Doomster Hill, Govan, Kingdom of Strathclyde. Late Autumn 872
King Rhun knew he was surrounded by enemies. He looked around at the assembled nobles, every single one of whom was a threat to his kingship. Most were Strathclyde Britons, his own people, but there was also a small group of Norsemen, led by Jarl Tormod Leifsson.
Rhun was not happy about the presence of the Norse here in Strathclyde. It was bad enough that they occupied so many of the western islands of Dal Riata. For now, however, they were a necessary evil for his kingship to continue. After all, it was thanks to the Norse siege of Alt Clut, the former capital of Strathclyde, two years previously that he was now king.
Rhun’s own manipulative bargaining had kept him alive so far, but he knew that at present he held power as king only with the support of the Norse. Without Jarl Tormod, any number of his own nobles, King Causantin of Pictland and Dal Riata or even the Northumbrians would be far more likely to risk attacking him.
His father, King Artgal, had been captured and murdered in Ath Cliath a few months earlier. If rumour were to be believed, at the bidding of Causantin - Rhun’s own brother-in-law. Rhun suspected Causantin wanted to add the lands of Strathclyde to his growing kingdom, a kingdom which was becoming known as Alba, but Rhun would not let go of his power without a fight. He had his son, Prince Eochaid’s, future to think of. He would ensure that at the very least Eochaid inherited Strathclyde. If Rhun were wily enough, perhaps he would inherit Dal Riata and Pictland through his mother. King Eochaid of Alba – maybe it would come to pass.
The man currently facing judgment on Doomster Hill, Lord Marcant, was one of his own nobles, however. A man who had recently had his own brother-in-law murdered while enjoying the man’s hospitality. If the Norsemen were to be believed, that is, and it suited Rhun to believe them. Marcant was dangerous. He was one of the few who could challenge Rhun and win. And he was popular amongst not only his own people but amongst many of the other nobles. Rhun was almost glad he could now be rid of the threat posed by Marcant, placing the blame squarely on the Norsemen.
But Rhun didn’t need to share that with his Norse allies. Let them think he was doing them a favour by believing their story over Marcant’s. Let them think it was a sacrifice to order the execution of one of his own nobles to appease the Norse jarl’s wife whose father Marcant had murdered.
Rhun looked down at Lady Aoife. Half Briton, half Pict and married to the Norse jarl, she was clearly with child. Rhun frowned. That child carried the blood of many different peoples - if it were a boy, he would have to be seen as a threat. Perhaps not now, but certainly in the years to come.
Rhun felt a surge of anger at what had happened. He looked at his brothers who sat on a lower tier of Doomster Hill, the judicial mound they had recently redeveloped close to the church at Govan. It lay across the river at a shallow point from his new royal residence at Partaig. The river was narrower here and shallow enough to cross carefully at low tide. On one side lay the royal residence and rich hunting grounds, while on the other were the seats of justice and faith.
From this spot, Rhun believed he could control the river far better than his father had further downstream at Alt Clut. The fort built on the rock there had been damaged beyond repair by the Norse. A place that had been safe for generations was no longer safe — not from these barbarians who travelled and fought and dispensed justice so very differently from his own people.
King Rhun stood, and everyone quieted, waiting for him to speak. Here, today, the Norsemen would have to accept the justice of the Britons, whether they wanted to or not.