March 1294. Ireland is at a crossroads. The different factions–Irish, Danish, and English–are tearing the country apart with their constant warfare. Hoping to hammer out a treaty, David calls the Irish Parliament into session. Unfortunately, some lords are far more interested in fighting than talking, and it isn’t long before the conference goes awry. With the future of Ireland at stake, David finds himself caught up in a far-reaching conspiracy that puts not only his own life on the line, but his family’s as well.
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“More wine?” Richard de Feypo gestured with the carafe in his hand.
“Wine will not aid this plan, Richard,” Walter Cusack said. “We need level heads and clear eyes going forward.”
“It’s going to work.” Already the most powerful of Geoffrey de Geneville’s vassals, Richard was grasping and ambitious, sometimes uncomfortably so. He was also short of stature, with coal black hair and a beaked nose—not the usual physique of a knight. But the size of his brain more than made up for his physical deficiencies, which was why Walter had thrown in with him in the first place.
“—is an old man,” Richard said. “His mind isn’t what it once was. Certainly his body has failed him, and he is distracted by his responsibilities in England. Did you know that he hasn’t come to Skryne Castle in five months? He has no idea what I do.”
“He has spies.” Thomas de Clare, brother to the recently deceased Gilbert, ran his hands through his hair, which was enviably thick and devoid of gray for a man of middle age. He wore it long too, which Walter thought was pure hubris. Walter himself was balding, and while his wife told him that it made him more handsome than ever, he hated every hair he found in his comb most mornings.
“I have turned his spies.” Richard had an answer for everything, which was all to the good as far as Walter was concerned. That’s why he was questioning him. “I gave you the name of the stable boy he’d bought at Killeen. Did you take care of him?”
“He is dead.” Walter’s own ambition and his desire to keep both his lands and his head had led him down this path. He would do what was necessary, even if it was unsavory.
“How?” Thomas said sharply. “Nothing that might arouse suspicion, I hope.”
“Drowned in the Boyne. It just so happened that he couldn’t swim.”
Richard nodded. “Then we can move forward.”
“What about Valence and Comyn?” Thomas said. “Can you control them?”
Richard was more than confident. “Valence is driven by rage. He can see nothing but King David’s corpse on the ground and his head on a pike. You don’t have to worry about Aymer.”
Walter was pleased to agree with Feypo’s assessment. “For Comyn’s part, he is motivated by greed. He truly believes we will give him the High Kingship.”
Thomas scoffed. “He has to commit far more than five hundred men to our cause if he expects the crown.”
“He says he will bring more men if this initial attack goes well,” Richard said. “The throne of Scotland will stand with us.”
“If so, we will owe Balliol,” Thomas said. “You could lose control of this very quickly.”
“You will have Thomond so why do you care?” Richard said.
Thomas frowned. “I will care because there are miles of Irish-held territory between Thomond and Dublin. I want to know that you and our other allies will hold those lands, and that you won’t balk at a crucial moment—like when you have to kill David.”
“The men assigned to him will do their duty,” Richard said. “Why wouldn’t they?”
Thomas’s voice rose, incredulous. “Because he is the return of the great High King Murtagh Mac Ecra come to save the Irish from their oppressors and lead them to the land of milk and honey!”
“That would be King Arthur to you, Richard.” Walter rapped his fingers on the table to emphasize his agreement with Thomas. “It’s the same tale by a different name, one I learned on my nanny’s knee, even if you didn’t, and all the peasants believe it. Mark my words, when it comes to it, nobody will want to be responsible for his death.”
“My men will be well paid for what they do.” Richard moved his hand dismissively. “I anticipate no problems.”
Though not completely convinced, Walter grunted his acceptance. David’s death was not the minor doing Richard pretended, but it was a small piece of the overall plan, so he was willing to put it aside for now. If all else failed, Walter himself would take care of David. Or Aymer would.
“What of these Irish allies?” Thomas asked. “Surely when it comes to it you don’t really intend to include them in the governance of Ireland.”
“Of course not. They will fight for us, and then we will isolate them and fall on them one by one.” Richard looked from Walter to Thomas and back again. “Is two months enough time for you to prepare?”
“More than enough. I’m already having to hold O’Rourke back. I told you we shouldn’t include him in any aspect of the plan until the last moment.” Thomas drained his drink and stood. “For that reason alone, I would argue against any delay. Even more, Geneville’s health fails daily. With no male heir, if he dies before Parliament convenes, David might claim his lands and give them to the Irish before we even know he’s done it. We could be out on our ears by spring.”
They all knew David would use any excuse to give away their domains. That was why they were moving at all. The idea that the Lord of Ireland would return their hard-fought lands to the native Irish was an anathema—a betrayal of all that he stood for and they’d fought for. But King David was unlike any king of England who’d gone before him. Which was why they had to act.
“We cannot move sooner. We have to wait until David arrives in Ireland.” Richard put one hand on Thomas’s shoulder and the other on Walter’s. “Now, if there are no more questions, are we agreed? We will see this through?”
The other men nodded their assent. But then Thomas said, “And the king’s cousin—this knave who killed my brother and is now hailed as the Hero of Westminster? He truly will come to Ireland as well?”
“I am assured that he will, and he’s all yours, Thomas. We win the day, and then you can avenge your brother’s death.”