|The Princess and the Viking: sample
The Princess and the Viking:
Love, Magic, and Mayhem in Old Ireland
Written By: Markus Fredericks and Grace Christie
Once upon a time in the old, Irish principality of Donegal, a nervous King Alfred paced to and fro, alone in his study. His wife, Queen Lydia, was in her bedroom chamber giving birth to their first child. Time seemed to pass by slowly, but the king was confident that his firstborn would be a son – the future king of a united Ireland.
King Alfred reflected on a wonderful dream he had experienced the night before… A grand jubilee had taken place in Donegal Castle. Everyone was celebrating his son’s first birthday. The people in the dream referred to the little prince as, ‘Alfred II’. When the king awoke from his dream, he decided to name his son, ‘Alfred’ – in honor of his wise and noble father, King Alfred himself.
Another tedious hour passed until there was a sudden, loud knock on the heavy, wooden door.
“Sire,” said the king’s doctor as he wiped blood off his hands, “We have a serious problem, and you need to make an important decision at once.”
A concerned looking King Alfred asked, “Doctor Reilly– What seems to be the problem?”
“The baby is in the Breech Position. For the past hour, I’ve been trying to deliver the royal baby, but to no avail. Both the child and the queen will soon die unless an emergency procedure is done. Unfortunately, I can only save one of them. Sire, you must decide at once – do we try to save the baby? – or do we save the queen?”
King Alfred placed his right hand on his chin, while he carefully weighed out his options. During the past nine months he had been waiting anxiously for the birth of a son – the future king of a united Ireland. He interpreted his dream from the night before to be a good omen. On the other hand, queens were easy to replace. He could always find a new, younger, and prettier wife later on.
“Doctor, do whatever you can to save the royal baby – my son, the future King Alfred II. We’ll get our best stone mason to custom-make a beautiful tombstone for Queen Lydia.”
“Very well, then, Sire,” said the doctor as he left to return to the queen’s bedroom chamber.
Minutes later, King Alfred heard an eerie, blood curdling yell resonating throughout the stone walls of the castle. It was Queen Lydia’s death cry, as the doctor had no alternative other than to slash open her uterus to save the baby.
Less than a minute later, a smile broke out across the king’s face as he heard the distant crying of a newborn infant.
“Ah yes, my son is alive and well,” thought the king to himself as he knelt down to say a prayer of gratitude.
Although he felt some remorse for the queen, he was eager to visit his new baby boy. As he entered the queen’s chamber, King Alfred was shocked at the large pools of blood beneath her bed. A thoroughly blood soaked sheet had been pulled over her face, indicating that she was already dead. The king felt some solace when he concluded that at least his wife didn’t have to endure the torture for an extended period of time.
He looked over to his left, to the far side of the room. He watched as the doctor was sponging off his son in a large, white basin. The king was relieved to see the baby’s arms and legs moving about in a normal fashion.
As King Alfred approached his future heir to the throne, he suddenly cried out, “Where’s my son’s manhood?”
“Congratulations, Sire,” said the doctor with a worried tone in his voice, “you are the proud father of a healthy, baby girl.”
King Alfred experienced a mixture of complex emotions – confusion, disgust, and even anger. He said, “How is this possible? Even my dream last night told me that the baby would be a boy.”
“Dream messages aren’t infallible,” explained the doctor. “The fact is you are now the father of a baby girl – one who is very fortunate to have survived a perilous entry into this world… Sire, for the record, what name shall we give her?”
A thoroughly disgusted king said, “Right now, I just don’t care. Why don’t you just let Hornsby pick a name?”
Hornsby was a midget, court jester, who had brought the royal family good cheer during the past six years. Although he was 25 years old now, he hadn’t grown a single inch since his tenth birthday. As his childhood years ended, the villagers began to insult and ridicule him for his lack of stature. However, Hornsby learned that he could gain acceptance by making people laugh.
One day when Hornsby was openly making fun of the king at the market place, King Alfred happened to witness the onlookers laughing out loud. Hornsby play acted as if he was King Alfred ordering the beheading of a disobedient servant. When Hornsby happened to notice the king standing directly behind him, with the look of total disgust on his face, he expected to be in trouble…
“Little man… Are you making fun of me?” asked the king.
Hornsby’s first instinct was to profusely apologize to the king, and ask for his forgiveness, but instead he decided to mimic the king’s mannerisms and expression as he blurted out, “Yes, let’s be rid of this vile, little midget – Off with his head!”
King Alfred was surprised by the little man’s display at first, but soon thereafter, he broke out into laughter. By cleverly mimicking the king’s anger, Hornsby actually managed to turn the king’s frown into a smile. That’s how he came to be hired on as the royal court jester.
Unfortunately, this was no occasion for any laughter of any kind. Hornsby was visibly shaken over witnessing the gruesome death of Queen Lydia. He just muttered in a somber voice, “I always liked the name, ‘Ana Beth’.”
King Alfred announced to everyone present in the room, “Very well, then – the baby’s name shall be, ‘Princess Ana Beth’. Squire, bring me some food and wine to my chamber. I prefer to eat alone tonight.”
As Princess Ana Beth grew up it was evident that she was very bright. She was always eager to learn about new things. Ana Beth was very passionate about animals, flowers, and singing. She was known by all of the castle’s staff for her beautiful, singing voice. She sang her favorite Irish songs as she played throughout the castle, and sometimes she spent time singing sweet lullabies to the newly born offspring including baby lamb, calves, and ponies.
It was also very evident that she was growing up to become an especially beautiful girl – she had hypnotic, emerald green eyes and an amazing abundance of flowing red hair.
She had an unusual, down-to-earth personality, even though she was accustomed to receiving all the typical comforts of royal life. Naturally, everything was provided to her in abundance – except for any loving attention from her parents. Every time she said, “Father, please look at this” or “Can we do something together?” her father’s answer was always the same: “Not now” or “I’m too busy.”
Of course she missed out on receiving any motherly love since the queen died birthing her – that was quite understandable. However, she always felt her father’s scorn. He openly expressed his disappointment that she was a girl. He would clearly have preferred to have a son as heir to his throne. It hurt Princess Ana Beth that she rarely saw her father. He seldom visited her even when he happened to be staying over at his castle in Donegal.
King Alfred was often gone on lengthy trips all over Europe. He usually came and went without so much as saying ‘hello’ or a ‘good-bye’ to his daughter. Sometimes he left to build a new, political alliance. Sometimes he was trying to romance a new, replacement queen. Occasionally, he was busy directing his army during their frequent skirmishes with the British. The poor, young princess understood that her father was an important leader, but it hurt her deeply when he blatantly neglected her.
Fortunately for Princess Ana Beth, she could always rely on her dependable caretaker – the court jester, Hornsby. He was the little man with the big heart of gold. Hornsby was certainly the princess’ closest friend – in fact, he was her only friend. He served the dual purpose of providing the princess with fatherly leadership and love, while he was also her best friend and playmate. His funny personality and short stature minimized the big difference in their ages. By the time the princess was seven years old, she was already as tall as the vertically challenged Hornsby.
Like most young girls from royal descent, Princess Ana Beth enjoyed playing with her fancy doll collection. Many of her best dolls were imported from Germany or France. One day while the princess was playing with her dolls Hornsby said, “I think your dolls would look nice with some pretty flowers in their hair.”
“You can’t get any flowers now. It’s still winter.”
Hornsby pointed to a small end table covered by a light tablecloth. He said, “I think there might be some nice flowers hiding beneath the cover.”
“No way, Hornsby, that tablecloth is sitting flat on the surface. There can’t be flowers, or for that matter, anything else underneath.”
Hornsby supplemented his court jester talents by learning how to perform small magic tricks. He approached the end table. Hornsby fluttered his fingers like a magician and said, “Presto change-o.” When he swiftly pulled up the covering, a beautiful bouquet of mixed flowers sat on the table.
With both hands placed on her cheeks the princess said, “Oh my, those flowers are splendid. How did you do that?”
Without giving up any of his magic trick secrets, he said, “Our castle recently opened a brand new, glass-covered wing which can grow flowers all year long. Our master gardener, Barnaby, has all sorts of beautiful flowers growing there – even though it’s still winter.”
An excited princess bouncing up and down on her toes said, “Oh Hornsby, that sounds like a dream. Can you please take me there?”
It was a rather long walk to the far end of the castle compound. Princess Ana Beth gazed at the unusual looking glass covered structure in awe. A friendly man wearing overalls bowed down at the princess’ feet. He introduced himself, “I’m Barnaby, the king’s horticulturist. Welcome, young princess.”
“Barnaby, your flowers are wonderful,” said a delighted princess. “Can you teach me how to grow them? Tulips are my favorites.”
At first Barnaby showed her how to properly water the flowers. He explained that some plants needed more water than others. It wasn’t long before the princess was eagerly planting seeds and digging through soil with her bare hands. Barnaby even showed her how to use goose droppings to fertilize the plants. The princess was a quick study, and she was eager to participate. Even the stench of the goose droppings didn’t curb her enthusiasm.
Naturally, it was forbidden for a princess to be getting her hands dirty, but with an innocent, young child’s smile, she told Barnaby, “If you tell the king, it will be ‘off with your head’.”
However, later that day, her father unexpectedly happened to stop by for a visit. When the princess greeted her father with a customary curtsy, he noticed she still had some dirt under her fingernails. King Alfred shouted at Hornsby, “Why on Earth are my daughter’s fingernails as dirty as those of a peasant girl’s?”
“Sire,” said Hornsby, “Your daughter has taken quite an interest in growing flowers. She has a natural green thumb. Today, I took Ana Beth to visit your horticulturist, Barnaby, over at the glass house. She really enjoyed the lesson that she learned today.”
The king’s face turned beet-red as he shouted, “That’s scandalous. I will not allow my daughter to engage in such filthy activities. You are forbidden to take her to there again – or you will be sent to the dungeon.”
The young princess broke down and cried as Hornsby hung his head down and said, “Sire, I’m very sorry. That will never happen again.”
It was April 19th, only two days before Princess Ana Beth’s ninth birthday. Her father was expected to arrive back home soon after being on another lengthy journey. However, King Alfred wasn’t trying to make any special effort to attend his daughter’s birthday – his priority was to oversee that Donegal Castle was properly prepared for the arrival of an important guest of honor – King Alfonse of Portugal.
While Alfred was visiting Alfonse’s palace in Aveiro, Portugal, they both agreed to a military alliance to unite against the British. The two kings certainly had much in common… Both of them were Catholics, and they hated Protestants. They despised England. Coincidentally, they both were widowers as well.
King Alfonse’s wife, Queen Simone, died a year earlier from malaria. He was interested in remarrying, and he liked attractive, younger girls. Alfred wasn’t going to allow the forty-two year old King Alfonse to marry his nine year old daughter, but the arrangement could already be made for her to marry him as soon as she turns sixteen – or perhaps even as soon as she turns fifteen.
King Alfonse became very interested in Ana Beth when he heard about her emerald green eyes and ravishing red hair. He was willing to postpone the wedding until she was a few years older, but he was curious to meet the budding, young girl. Alfred had no problem with the arrangement, as long as Alfonse promised to keep their plans for marriage a secret until Ana Beth was in her teens.
It was a balmy afternoon. Princess Ana Beth’s lady in waiting had just finished brushing and braiding her hair outside on the balcony when they heard the sounds of a horse in distress coming from the royal stables. She spotted Hornsby walking down in the courtyard.
“Hornsby, do you know why some horse is crying out so much?”
Gazing up at the third story balcony he replied, “Princess, one of the pregnant mares is giving birth to a baby.”
An anxious princess called out, “Hornsby, please take me to the stables. I wish to see it.”
Margaret, the lady in waiting sternly said, “My lady, you must keep yourself neat and clean. Your father is coming soon. He expects you look prim and perfect.”
“Don’t worry - I play in the stables all the time. I always watch where I step.”
The crying of the pregnant mare became progressively louder as Ana Beth and Hornsby approached the stables. They arrived just in time to witness Duncan, the stable-master, reaching deep inside the crouching, chestnut colored mare to pull out a white, baby horse. The baby looked wet and somewhat slimy. His legs were curled up under his body.
The princess was deeply moved by the experience. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She had never witnessed a live birth before. On the other hand, Hornsby vividly recalled the gory, fatal delivery of Queen Lydia’s baby – that was the fateful birth when Princess Ana Beth arrived almost nine years ago.
A curious Princess asked, “What’s that nasty looking thing coming out of the mother horse?”
“That’s the afterbirth,” said Duncan. “It provided nourishment to the baby during the past eleven months.”
Within a minute, the tiny white horse stood up on his shaky legs. Ana Beth was overcome with emotion. The mother horse gave her baby a few tender licks until Duncan took over the cleaning duties with a damp towel.
“You’re a healthy looking little colt,” said Duncan.
Before he could continue wiping off the baby horse, the Princess tapped his shoulder and asked him she could be allowed to finish cleaning off the adorable little horse.
“Of course ya may,” replied a smiling Duncan. “Princess, I’m very impressed that ya don’t appear to be squeamish at all.”
“This is the most incredible event I’ve ever seen. Words can’t say how special this little horse is. He is absolutely magical.”
Hornsby was quick to add, “I think this baby horse deserves to have a magical sounding name.”
An excited princess said, “Hornsby, that’s a terrific idea… Let me see, what sort of magical name can we give this precious bundle of joy? – I think I got it. I’d like to name him, ‘Atlantis’.”
“That’s perfect,” said Hornsby as he gently petted the baby horse.
Suddenly, Ana Beth noticed that her fancy garments had gotten soiled and even splattered with a few droplets of blood. “Oh, Miss Margaret is going to be very upset. She wants me to look perfect when father comes home. I don’t want him to be angry at me on my birthday.”
“Don’t worry – we’ll get ya cleaned up’” said an optimistic Hornsby. “We have plenty of time before your father’s arrival. Even your strict father can’t possibly be mad at you on your birthday. I’ll bet he gives you some fancy things or imported toys and dolls for your birthday.”
“I don’t want any more nice things. I already have too many dolls. However, there is one birthday present that my father could give me that would make me the happiest girl in the world.”
“Hmm, let me guess,” said Hornsby as he scratched his head. “I’ll bet it’s a word that begins with an ‘H’ – am I right?”
“Actually, Hornsby, it begins with a capital ‘A’. More than anything in the entire world, I wish to have this precious, white baby horse named, ‘Atlantis’,” and she put her arms around the baby horse’s neck and hugged him.
Ana spent as much time as possible with her tiny new friend. They enjoyed playing games together. One of her favorite games would be to place an old barrel in front of Atlantis, and try to get him to jump over it. Even at a young age, Atlantis seemed to know exactly what the princess was thinking. After only a couple of times of watching Ana jump over the barrel, he quickly got the message, and with a happy trot, Atlantis repeatedly jumped over the barrel. He shook his head up and down, indicating to Ana, “See, I can do it.”
Ana would wrap her arms around his neck and tell him, “I’m so proud of you, Atlantis. Oh, how I love you.”
The next morning Ana Beth got up early to visit Atlantis. She had high hopes that her father would let her keep the little colt as her own.
Elsewhere, everyone was busy preparing Donegal Castle for King Alfred’s return. A sentry was stationed at the top of the towering castle keep. At high noon he sounded a loud horn when he spotted the king’s ship approaching the dock.
Meanwhile, inside the princess’ royal bath, Miss Margaret was busy trying to wash any odor of horses off of her. After towel drying the princess, the lady in waiting helped Ana Beth to get dressed. As she laced up the backside of Ana Beth’s gown, they overheard the lowering of the castle’s draw bridge. The king’s carriage had arrived.
Usually, when King Alfred returned after a lengthy trip, he wouldn’t even bother to visit Ana Beth. However, things were different this time since he had used his daughter as a pawn to seal a new alliance with the powerful Portuguese king. He went straight to her chambers. With a broad smile on his face he said, “So how’s my little princess?”
“Oh father, I’m so glad you made it back home in time for my birthday.”
A bewildered looking king said, “Did you say, ‘birthday’? – Why yes, of course, your birthday is coming up soon. When exactly is it?”
“Oh father – my birthday is tomorrow. I hope you can give me a very special gift,” said the princess who was secretly crossing her fingers behind her back.”
Alfred was in an awkward position since he had completely forgotten about her birthday. He had just returned all the way from Portugal, and he had forgotten to bring her any gift at all. He wondered how to hide his oversight, so he hesitantly asked her, “So princess, what would you like for your birthday?”
“Father, just yesterday a precious, white baby horse was born at the royal stables. He’s the sweetest bundle of joy I’ve ever seen. I’ve already named him, ‘Atlantis’. Please, oh please let me have him for my birthday.”
Alfred did not approve of the idea of her hanging out at the filthy horse stables – especially in light of King Alfonse’s upcoming visit. Nevertheless, this was an opportunity for the king to save face for completely forgetting about his daughter’s birthday. Thus, he said, “Why of course, princess – anything to bring joy to my precious daughter. Happy birthday! You may keep ‘Atlantic’, the little white horse.”
Ana Beth hugged King Alfred, and kissed his cheek. “Father, this is the best birthday present in the whole world. Incidentally, his name is ‘Atlantis’, not ‘Atlantic’… Hornsby suggested that I give him a magical sounding name.”
“That’s fine – whatever you say. Just meet me in the dining hall tonight for dinner. I want to discuss about the arrival of a very important guest, King Alfonse of Portugal.”
As all the important castle people convened for a formal dinner at the main dining hall, all eyes were fixed on a noble lady in her mid-thirties who appeared to be of Latin heritage. King Alfred introduced the lady to his daughter. “Ana Beth, I’d like to introduce you to Miss Isabel. She is King Alfonse’s chief interpreter. She speaks seven different languages. Miss Isabel is here to teach you a little bit of Portuguese before his majesty’s arrival.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun,” said an enthusiastic princess. “When is the first lesson?”
“We can start tomorrow morning,” replied Miss Isabel. She was glad to see Ana Beth’s eagerness to learn.
Meanwhile, Hornsby sat quietly at the huge dining table. He wondered why King Alfred was adamant that Princess Ana Beth learn how to speak Portuguese. He figured the king must have some ulterior motive.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the entire staff worked diligently to beautify Donegal Castle. By the time of King Alfonse’s arrival, the entire place was immaculate.
King Alfred had coached everyone, including Ana Beth, about the importance of making a positive impression on the Portuguese king. Alfred explained about the strength of the Portuguese Navy, which was financed by wealth which came from the New World. He also explained all about their proposed military alliance against the British. However, King Alfred avoided mentioning anything about his commitment to arrange a future wedding between young Ana Beth and the middle-aged king. Thus, Ana Beth promised her father to be on her best behavior when King Alfonse arrived for a visit.
Every morning until lunchtime, Princess Ana Beth met with Miss Isabel in the Castle Library. On the surface, King Alfonse’s interpreter seemed to be a normal, conservative, well-groomed lady. However, unbeknownst to the princess, Miss Isabel had often assisted her king while interrogating and torturing captured, foreign spies. The dark side of her persona relished the cries for mercy coming from King Alfonse’s adversaries.
However, Miss Isabel appeared to be a friendly, normal teacher who was sent to teach the princess a new language. Ana Beth was a bright student. She quickly learned to speak, read, and write small, basic sentences in Portuguese. When she complimented Ana Beth on her learning capabilities, the princess returned the compliment by stating that Miss Isabel was an excellent teacher.
After lunch, the princess always had some free time. Miss Margaret had arranged for Ana Beth to get some ‘peasant clothing’ whenever she went to play with her young, white horse, Atlantis. The princess and Atlantis were quick to create a mutual bond. While everyone knew that Ana Beth loved her horse, it soon became apparent that the feeling was mutual. Whenever the princess came to visit Atlantis, the young colt ignored his mother and followed Ana Beth around like a puppy.
It was dusk in mid-July. Miss Margaret was filing the princess’ fingernails out on the balcony. All of a sudden there was a loud horn blaring from the castle keep. Ana Beth looked out towards the bay. There must have been a hundred war ships headed in their direction. At first, Miss Margaret panicked. She feared that it was an impending attack by the British, but Ana Beth assured her that the ships were flying the Portuguese flag. King Alfonse of Portugal had arrived…
It was apparent with the late time of arrival that the Portuguese king would not be visiting until tomorrow morning. Ana Beth reviewed her Portuguese lessons one more time before going to bed. While she normally slept with her window open during the summer months, this time she kept it shut because of the background noise generated by the incoming Portuguese Armada.
After sleeping soundly for a few hours, she entered the dream stage of sleeping. She had an unusual dream, unlike any other she had ever experienced before. She dreamt that a strong gust of wind suddenly blew open her bedroom window. An eerie, fog-like mist rolled in through the window opening, followed by the female presence of a ghost. As the fog dissipated a bit, Ana Beth could clearly see the image of her dead mother, Queen Lydia. She was still dressed in a beautiful, purple royal gown, and she carried a jewel encrusted scepter.
After staring silently at Ana Beth for a while the spirit spoke in a frightening and intimidating manner, “Princess, do not trust your father, he is a liar. The man who comes on a visit is a very dangerous man. He will hurt you.” However, suddenly Queen Lydia’s ghostly face morphed into a skull-like, face of death. The Grim Reaper-like spirit said, “Princess, I can spare you all your upcoming tortures by taking you with me tonight. Come with me to the land of the dead.”
As the Grim Reaper raised the royal scepter to strike the princess dead in her bed, suddenly Ana Beth woke up from her terrifying dream. She was breathing rapidly and small beads of sweat had formed on her forehead. However, she calmed down a bit when she realized it was just a bad dream – until she noticed that her bedroom window had mysteriously been opened. The princess got up from bed, and shut her window securely. She was unable to sleep another wink that night. She just reflected on the frightening dream, and hoped that there was no prophecy connected to it.