Strange allies

When the UK General Election was called the result already seemed certain, but a week is a long time in politics and a month even longer. The result is now less certain and it looks like after June 8th there could be some strange alliances formed. Perhaps officially (in the event of a hung parliament) or perhaps unofficially (in the event of a slim majority).

Alliances, as much as wars, are the stuff history is made of and can have a lasting impact on the course of a nation. Think of the influence of the Franks on 9th century Wessex, due to their long links with the Carolingians – Egbert was an exile at the court of Charlemagne, Athelwulf married a Carolingian princess and Alfred married his daughter to the Count of Flanders.

Alliances are also a key part of my books. As well as the aforementioned diplomatic marriage of Athelwulf and Judith of West Francia, there is also the marriage of Cinaed Mac Alpin, made to cement a truce and enhance his own Pict royal connections, and the desperate need for allies which drives Radigis the Varni prince to the shores of East Anglia.

Common enemies are often a key part of alliances and it will undoubtedly be this which will play a part in any alliances forged in the next few weeks, perhaps resulting in two or more very different political leaders of very different political parties having to work together. This reminds me of an exercise I was set as part of a writing group, where you had to bring together characters from different books and see what happened. For me there was an obvious choice of characters. Cinaed mac Alpin and Athelwulf of Wessex came to the throne in the same year – 839 and died in the same year – 858. Historically speaking there is no reason to think the two leaders ever met, although they must have been aware of each other – they were two of the most powerful men in Britain.

In my books the two men are portrayed very differently. Athelwulf is pious, decorous and scholarly. Cinaed is ruthless, ambitious and martial. It seems unlikely they could possibly get on, but they did have a common enemy…

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The skirmish had ended, as it so often did, in a standoff. The two leaders stared at each other suspiciously.

“Why are you here, Wessex King?” Cinaed shouted at the fair-haired man. “Our campaign does not concern you.”

“You are too close to our Mercian allies,” Athelwulf of Wessex called back. “You cannot advance further.”

“Can we not?” Domnall called. “Are you certain, Wessex King?”

Before Athelwulf could retort, the men on both sides began to mutter and point. They were not far from the coast and smoke was rising from a nearby settlement.

“Norsemen!” Cinaed spat.

“Heathens!” Athelwulf said at the same time.

The two leaders stared at each other. Athelwulf went forward, his hands outstretched. “My lord, I think we have a common enemy. I call for a truce.”

Cinaed and Domnall exchanged amused looks. “What terms are you offering? And can you be sure the Norsemen will not offer us a more advantageous one?”

“You would not join forces with them!” Athelwulf exclaimed. “They are heathens. I know you are a Christian man.”

Cinaed’s eyes narrowed. “How can I be certain you will not trick us in some fashion?”

“You have my word.”

Cinaed and Domnall laughed at that. “We do not trust men’s words,” Domnall said.

“Prove your good intent,” Cinaed demanded.

“How?” Athelwulf was looking impatient, his eyes on the smoke.

Cinaed looked at the boy at Athelwulf’s side. He was a good-looking, dark-haired boy, not long out of childhood. “Is that your son?”

Athelwulf nodded. “Allow me to present my second son, Prince Athelbald of Wessex.”

“The lad fights alongside me,” Cinaed said.

Athelwulf’s arm went around his son’s shoulders. “I will not trust you with my son.”

“Then no truce,” Cinaed said with a shrug. “I do not care if the Norsemen sack Mercia.”

Athelwulf looked distractedly at the smoke and then back at his son. Cinaed smirked, knowing he had found the Wessex King’s weakness. But as their eyes met he felt a flicker of shame.

“I have a son,” Cinaed said, “I’ll defend your lad with my life. You have my word.”

“Are you a man of your word?” Athelwulf asked, the suspicion clear on his face.

Cinaed grinned. “No, but you can trust me on this. One father to another.”

Reluctantly Athelwulf smiled and pushed his son toward the Gael men. To Domnall’s amusement Athelbald folded his arms and glared at him.

While Cinaed and Athelwulf shouted orders at their respective troops, Domnall and Athelbald sized each other up. In a swift action Athelbald drew his sword, slashing it towards Domnall’s throat. The boy was quick, but Domnall was quicker. Athelbald’s sword fell to the ground.

“It does not seem to me that you are a man of your word,” Domnall said looking sternly at the boy.

“I did not say I was,” Athelbald retorted, looking unrepentant.

Domnall laughed and handed Athelbald back his sword. “You should stick with me and Cinaed, my lad. You will fit in very well.”

KB5_Photo   Meet Cinaed, Domnall and a host of other Picts and Gaels in Kenneth’s Queen , the tale of a forgotten queen in the tumultuous days of 9th century Scotland.

Judith WFrancia2 Athelwulf and Athelbald are both major characters in the remarkable story of Athelwulf’s wife, Judith of West Francia. Three Times the Lady

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