April 1066 The Dragon-Tailed Star
Thea, King Harold’s eldest daughter, stared up at the night sky wondering if Uncle Edward dwelled in Heaven amongst saints, or, rather, was he one of the stars that glowed up there through April’s dark nights? She certainly never considered him as saintly. He had been stuffy and pious – too devout, surrounding himself with Norman priests, building a new abbey at Westminster, expecting Aunt Edith to be kind and welcoming to his Norman visitors from across the Narrow Sea. Yet, Thea pondered, as she gathered up her thirteen-year-old thoughts into a fuzzy ball like wool, in the end, Uncle Edward had approved of her family. He chose her father, Earl Harold, to rule the kingdom after his death. It was a surprise to them all when the dying king expressed this wish as he hovered between the world of angels and a dark and frightening place. Shuddering, she hurriedly crossed herself. Better for Uncle Edward to be a star in the night sky than face the terrors that lay between Heaven and Hell.
Thea’s father, Earl Harold, was crowned king on the same day Uncle Edward was interred in his new abbey, but even though she was now a princess, this was a mixed blessing. Her father had set her mother aside, speedily remarried, taking Aldgyth, the sister of the powerful Northern earls and widow of a king of Wales, as his wife, claiming that marriage with her mother, his true hand-fasted wife of eighteen years, was not approved by the Church. He told the family since their union broke the Church rules on consanguinity – they were related at three times removed – he would marry the Northern widow to ensure her brothers’ support and to keep the Church on his side. ‘As you know well, there are too many greedy eyes on our kingdom. I must ally with her brothers if I am to protect England.’ He puffed out his chest with pride as he spoke, convinced he would save the country from invaders.
After his pronouncement, her father had sent her mother, Elditha, away. He packed her, his elder daughter, off to Grandmother Gytha’s household.
Thea stared up at the night sky and wondered if she dared refuse to attend her father’s Easter Court at Westminster. She could not be pleasant to the woman who had usurped her mother, though she still loved the huge, bearded man who was her father, a warrior who seemed to her as golden as the sun and gentle as the moon. She screwed up her forehead as another thought crept into her head. Her green-eyed good-looking, daring childhood friend, Earl Waltheof, would join her father’s Easter Court so maybe but then again, maybe not.
Her grandmother took no-nonsense. The elderly Countess Gytha stiffened her back when Thea said she might not go to London at all this Easter-tide. ‘You are coming and that is all there is to it, my girl. Sit up straight. It does not become a princess to be petulant.’ Gytha peered closer at Thea’s needlework. ‘Just look at those stitches. You must improve your embroidery skills if you are ever to be a suitable wife. Unpick that dragon this very moment.’
Tutting, Grandmother Gytha turned to her great linen chests. She opened coffer after coffer, allowing their lids to crash down again making Thea jump and get her unpicking into a tangle. Finally, Grandmother found the box she needed and dragged out the woollen blankets they might need for their journey. She called for maids to shake the fennel from them and repack them into a great leather travelling chest. Glaring over her shoulder at Thea she said, ‘When you are finished that work you’ll ask your maids to help you pack.’