Wednesday 4 December 2019

Promises, Promises by Helen Hollick - A Story Inspired By A Song

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Guess the Song
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Architecture, Castle, Travel, Building

Bruges - 1051

Arrogant, uneducated, despicable bastard. That is what she called me, the little madam - would you believe? She insulted me, me, hurling her words of spite direct to my face!

Uneducated. I grant I cannot read with skill and ease, but I have clerks and servants to do such tasks. I am well educated in the areas that matter – how to handle sword, shield and mace, how to ride a horse with skill into battle. I know how to rule, to govern, by God I do! 

Bastard? Oui, my father had not lawfully wed my mother so I am base-born. Does that matter? Non!

Arrogant? Am I arrogant? What does arrogance constitute? A determination to achieve your goals? A steadfastness of character to accomplish that which needs accomplishing? A rigorous fortitude to never accept non as an answer? To not appear weak. To lead men with courage and certainty? Had I not clung to this ‘arrogance’ of mine from a very young age I doubt that I would be alive now to be telling you these things. I had to be determined, had to sweep all feeling of fear or doubt or weakness aside in order to survive. By God, I saw too many trusted friends cut down in their prime by others who were supposed to be my friends and protectors – and all before I was a man - non, even a boy grown! As a child, I had to flee, to ride for my very life in the dead of night on more than one occasion. Why? Because I was bastard born to my mother, the daughter of a tanner - I will not say ‘humble tanner’, for my grandfather was a moderately wealthy man who was as ‘arrogant’ as am I - if you believe that arrogance means the opposite of lazy or complacence or weak, and describes a man of pride and self-assurance.

Gothic, Fantasy, Dark, Woman, Female

My father had intended to wed my dark-haired beautiful mother. He had told us so, but he wished to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem first. To cleanse his sins, he said. There were rumours that he had killed my uncle, my father’s elder brother, in order to gain the Duchy. Was that true? Was that the sin he had to sweep aside? I believe not a word of it. I think my father meant to cleanse his soul from the whorehouses he had frequented in order to come, pure, to my mother's bed when she became his wife. I will never know the truth. He did not return. He died on his way home. I was eight years old. I still see the blood and hear the screams of my friend and guardian, Osbern, as my enemies viciously cut him down in my bedchamber. He died protecting me. I barely escaped with my life. I was a but a child.
   That night, when they murdered Osbern was not a night of arrogance. But it was a night when I set my mind to absolute power and to be answerable to none, save God.

Long Hair, Medieval, Queen, Princess

I went, angry, to the fair-haired woman who was supposed to become my wife because she refused to leave her chamber and attend the cathedral to exchange our marriage vows. How dare she treat me to such disrespect? How dare she make me look the weak fool before the entire company of noblemen invited to Bruges as our guests? Oh they did not laugh outright, but I knew they were smirking and sniggering behind their concealing hands. 
    Her face was blotched, her eyes red, her nose dripping with snot. Her weeping had done her plain features no favours. Her mother, sister, aunts, had all berated her for this churlish foolishness, but to no avail, she refused to leave her chamber. Refused to obey her father’s – and my – instruction that she was to wed me. Silly little slut. Did she think I wanted to wed her? I could have had the pick of princesses, duke’s daughters or sisters, but I needed the alliance of her father. She wailed that she did not love me. Love? What has love to do with marriage? 
    Very well, mayhap my words when first we met, the previous evening when I arrived in Bruges, were not well chosen but I had expected a comely young woman of some modest height. She turned out to be plain and short. But she also had wide hips, which I remarked upon as being suitable for bearing me sons. Oui, I smelled of sweat and grime, I was dishevelled and ragged – I had been travelling, had not bathed, shaved or changed. I expected her to take that as a compliment - my eagerness to see the woman who was to be my bride on the morrow!
    “I am told that you refuse to come to your wedding,” I said to her in her chamber. To give her due, she found the courage to rise from her bed, where, until I had entered, she had been burying her tear-streaked face in the pillows. Had she not risen, stood square, chin lifted before me I would have walked away, cancelled the marriage, found another more worthy to become my wife. But she stood there, fists clenched, said to my face, with bold impertinence:
     “I do not wish to wed you. I do not like you.”
   “I do not like you either, but that makes no difference to me,” I answered. “You are insulting me with this behaviour. Were you a man, you would learn that I do not take insults lightly.”
    “Were I a man, I would have cut you down for the insult you offered me!” she retorted.
     I laughed at that. Was it not I, but she, who was being the arrogant one? Oui, she had courage and determination - too much of both for her own good, in my opinion. But, oddly, I liked that. I could, in time, perhaps come to appreciate her. As long as she gave me sons, and daughters. Daughters were as important for making alliances with kings, princes, emperors and dukes. I planned on having at least six of each sex. Whether it was her wish or not. I decided there and then that she would be a suitable wife. And this wedding would be taking place. Even if our liking for each other was nothing more than rubble and shattered expectation. I did not care about love. I did - do - care about not appearing weak in the eyes of those who would use any chance to mock or destroy me.
    “You will finish dressing and accompany me to swear our vows,” I commanded as I picked up the delicate silver coronet that I had sent her as a gift and that she had flung to the floor. I tossed it at her. “Dress yourself and come.”
    “I do not want your cheap trinkets. Get out of my chamber!” she shrilled back at me. A fruit knife from a small table was suddenly in her hand; she raised it and awkwardly lunged for my face. I was a soldier, I knew how to fight, to defend myself - to kill those who tried to kill me. I had learned well how to survive. I merely side-stepped and, chopping with my hand, sent the little blade spinning across the room. She fell forward, wincing at the pain in her bruised wrist.

Medieval, Soldiers, Spears, Armour

"Enough of this nonsense!" I pulled her to her feet and shook her as if she were a rat caught by a hound. She tried to strike out, screaming defiance and all those words. Bastard. Arrogant. Uneducated, despicable bastard.
    Oui, I am all those things when my blood is risen. Dodging her flailing arms and legs, and her futile resolve to do me physical harm, I lifted her, tossed her over my shoulder and strode from the chamber. She wore no jewels, her hair was tangled, her face blotched.
    “I take it then, that you are content to be wed as you are? So be it. I care nothing for fripperies and niceties. I am here to take you as wife, and wife you will become. Even if you look as ragged as the lowest kitchen maid.”
    I descended the narrow stone stairwell. They were all there, gathered below in the Hall, ready to walk in procession across the cobbles of the courtyard to the great doors of the cathedral that stood opposite.
    There was laughter and much ribaldry as I threaded my way through the crowd. But this was different laughter. They were laughing with me, not at me. Her mother fluttered nervously among her women, but her father ordered her to be still. I knew what I was doing, and he approved. In truth, he seemed delighted that he was to be rid of this most vexing daughter of his.

Charyesang, Time, Nine Top, Year Award

Come evening, when too much food had been eaten, too much wine had been drunk, and too much laughter was heading towards too much ribaldry, I decided it was time to complete our nuptials. My wife had sat silently beside me, barely eating or drinking, never raising her eyes or permitting even the slightest smile to touch her lips. I stood, picked her up by the waist and again draped her over my shoulder. She screamed, of course, beating at my back with her fists, kicking my belly with her fur-slippered feet.
    “I have never known such a willing maid!” I jested to the laughing crowd, masking my angry embarrassment at her nonsense by making a pretence of humour. In our chamber, made pretty by the women-folk for our night of consummation, I flung my wife to the middle of the bed and ushered everyone from the room. I would have privacy, for I was in no doubt that my wife was not to show willingness towards our God-blessed physical joining.

Woman, Sitting, Window, Silhouette, Scene, Posed

Later, lying in the great bed, I heard her stifle her tears. It had hurt when I had taken her. I had not meant it to be so, but she had struggled beneath me, and I had to take her as a wife. My pride would not permit otherwise, and she had to learn that she had duties to surrender to.
    “Will it always be like this?” she asked into the darkness. “Will it always be so, so... uncomfortable?”
     I was tired, I wanted to sleep. I grunted an answer. “A man faces pain and possible mutilation or death on the battlefield. Is it too much to ask a woman to endure some small thing for him in return?”
     I lay quiet, feeling the trickles of perspiration roll down my naked back. I had taken few women to my bed for I had rarely found any to be pleasing, either in looks or intelligence. Nor had there been many opportunities for dalliance when there were always daggers aimed at your back and traitors plotting to steal your duchy.
     “It is possible,” I said with detachment, “to gain some form of pleasure from the act of sexual union. It comes with the sharing of mutual trust, I should imagine.”
    “I had expected love and tenderness,” she said into the quietness of the night. “I had imagined a man who would sweep me off my feet and cover me with adulation and kisses.”
     “I did sweep you off your feet,” I answered sleepily.
      I had not intended it as a jest, but I heard her laugh, low and partially guarded, but it was an amused laugh. Was I, then, winning this petite harridan round?
    “Do you not feel that you could come to love me, then?” I asked, bracing myself for the honest answer that would surely come.
     “No,” she said, “I do not.” Then very quietly, she added, “not yet. At the moment there is only fear in my heart. There is nothing but shadows and rubble. I have always dreamed of having a husband who loved me beyond his own life. Of having handsome sons and beautiful daughters. I dreamed of being a queen dressed in silk, damask and fine brocade, of wearing a crown of gold aglow with precious, sparkling jewels upon my head. Of holding land in my own name and of living in grand, stone-built castles. My dreams did not include this... this, contempt.”
    Ah, so to be Duchess of Normandy was not enough for my wife, Mathilda of Flanders?
     That was fair enough. Being Duke of Normandy was not enough for me. “I will get you your silks and brocade, and your queen’s crown,” I said. “This I, William of Normandy, pledge to you as a wedding gift. And when I accomplish it, you shall remember this night of scattered debris, this night where there is not, yet, any respect or regard each for the other, for it is the night when I vowed, upon my life, to make you a queen. And to build you your castles.”

Tower Of London, London, London Bridge

© HelenHollick
Adapted from Harold the King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US title)

Did you guess the title?
Castles by Freya Ridings
(Official You Tube Video)

authors' note:
Duke William of Normandy was crowned as King of England on 25th December 1066 after his victory at Hastings. During their marriage, Mathilda was to bear him many sons and daughters, but whether she ever grew to love him is debatable, for eventually she took the side of their eldest son in rebellion against William, despite the fact that he had honoured his vow of making her a queen and building many castles throughout Normandy and England. 
The White Tower, the original part of his Norman Tower of London still stands.

helen portrait

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There will be another story inspired by a song tomorrow!

The Full List of Authors

2nd   M.J. Logue   First Love 
3rd   Richard Tearle Chips and Ice Cream
4th    Helen Hollick Promises, Promises
5th    Paul Marriner Memories
6th    Pam Webber One Door Closing
7th    Louise Adam Hurt Me Once
8th    Barbara Gaskell Denvil Sticks and Stones
9th    Judith Arnopp Secrets
10th  Erica LainĂ©  Silk Stockings
11th   Anna Belfrage Hold Me, Love Me, Leave Me? 
12th  Annie Whitehead Frozen
13th  Tony Riches Alas, My Love
14th  Clare Flynn, Zipless
15th  J.G. Harlond The Last Assignment
16th  Elizabeth St John Under The Clock
17th  Alison Morton Honoria’s Battle
18th  Jean Gill The Hunter
19th  Patricia Bracewell Daddy's Gift
20th Debbie Young It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas
21st   Ruth Downie  Doing It Properly
22nd Nicky Galliers What God Has Joined
23rd  Elizabeth Chadwick The Cloak
26th  Helen Hollick Ever After
27th   Barbara Gaskell Denvil Just The One... Or Maybe Two
28th   Deborah Swift Just Another Day
29th   Amy Maroney What The Plague Brings
30th   Cryssa Bazos River Mud

 Note: There is copyright legislation for song lyrics 
but no copyright in names, titles or ideas

StorySong graphic by @Avalongraphics 
additional images via Pixabay accreditation not required


  1. History brought to life, in all its raw, jarring difference in mindset! I don't like either of these two but you've made them so real I can't look awa either. Didn't know song or singer but the links between story & song are thought-=provoking - chapeau!

    1. Thank you Jean - I can't stand William (I'm very pro-Harold!) but this song was around earlier in 2019 and each time I heard it I kept thinking of him and his castles!

    2. I had a feeling you were on the anglo-Saxon side. I remember Paula Lofting's wonderful re-enactment shield wall at the HNS Conference in Oxford.

  2. Beautiful, enthralling read! Mrs. Hollick you are a true wordsmith. Thank you for this little treat. The song fits the story perfectly!

    1. Thank you. The original version is in my novel, but written as third person narrative - I'm quite amazed at myself for being able to write in William's voice. I can't stand the man - even after all these centuries! *laugh*

  3. My, my: Ms Hollick gives voice to William of Normandy--and what a voice. I liked this churlish, brave and determined man. A WOW story, Helen! Have you ever considered writing 1066 from William's POV?

    1. *laugh* yes quite unexpected! I am toying with writing Bishop Odo's story. but William's POV? Hmmm no I hadn't. I wonder how hard it would be to write about a man I loathe?

  4. Hmm, Helen you've done what I thought would not be possible and made me think again about William! Whether you've made me change my mind, I'm not sure ;-) !! Fabulous story.

    1. same here for me! First time _ever_ that I've felt sympathy for that man!

  5. This is so believable. Like Annie Whitehead (above), you have made me reconsider who William might have been off the battle field. Excellent story, thank you.

    1. When I originally started Harold The King I had intended to be neutral and let the reader decide about the two men... got to William's scenes and couldn't do it - ended up hating the man. This is the first time I've had a bit of sympathy for him!

  6. Terrific vivid tale. You really brought it to life. Didn’t know the song but it’s a good fit

    1. Every time I heard the song I thought of Duke William!

  7. Wow! Such characterisation! So much the William that we all know and hate!! You know, Annie and the others have made a very good point: how many authors have told the same story in two different books, but from the POVs of the two major protagonists? I didn't know the song either, but that's the game, isn't it!! Fab, Helen!

    1. I'm sitting here wondering the same thing Richard - two novels from a different POV - I wonder if it can be done?

    2. It can - Jude Devereux a US romance author did it for a pair of twin sisters.

  8. Great vignette of the times, really engaging - and though I wouldn't say I like William it does make you think about, and understand, his motivations.

    1. Thank you Paul. I wonder... does _anyone_ like Bill?

  9. Well, now you HAVE to write William's story from his POV after this vivd introduction! Georgette Heyer wrote 'The Conqueror' which showed he was a hard man, but had been reared amongst chaos in a brutal period. Obvs, your version would be so much more lively and bring the William/Matilda story much more to the fore. She was a clever woman as well as spirited and I would reckon she played it as cleverly as Livia did with Augustus...

    Can we ore-order now?

    1. You're right about Mathilda being clever - and yes very like Livia.

  10. I didn't now the song and now *I* won't be able to hear without thinking of William! (and I don't like him either, but I can't help reading this and thinking of two people each backed into their own prideful corners, and how different it might have been...)

    1. When I was writing 'Harold' back in 1999/2000 the great Sharon Penman offered me some advice when I told her I was having trouble writing William's scenes. She said 'think of the good things about him'. Trouble is, *laugh*, I _still_ haven't thought of any! From a modern perspective it is possible to understand his adult character because of the traumas and hangups he had endured throughout childhood. He'd be a serious Social Services in-care case were he alive today as a child - taunted for being illegitimate, witnessing murders, his father dying, his mother re-marrying... there again he could merely have been an outright psychopath...

  11. Lovely writing, but what a horrid man!

  12. I really enjoyed this story, though I didn't known the song. I could just imagine William carting the poor girl down the stairs - she probably terrified in case he dropped her! Harold the King is one of my favourite books. I'm pro-Harold too.

    1. Thank you Chris - that made me laugh, the thought of William dropping her! That _would_ have dented his ego!
      (and thank you for enjoying Harold The King.)

  13. OOh, the nastiest Norman of them all - lol. Great writing, Harold the King is on my 'favourites' shelf and has been for years. Didn't get the song. I think I need to expand my playlist, I haven't guessed any yet.

    1. Thanks Judith ... I didn't know half of the songs either. This one was out last summer - the first time I heard it Duke William came to mind.


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