend to,” said Lady Sybilla while she was sitting at the bar with Robert wrapped around her finger.

Robert stopped her, “No, wait. Stay here.” Lady Sybilla shrugged off his hands. She placed a schilling upon the countertop and continued towards the door. “Wait, at least let me take you where you need to go. It can get uncultured on these London streets near dusk. Witches and Druids run amok, you know!” Lady Sybilla rolled her eyes and exited onto the street heading towards the royal palace.

“Listen stranger. How can you be completely in love with me if I don’t even know your name?” Robert’s drunken face contorted into confusion. “To be in love requires to be loved, you know. How can I possibly love someone I don’t even know?”

“Rob—err… um. My name is, um…”

“Forget it,” she said as she trotted down the street; her black hair waving from side to side.

“It’s Bernard. Yes, that’s it. My name is Bernard,” said Robert while in pursuit.

“Okay, Bernard. Be a gentleman and take me to the palace please.”

“To the palace? Why the…”

“No questions. Just take me there if you ever want to see me again.”

“Yes, Madame…” Robert said. She cast him an awkward glance. He corrected himself and said, “My Lady.”

12

William entered the Great Hall flanked by his nobleman Walter Tyrrell, his minister Ranulf Flambard, and his courtly clown Levas. “Brother, it is a pleasure to see you. It’s been ages,” William bellowed across the hall.

“Yes, it has William. I arrived this afternoon but your presence was absent,” said Henry.

“Walter and I are frequent hunters. The forests of Windsor are bursting with game just as our streams are overflowing of fresh-water fish. The leisurely sports here in London are tremendous.”

“Ah! Is that so William? How was your fortune this afternoon? Did you bring back the feast?”

“No, Henry. Walter and I didn’t see a damn thing. We heard nothing but the silent bark of the tree branches.”

Ranulf scoffed to himself, “Hunting takes precedence over governing. Priorities, my lord.” William heard him.

“What was that, Ranulf. Do you have something to say?”

Ranulf replied with defiance, “Sir, don’t you think our focuses should be on the welfare of London and our nobles, not on another wasted afternoon of hunting?”

William’s face reddened, “Did you pester my father to the same agonizing extent you pester me? If you weren’t so God damn virtuous and respectable, I would have had your head on a platter long ago. Do you understand me, Ranulf?”

Ranulf was furious. “You shall one day pay repentance for your sins and ghastly ignorance. As King, every day is reckoning. Every day is judgment. I wish not to see you fall off the scales of Virtue into the dark pits of Hell. Please heed my advice, my lord.”

William’s face was exacerbated, “Guards!” He screamed. “Please escort Sir Ranulf to the palace gates. If he wishes to help the poor, let him live among them for the night.” The guards nodded in comprehension and grabbed Ranulf back his white and black cloak and rustled him out the door.

Henry attempted to diffuse the tension. He turned to Levas and said, “Levas, what do you think about going on a hunting trip tomorrow. The forests of Windsor sound magnificent, yes? William. Walter. What do you say?” Henry offered them a sincere smile.

Levas chimed in and said, “A wonderful idea! Henry shall be the first to try to shoot an apple off the top of my head!”

“No, Levas,” Henry chuckled. “We shall no waste our arrows on any prizes less than the largest game the forest can offer.”

William and Walter agreed. The rest of the night the two brothers and their wingmen bonded beside a grand fire. There was plenty of food and drinks to pass around. Henry even recited a few humorous chapters of a popular story that was circulating amongst the French cities. They had a merry time. When fatigue settled in each wandered off to bed.

As soon as Henry opened his chamber door and walked into his dark room he heard a voice from within say, “Shhh… I’ve been waiting for you…”

Henry was startled but kept his voice soft, “Allura! What are you doing here? I told you I would meet you tomorrow.” She handed him the ring and his body shuddered at its sight, “Robert is in London? He’s been following me? Watching me? Our plan is ruined.

“Don’t worry about it, Henry. I’ve got him under control. This is good.

“I don’t understand.”

“I slipped him a temporary love potion into his mug of ale at the tavern. He’s completely mesmerized with just the thought of me. He is effectively incapacitated.”

“Yes, but what about our original plan? It would be impossible to pull off with Robert here in England.”

“Isn’t it obvious, my lord? We must use the ring.”

“Yes, that’s brilliant! But how long does this love spell last though?”

“We have a little over twelve hours left…”

“That doesn’t give us much time to act.”

“No, it doesn’t…”

13

Robert chased Lady Sybilla down two full blocks of London’s inner-city streets clinging to her gowns. He couldn’t bear to let Sybilla escape into the royal palace without him. If it were not for the two royal guards holding him back, he would have succeeded in keeping her. He was absolutely mad.

Even so, as his love floated off into his dreams there approached reality knocking on his consciousness. He met a wildly outraged man named Ranulf. He was a minister to the King, of whom Ranulf thought was an irresponsible oaf: a piggish brute with little knowledge on how to govern the realm let alone host a dinner party.

Robert agreed with him and kept thinking about Lady Sybilla and then she remembered something they talked about. It was a fuzzy memory. Maybe it was the drinks or the kissing. He could not remember too clearly but she did say something very odd about his future. The phrase rolled off her tongue so naturally into his ears. What was it? It had something to do with the King. Then he remembered. He turned to Ranulf and cut him off mid-sentence, “Ranulf— who do you love more, your kingdom or your king?”

“The people of the kingdom of course. They are the heart and soul that keeps England breathing,” replied Ranulf with certainty.

“And what would you do for the greater good of the kingdom, Ranulf? Would you commit an act of terrible personal defiance against one or two people to preserve the life and liberty of countless others?”

“Yes, I suppose it is the just thing to do.”

“Ranulf, come closer.” Robert then whispered to Ranulf and handed him a pouch of clinging metals, “I will pay you a King’s ransom if you do what I say.” Ranulf listened. “Kill William and you can save the kingdom. Kill William and you can get away with it. Henry is the easy scapegoat.”

Ranulf was disturbed. “But if I kill the King and Henry is imprisoned or executed, then that means their brother Robert from Normandy must be the next heir and then he will…” Robert cut him off and pulled out a dagger from his cloak. The point was directly under Ranulf’s chin.

“Be careful of what you say my friend. I am Robert.”

Ranulf didn’t know what else to say. “I’ll do it.” The next morning, Ranulf went to the palace and apologized to the King endlessly for his wicked behavior. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. So the king thought it would be a good idea to bring him on the hunting trip to make him feel better.

14

The stillness of the trees and wind in Windsor forest was magical that morning when William, Henry, Walter, Ranulf, and Levas trekked out in hope for the catch of a lifetime. Local legends describe an albino deer that roams the woods with a 16-point rack during the first hour before sunrise before it vanishes into thin air. Some say it is the ghost of an old huntsman who killed so many deer that his fate was to reincarnate as one. William thought the albino deer was an actual creature whereas as Henry thought it was the ghost. Walter claimed he saw it once inside the royal courtyard and it turned into a banshee. Ranulf said it was a spawn of Satan. Levas thought the whole thing was made-up. Nevertheless, the albino deer was the ultimate prize that morning, or so they thought.

The true prize was the crown. There were two assassins unaware of each other’s plans and their mutual target was within arm’s reach. The timing had to be right though. As they walked through the forest— hearing only the crunching of a few leaves here and a few twigs there—Ranulf’s blood was boiling. He was just waiting for the opportunity to come. Levas too was fidgeting with anxiety. He killed people before but never like this. And so as the King stalked the some great legend through Windsor forest, his shadows were stalking him.

William only brought with him six golden arrows. He held two and the others each were given one. He thought of this a good luck charm. Walter usually teased him about this superstition. In any case, if they were to see the hoary beast between the trees or beneath the undergrowth or behind the thickets their aims must be deadly accurate.

It was nearly sunrise and time was running out. Levas and Ranulf were getting impatient and their hands were sweating profusely. The morning fog was beginning to lift and a few rays of light began to purge the darkness from the earth in tiny spots. Then finally they saw the deer. The hunters were petrified by its beauty. Its antlers were the most impressive; its eyes sparkled in the beams of light that sliced through the fog. It was real and it was the ultimate prize.

William quietly motioned Walter to take aim. He was the best shot of the group. Walter positioned himself in front of the pack. Henry and William stood motionless behind Walter, and Levas and Ranulf stood nervously behind them.

Walter slowly drew his bow and took aim. Ten feet behind him, Levas and Ranulf placed their shaking fingers on their arrows to do the same.

Walter waited, watched, and measured his target and distance. He raised the bow to his cheek and held it there for one second. Two seconds. Then he slipped. The great albino deer vanished into the forest and his arrow ricocheted off of a tree branch. Suddenly they heard the King cry out in pain. Neither Levas nor Ranulf shot their arrows. It was Walter’s deflected shot that pierced directly through the King’s heart and killed him damn near instantly. It was an extraordinary tragedy that left even Henry stunned.

Henry leaned over his brother’s lifeless corpse and pronounced, “The King is dead. Long live the King!” The others echoed him before hauling William II’s body out of Windsor Forest on its way back to London.

Death of William II
Death of William II | Source

15

Robert was silently drinking another ale while he sat in the tavern daydreaming. His love for Lady Sybilla was exhausted and complicated. He wished that she would have come back for him but his interests slowly turned back towards his diabolical plot instead. He was very suspicious of Lady Sybilla now that his consciousness was clearing. Something wasn’t right about her. Robert couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was though.

“Robert, I have terrible news!” said Ranulf as he burst into the tavern’s entrance. He rushed over to the counter and whispered frantically, “The King is dead! The King is dead!”

“Then you did it, yes? You must have done it! This is good, this is good.”

“My lord, you don’t understand. I didn’t kill William nor did Henry. There was no assassination. It was an accident.”

The wrinkles in Robert’s forehead deepened. His eyes were blazing. “We must get to the treasury now.

“Why the treasury, sire?” Ranulf asked.

“That is where Henry and I must go if we are to claim the crown.”

16

Henry, Levas, and Walter rode through London towards the royal palace within a concealed horse-drawn carriage that also carried the dead body of King William II. Ranulf fled the scene in a panic and he was nowhere to be seen nor heard. This made Henry feel very uneasy.

“Walter, you must leave. You cannot stay here with us. You are in grave danger. Should I claim kingship— please trust me, my friend— that you will earn a full pardon,” said Henry.

“That is mighty gracious of you, Henry. Where should I go until then?”

“Find refuge at the royal palace. You have many allies and friends within those walls. They will stand beside you and I stand beside you. If Ranulf spreads word that the King is dead by the tip of the arrow you shot, you will have many enemies outside of those walls where they cannot protect you.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Walter. He handed the reigns to Henry, hopped out of the carriage, and hurried along the meandering streets to his safe haven.

Henry turned to Levas and said, “We must get to the treasury now if either of us want to see the day of light again.” Henry paused for a second and then said, “But first we need to pick up Lady Sybilla.”

Levas was confused and asked, “Who?”

Henry replied, “You don’t know her but we need her. Trust me.”

17

At the treasury, Henry and Robert stared each other with the intensity of opposing armies on the same battlefield ready to clash. Nearly the whole city flocked to stone steps before the building. Over their dead brother’s body they pitched to the crowds their strengths and the other’s weaknesses. They blamed each other for the assassination of William and neither brother would back down. It was life or death. It was glory or depravity. It was all or nothing. There was the world to gain and the world to lose.

Both brothers knew this and each of them were given identical swords. In the English spirit, the victor won the crown and his people. The loser suffered either death or a fate even worse. The two began to clash.

The fighting continued and the crowds were chaotic. Lady Sybilla and Matilda managed to weave through the tightly-knit masses and stand atop the steps between the warring brothers. They were astounded by their bravery and boldness that they laid down their arms. Matilda turned Henry from a lion to a lamb, and Lady Sybilla still had Robert under her spell. They talked with reason and confidence. They set initiative for moving forward and getting to the bottom of William’s death.

Lady Sybilla stood before the brothers and the silent crowd and announced, “The King died from a wound to the heart with a golden arrow. Could there have been a more poetic death for King William II? There is no way this death could have been an accident. Even so, if it was a murder, then there must be evidence. True or false?” The crowd listened intently. She continued, “We shall first have two doctors search the deceased body of William II for any reasonable evidence to convict either brother of murder.”

And so the peaceful process continued and two qualified doctors appeared before William’s laid out corpse. As they patted around his jacket, checked his possessions, and turned out his pockets, one of the doctors found a small ring inside the wound in William’s heart. The doctor handed the bloody ring to Lady Sybilla. She cleaned it off and inspected it. Her eyes lit up and held it before the crowd. “A ring! With the engraved words “Robert I, King of Normandy! Found embedded in the wound of William’s heart!” Robert’s looked down at his hand and he was left completely clueless as to how the ring could have possibly been found on William’s body. He looked up enraged at Lady Sybilla, Matilda, and Henry. Before Robert could pick up his sword several armed guards detained him, tripped him to his knees, held an axe behind his neck, and awaited Henry’s command. “Do not kill him,” Henry said.

18

William II was buried at the exact spot he fell dead in Windsor Forest. There is a memorial statue over the top of his grave which still stands there.

Henry was named King that tragic afternoon his brother William II died. One week later, Matilda was named queen following her and Henry’s marriage. They were happily in love and produced several heirs to continue the Norman dynasty.

Lady Sybilla and Walter Tyrrell were granted full pardons. Lady Sybilla still continued practicing witchcraft and alchemy inside the royal palace where she resided until the day she died. Walter Tyrrell, on the other hand, never hunted another day in his life after his accident in Windsor Forest. He turned his interests towards fishing instead. He said he once saw an enormous bass that he claimed was the reincarnated spirit of William II.

Robert was imprisoned immediately following the discovery of his royal ring on the dead body of William II. He remained in prison until he died at 42 years-old. Only fragments of his prison poetry have remained. His body was buried at sea.

Lastly, Levas was granted his freedom as Henry promised him. He stayed with Henry and Matilda for a few years before finally travelling back to Scotland and reuniting with his sister and his nephews: the only remaining survivors of his family tree.

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 20 months ago from Oklahoma

      Always interesting to learn about the sordid life of royalty.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 20 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting treatment of the story of 'Rufus' death in the New Forest in the style of Philip Marlowe. If this style of writing helps to put across the story of the accession of Henry 'Beauclerc', then so be it. I like the touch with the witch.

      So you don't take this too seriously, read this tongue-in-cheek.

      One or two pointers to preserve the sense of period, though: in those days the ship would have a 'master' as opposed to a captain; there would be no bartenders, as there were no bars - innkeepers had maids to carry ale to the tables straight from the vats the ale was brewed in. Mostly the drinking was done in alehouses (a bit like modern public houses without the 'trimmings'); drinking was done from cups of various metals, earthenware or even wood - glass for drinking from came much later, even for royalty/aristocracy.

      I'd always believed 'Rufus' was killed'accidentally on purpose'. He was even worse than his father, but well protected until it came to the hunt. Usually they'd ride to the hunt, even bowmen. Walter Tyrrell was a nobleman, he'd have ridden. Hunt followers or beaters would have been on foot.

      It was Robert - 'Curthose' - who was seen as the bastard, not Henry. This was due to the Church who viewed Duke William's marriage to Matilda as 'too close' and they were only allowed to marry after Robert's birth. William and Henry used to goad him and their father took side against Robert, who struck up a friendship with Eadgar 'the aetheling', the true heir to Eadward's crown. They went on crusade together, although Robert didn't cover himself in glory with his lack of leadership quality, brave as he was. That's another story...

      All things considered though, Brandon, well told. If anything it'll bring English history up-to-date.

      There's a book that tells about the relationship between Robert and Eadgar where Robert comes in the last few chapters, 'The Lost King of England' (about Eadgar) by Gabriel Ronay, Boydell Press 1989, (publ. paperback 2000) ISBN 0-85115-785-8

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 20 months ago from Orlando Florida

      A fascinating story. I don't know much about the history of England or its folklore.

    • 10000001 profile image

      madugundu krishna 20 months ago from Yemmiganur

      very interesting story

    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 20 months ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Awesome photo at the end. Look at the dogs, their loyal sadness.

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