It is my greatest honor to introduce you, Dear Reader, to my 35th great-grandfather, Yves de Creil. Though he may only be recorded on the outskirts of history, his blood, and his story, now live on. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy this little revitalizing of history I’ve attempted here.
A Viking’s Vow
Inspired by true events
by Ashlie Harris
On December 17th, 942 AD, William Longsword, Count of Rouen, sat atop a rugged brown mare. Shifting uneasily, he approached Chateau de Picquigny with more than a modicum of apprehension. For some time, he’d been at odds with the Count of Flanders, Arnulf the 1st. He was more than ready to put their fighting behind him. His appearance in the Count’s lands was due solely to his intentions of signing a peace treaty in order to do so. As he rode up to the island Chateau, the banks of the River Somme came into view. Tufts of dried grass poked up through the freshly fallen snow, and the sparse green trees lining the far side of the tranquil river beckoned to William’s adventurous spirit.
Breathing in the crisp, cold air, William rubbed his gloved hands together in an attempt to stay warm. The midday sun bore down on him, though its weak rays provided little in the way of heat. Crossing a small stone bridge, he came to the outer wall of the Chateau, disembarked from his horse, and made his way toward the gate. A scuffle from behind caused him to turn abruptly. Instinctively, he unsheathed the weapon from his back – a longsword, his namesake – which glinted in the sun. Too late, he spun around, coming face to face with two of Count Arnulf’s men. He was well-skilled with his sword, but his enemies were too swift. Through the bushes, two more of the Count’s men appeared and grabbed William from behind, disarming him.
Struggling to free himself from their grasp, William kicked and stomped, twisted and turned, but to no avail. The leader waited for the first clear opportunity before thrusting a small dagger deep into William’s throat. His cries were thus silenced, and the men dropped his limp body to the frozen ground. Crimson-red blood pooled onto the stark white snow, the contrast brilliant, yet disturbing. The men fled back to the Chateau and to the protection of their lord, Count Arnulf.
As William lie rapidly bleeding to death on the icy plain, he glimpsed a vision of his father, the Viking King Rollo, and heard his voice again for the first time in over a decade. “Come with me to Valhalla. It is your time.”
William pleaded with the hallucination, “I cannot leave my son,” he said, gasping for air. A viscous scarlet flood began to pour out of the corner of his trembling mouth.
Rollo’s reassuring, confident timbre seemed to echo all around him, “Our bloodline will live on.”
William tried to stand and collapsed once again, falling to his knees in a final bout of desperation. “Lord!” he cried out, “Father Odin! Spare my life… for my child… I beg of ye.”
His father’s face never faltered. The Viking King smiled and said simply, “Come now; young Richard will be just fine – your uncle, Bernard de Senlis, will see to that.” With that, the imposing man’s smile faded into oblivion, and William’s last breath was instantly whisked away on the icy northern winds.
William’s death set in motion a plan to kidnap Richard and steal the Norman lands now under his control. King Louis IV convinced Richard’s Royal Guardian, Bernard the Dane, to bring the boy into Frankish territory. Bernard, fearing Longsword’s Pagan influence might have corrupted Richard’s Christian faith, agreed with the king and brought Richard to Ponthieu. It didn’t take long for King Louis to show his true colors.
Richard was sent for and brought to Chateau Gaillot in Laon, where he was held captive by King Louis. Thankfully, Laon was near the territory of Bernard de Senlis. His loyal fiefs and vassals informed the Count de Senlis of the situation.
Bernard remembered Rollo and William and the promise he made so many years ago. He employed his most loyal and skilled vassal, Yves de Creil, to assist in rescuing his great-nephew. Yves was a highly adept crossbowman. Bernard knew if anyone could rescue Richard from under the very nose of the greedy young king, it would be Yves.
In hopes of doubling up on his efforts to follow through on his promise, Bernard also rode to meet with Hugh the Great, King Louis’ tutor. Having been announced and admitted to the Chateau de Reims, Bernard entered Hugh the Great’s chambers, all the while praying Yves would succeed in rescuing young Richard.
“Bernard, welcome. Please, sit awhile,” Hugh gestured toward a well-crafted wooden chair.
With a nervous nod, Bernard took the proffered seat and cleared his throat. “Your Grace, I have come to beseech you for the freedom of my kin.”
“Ah, yes,” Hugh replied, taking a sip of ale from his canteen. “Louis has taken the young Norman, then, eh? Richard? He is your relation?”
Again clearing his throat, Bernard nodded, “Já. He is the son of my nephew, William, and his Breton concubine. Please, milord, allow the boy his freedom, and I will bring him back to Creil to be raised under my own care.”
With a nonchalant flick of his hand, Hugh the Great shrugged and casually replied, “Louis’ antics begin to annoy. Pray, take your charge, for I care not about his fate.”
Elated, Bernard stood, bowing slightly, “Thank ye, milord! I am truly grateful to ye.” As if afraid Hugh might change his mind at any moment, Bernard hurried to the door and made to leave. Still, he felt compelled to inform Hugh of his deception in honor of the kindness he’d just been shown – and in hopes of bypassing any potential retribution should he be found out under other circumstances.
Noticing Bernard’s hesitation, Hugh raised a brow, “Was there something else, Count de Senlis?”
Swallowing hard, Bernard tried to force the words past the large lump which had formed in his throat, “Your Grace, I must be honest in the face of your generosity. I have sent my vassal, Yves, to retrieve the boy as insurance. I pray you will accept my humble admission of this as proof of my honourable intentions. I only seek to uphold the vow I made to protect my family’s lineage.”
Hugh stared for a moment at the wavering flame which flickered mutely atop the wick of a tallow candle near the window. When he spoke again, his gaze was to the stars in the wintery sky. “Rollo and my father, Robert, had a certain… understanding. In honor of our fallen kin, I will not pursue this matter. However, Louis will not be so easily deterred. Take young Richard, with my blessing, but mind you stay well hidden – lest the king finds you en route.”
Bowing profusely, Bernard thanked Hugh again and took his leave. Exiting the Chateau as quickly as he could manage, he saddled up and rode through the night. His destination – his lands in Couci, where he planned to reunite with Richard and Yves.
The Count de Senlis finally arrived in Couci and maintained a low profile until receiving word that Yves and Richard had been forced to make the much longer journey to Creil. Before long, Bernard joined them there at the Chateau de Creil.
When King Louis discovered the escape, he was livid. Not only had he lost a few well-trained officers, but the future of the Norman lands now hung precariously before him. In desperation, Louis wrote to his tutor, Hugh the Great, pleading with him to intervene. Hugh refused, which only served to infuriate the teenage king even more. Though he was technically a subordinate of the Crown, Hugh the Great’s power vastly overshadowed King Louis’.
Finally, Louis – again acting on advice from Arnulf the 1st – proposed a deal too good for Hugh to pass up. The vast Norman lands, once taken out of Richard’s control, could then be divided among the Frank nobles. Louis offered Hugh the largest parcel of land in the south of Normandy. Despite his earlier claims of desiring to ‘honor’ the connection between their families, Hugh quite quickly reneged and agreed to Richard’s recapture.
Somehow, Richard was able to remain at Chateau de Creil, albeit as a prisoner this time, rather than an honoured guest of the lord and master. It wouldn’t be until three years after William Longsword was assassinated before his uncle, Bernard de Senlis would make good on his promise to keep the family line safe.
Hugh the Great, tiring of King Louis’ continuous juvenile rampages and desperate attempts of grasping ever more land and power, helped to orchestrate his kidnapping. A Norman party – led by none other than Bernard the Dane, Richard’s original Royal Guardian – captured King Louis and used him to ransom for their Duke, a still-young Richard the 1st of Normandy. This deal was accepted by Hugh the Great, and both prisoners were released back to their respective homelands.
Bernard de Senlis would live for another two years after Richard’s return, thus he was finally able to see his promise fulfilled.
(It has been ended)
A HUGE Thank You! to Mason Bushell, for his unending patience, help in all the research, and general life-saving abilities. You rock, dude! 😉 I must also thank Casey Ashcraft Honebrink and everyone in the Writers Assembled group who work so hard to put these contests together. You guys are awesome!!!
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