They woke up late. They spent the night having sex and couldn't sleep until it was past midnight. When Gisla stepped outside her room, Rollo was still sleeping. The palace was empty. There was only servants, bustling around. Gisla asked where did the nobles and the king went, and was answered that they left to hunt. Relieved to have the place all for herself, she walked by the corridors and the many room the castle contained. She stopped by the Capel and heard a little voice inside. She dared to give a quick glance and saw a young woman, kneeled on a low chair, apparently praying. She was singing. Gisla couldn't understand it very well, but her song seemed so sad she let a tear drop on her cheek. She entered the place and the woman startled. She was panicked and terrified for one second, but then, she realised it was only Gisla and her face went back to normal.
- Sorry, Gisla said. Your song was so beautiful that I had to come in and make my compliments.
- This is okay. As long as it is not the king or my husband.
- Your husband?
- Yes, she said shyly, the prince Aethelwulf.
- Oh, I see, Gisla said awkwardly.
- Who are you?
- Oh! sorry, I didn't introduce myself. What bad manners. My name is Gisla, I am the duchess of Normandy and the daughter of Charles, king of Frankia. I came here with my husband to enforce peace between our people.
- Nice to meet you Gisla, she said smiling. My name is Judith, daughter of king Aella of Northumbria.
- So, Judith, Gisla said sitting beside her, what was that song about?
- It was about a man, she said blushing.
- Your husband?
- No, she said suddenly terrified. An other man. A man of faith.
- Tell me more, Gisla asked curious.
- This is a Capel, I don't know if I can, she hesitated.
- Let's go outside then.
They stood up and began to walk by the gardens.
- He was part of these northmen who came to raid and settle in our country. He was not like them though: he was born in Northumbria and lived in a monastry. He was a monk before they took him. He had... How can I say that? He had this aura. It was like he was God's favourite.
Gisla was listening. She was listening carefully.
- I immediately felt attracted to him. He was bright, nice and he knew so much about the northmen. He was crucified for it. I remember that he bore the stigmates of Christ. One night, I failed to my vows of fidelity to my husband.
Gisla was still listening, afraid of what would come next.
- I slept with him. Of course, my husband didn't know at first, but soon, he found out by other means: I was pregnant and we hadn't slept as man and wife for a while.
Gisla held a squeak.
- My mistake cost me one ear. They stopped when I dropped his name. Apparently, Ecbert loved him very much. He said my second son shall be treated like my first born: like a prince. But this won't repay the loss of my ear, she said bitter.
Gisla realized, now that she was talking about it, that she was wearing a hairstyle that hid her right ear. She felt sorry for her. She was a good christian and yet, she had been cruelly punished by the laws of Christ.
- How can you still pray God, in these conditions?
- This is the only thing I have left. This is what keeps me alive, she answered smiling.
They remained silent for a few more minutes, walking among flowers and other plants.
- This is a sad story, Gisla said as a fact.
- This is a sad chapter, but not a sad story. It brought me my sons, she smiled. They are 6 and 5. Do you have children Gisla?
- Only one. His name is Guillaume and he is the light of my life with my husband.
- How is he?
- Reckless, stubborn, joyful and energetic.
- No, Judith giggled, your husband.
- Oh, Gisla said. He is, very strong, fierce, powerful, violent on the battlefield. He is a great warrior.
Judith noted that Gisla's smile became wider the more she spoke of him. She couldn't help but to smile back.
- Is that all?
- No, Gisla smiled even more. He is also, sensitive, cheerful, awkward, bright, wise. He has a really deep personnality.
- You seems to love him very much.
- I hated him at first, but after our wedding, I learnt to see beyond what I first thought of him. When our son was born, I realized I loved him.
- Not every person can say that. Usually, we princesse only marry without love.
- Didn't you learn to love your husband?
- I doubt to ever love him.
They stopped their walk and Gisla pat Judith's shoulder. They came back inside, talking about castle life and how their husbands treated them. Gisla said she felt she was her husband's equal, while Judith said she was being kept hostage. Gisla truly felt sorry for her new friend. She was strong to stay here despite everything that happened to her. She was even stronger than her, Gisla thought. They headed toward their rooms when two young boy ran toward their direction.
- Mommy! Alfred pushed me in the mud, the elder said whining.
- This is because he didn't want to give me my toy, the other one complained.
Judith sighed. She bowed to her sons and said sternly:
- Alfred, once and for all, do not push your brother! Aethelred, you need to learn to share with your brother! Next time, play with the toy together!
The boys looked at each other.
- Now, make peace.
- But mommy, they objected in unison.
- I said make peace! Do as I said or the northmen will come and eat your feets!
Their eyes suddenly wide opened in fright and they quickly gave each other a kiss on the cheek.
- Good, their mother said smiling. Now, you can go back to play.
- Mommy, who is it, Aethelred asked.
- She is a friend of mine, Judith answered smiling at Gisla.
- Did you ever see any northmen, Alfred asked to the duchess.
- Yes, she smiled at them.
- Are they terrifying? Mommy says they are demons who loves to eat little boy's feets.
- Well, she started bending to the height of the little boys, they...
Suddenly the door opened and Rollo came out, dressed up but with his usual morning face: grumpy. His hair were tangled, he had dark rings under his eyes and seemed unhappy: he looked like a mean northman. He looked at the children and grinned. This smile was meant to be a cheerful one, but his look and his face were so terrifying the boys suddenly froze and ran away, screaming.
- You IDIOT! You scared them, Gisla shouted to her husband slapping his arm.
- What did they mean by "don't eat our feets", he asked massaging his arm.
Judith stepped back in fear. She was looking at Gisla, then Rollo with complete lack of comprehension.
- What are you doing here?
- Judith, this is my husband, Robert, duke of Normandy, Gisla said introducing him.
- Oh! come on! Just call me Rollo already!
- Now is not the time to have this talk, she said sternly.
- Princess Judith, Rollo said politely. It has been a while isn't it?
- Why are you here, she asked again.
- Your husband planned to invade my lands, so I came here to prevent it.
- We need to talk, Judith said with a low voice. But not here. Let's go inside your room.
After everyone entered the room, Judith gave a last glance in the hallway and locked the door. She turned to her two guests and told them to sit. When everyone in the room was sitting comfortably, she started talking.
- Did he deny it, she asked?
- What? Who, Rollo asked puzzled.
It was too early in the morning for him to think.
- Aethelwulf. Did he deny he ordered the invasion?
- Yes, Gisla answered. Why?
- Because he is lying. Him and his father.
- Yes, we knew that, Rollo said.
- But do you know everything?
Gisla and Rollo exchanged an interrogative glance.
- The reason why Ecbert and his son wants to conquer so much land is because Ecbert dreams of uniting the kingdom of England. He already attacked Mercia and Northumbria. He is a twisted man who refuse to coexist with people who do not share his vision and desires. That's why, after he asked Aethelwulf to attack the settlement, he imprisonned the nobles who accompanied him to keep them away from power and from screwing his plans. He is like that. He does things behind your back and stabs you when you're not looking. That's how he works.
- Reminds me of someone, Rollo said for himself.
- He hates the northmen. And he was only cooperating with king Ragnar for his insterests in Mercia. Kwenthrith was supposed to be his puppet and he wanted to use her as a tool to rule Mercia. But, unfortunately, or fortunately, she realized it and fought back. He uses people.
She paused for a moment and continued her story:
- He also wants to use me to append my father's country to his. But recently, he was only talking about Charlemagne. He is his hero and he always wanted to look like him. He began to think about growing an empire. An empire such as the great emperor's. His will is so strong he began to drown in madness. He decided his first target would be your duchy. He heard it was ruled by a pagan, a bloodthirsty barbarian and wanted to clean these lands in the name of Charlemagne.
- See? This is what your executions brought us, Gisla reprimanded Rollo.
- Hey! Thanks to that, our lands are at peace! So don't complain.
- That is why he prepared his army to invade your lands, Judith continued ignoring their words. But now that you presented him a treaty of non agression, he is trapped. And even more considering you are married before God and you are the great grand-daughter of Charlemagne. You did well by coming here.
After she finished her story, they all remained silent. Gisla and Rollo were angry. If they could, they would have burn the place to ashes and even Gisla would have spread blood in the king's kingdom. They were in the house of a mad man and his son was not better. Gisla hated these two man for what they did to her new friend.
- Pardon me, but, how do you know all that, Gisla asked.
Judith moved on her chair nervously and sad.
- I may, or may not, be Ecbert's mistress, she said shamefully.
Rollo stood up violently, making his chair fall on the floor with a great bang. He walked a little, apparently furious and asked Judith:
- Did he really...
- Yes, I am afraid so, she said bowing her head.
Gisla rushed to Judith and hugged her with all the love she could feel. She was so sorry for her. She deserved to be loved so much. She was a great person who was now crying in Gisla's neck.
- How did it happened, Gisla asked gently.
- After my ear was cut, Ecbert adopted Athelstan's son...
- Athelstan has a son, Rollo asked with surprise.
Gisla told him to shut up with her mouth and asked Judith to go on.
- After he adopted Athelstan's son, I knew he wouldn't be safe. So, knowing that, Ecbert asked me to be his mistress and to betray my father in exchange of my son's safty. I mean. I love my children. What kind of mother would I be if I didn't protect them, she said in tears.
- I understand how you feel, Gisla comforted her. It is okay.
- What kind of father sleeps with his own son's wife? That man is twisted, Rollo said with utter disgust.
- What shock me the most is that he still claim to be a good christian, Gisla added.
- Well, now, if he wants to make war with us and violate the treaty, I know that there will be no mercy.
- Rollo, calm down, please. You are only frightening her even more.
Rollo looked at the princess and sat back on his chair he lifted and put back on it's place. He enraged. The king's behavior was disgusting and HE was the barabarian. There was no way he, or Gisla could forgive these actions.
- Don't you want to come with us, Gisla asked. You could take your sons. We could protect you and you'd like Normandy.
- No, Judith said with a sad smile. Thank you. You are very nice, but I need to stay here. This is where I belong. Besides, I need to know what my enemies are planning so I can stop them. I have to stay and fight so that I can have my revenge one day, she said determined.
Rollo and Gisla looked at each other and smiled.
- You are very brave, Gisla said to Judith. Fine, we will sign the treaty, but tell us if they plan on going after you. I could send some men to your rescue.
- I'll think about it, she smiled to the duchess.
Then, after she dried her tears, she got out of the room, leaving Rollo and Gisla behind. They were alone in the room and in one glance, they knew what they had to do.
They spent at least two days in the castle, waiting for the treaty to be made. Gisla was most of the time with Judith and played with the children, while Rollo was deciding of the terms of the agreement. Of course, Gisla and him planned everything. They were talking about it whenever they were alone. Gisla was a good advisor and Rollo often came with brilliant ideas. They decided that if the terms of the treaty were not respected, they would simply come to them and spread their fury and that they would ask Wessex to give them two hostage; The queen, or, if there wasn't one, the wife of the prince, and her first born. The terms were simple; no Wessex soldier should ever step on the Norman soil, unless he had been invited. No invasions, nor wars. In exchange, the two lands will benefit privileged trading exchanges. Of course, Ecbert and Aethelwulf seemed reluctant, but they complied with anger. Their terms were as simple; If the duchy of Normandy ever came to invade their kingdom, they shall behead the duke and rule his duchy. The terms were rough in the two parts, but according to Rollo, this seemed fair. He also knew he had well trained soldiers and an army of berserkers, and that he could prevail in any battle. Sure, Rollo was confident, but he feared for peace in his lands. He thought he earned a quiet time.
- How can I be sure you won't try to invade my lands, he asked to king Ecbert after the draft.
- Well, I swore it before God, isn't that enough?
- I don't trust your God as much as you do, he said with defiance.
- I thought you were converted.
- I am. But I won't repudiate my roots. This is important to me.
The king remained silent for a moment. Rollo knew he hated him. He was a northman after all, a mere pagan. Gisla stepped to Rollo's height and said with her fierce voice:
- I trust God. So consider it a legit treaty.
- As you wish, princess, he said bowing before her.
Then, he disappeared in the crowd who came to witness the action. Rollo saw him beside Aethelwulf, whispering to his ears. Obviously they were wondering how to achieve their goals despite the treaty. Judith was quietly standing in the back of the room, her two son with her. Gisla saw her husband come beside her and talk to her with apparent violence. When, he left, she saw Ecbert staring at his son's wife, drinking in his glass. She bore his sight proudly and faked a smile. Then, she left the room, followed by her kids. While leaving, she looked at Gisla, her eyes seeming to say that she would be okay. That she was bright enough to survive no matter what. Gisla smiled to her with kindness, wondering if they would ever meet again.
- She is a brave woman, Rollo said with admiration.
- Yes, Gisla agreed. I'll miss her.
- It is nice to know you have a friend here.
- Yes, she really is our strongest ally in this country. But I still think she is in great danger here. I don't want her to suffer even more.
- Neither do I. But for now, we need to come back home. Our son must miss us.
- You're right. We can do nothing for her but to pray.
- Your God or mines?
- Both, she said suddenly looking him in the eyes. We will need any help we can get.
- I love you, he whispered to her ear.
- I love you too.
They kissed. All sights in the assembly went to the ducal couple and their tender activity. The women were gasping, the men were strongly disappoving and Ecbert was looking at it with curiosity mixed with disgust. When it was over, the two lovebirds looked around, and when they saw all sights directed to them, they looked at each other and smiled.
They left once the treaty was signed. This time, Gisla was more at ease on the ship than she was the first time. When they saw their walls, they immediately rushed to their son. They really missed him and apparently, he did too. Thorbjorn did a wonderful job ruling the duchy. It was as if Rollo never left. Soon, they went back to their old habits: training, reading, educating, ruling. And one day, Gisla went to see Rollo and tell him fantastic news: she was pregnant. Of course, Rollo was deliriously happy. He praised Gisla and her belly. This time, he really felt like this situation of happiness and peace would last. He finally got rid of his dark thoughts.