On a Mission for the King
Clement: The Green Ship
Normandy. The year 1161. King Henry ll sends the 14-year-old Clement, Count of la Haye on a secret mission. The young count and his friends travel in the wake of the mysterious mariner known as Sir Humphrey Rochford. Their destination? The legendary land of Vinland, known only from the Norse sagas. The journey is full of adventure and intrigue. Clement battles with a tyrannical Irish king and then finds his vessel attacked by a massive monster from the deep. The Green Ship sails to the sparse and barren land of Greenland where more trouble awaits.
Clement felt the bottom of the skiff scraping sand and he leaped into the surf, knee deep, followed by Olaf. Almost immediately, they were surrounded by the fierce looking brute’s men who had drawn their swords and formed a circle around them. The brutish looking man was drawn to Jacques. Being by far the largest of the invaders, he was naturally assumed to be their leader. The red-haired man was attempting to interrogate Jacques in the Gaelic tongue, which to everyone but Gorm seemed wholly unintelligible. Clement found himself face to face with the boy whom he had seen on the shore. The Irish lad was staring at him with a fierce look, as if he were itching to plunge his blade into the Norman boy’s heart at the first sign from his father. The two boys were nearly the same height but the Irish lad was much stockier, and Clement realized if they were to go toe to toe, he would have to outwit this boy using speed and brain power.
Clement attempted to turn and say something to the Gaelic leader but when he did, the boy in front of him grabbed him by the front of his cloak and held a dagger to his neck. Olaf started to draw his sword and come to Clement’s aid but his arms were immediately pinioned by two stout men, who quickly disarmed him. Things were about to escalate when suddenly Gorm, who was being ignored, let out a flurry of curses in the Gaelic tongue, which arrested all movement. For a few seconds, there was silence and then the red-haired brute turned to Gorm and started to laugh. Gorm was holding up his well weathered hands and began talking to the man in a mixture of Gaelic and Norman.
“So, you are Normans?” the Gaelic leader asked, astonishingly in perfect Norman. “Why didn’t you say so? We thought you were Norse.”
“Aye, sir. I be a Dane by birth,” Gorm said, “but sail under a Norman flag.”
“And you…old man…the leader?”
Gorm bowed. “No, sire. I am but a humble sailor, skilled in the language of your culture.”
“I am the admiral of this fleet!” Clement interrupted. “Now please order this boy to lower his blade. It feels too hot against my neck, and I think too highly of my neck to possibly lose it.”
“Tieg! Release him!”
The boy reluctantly lowered his blade, but his piercing green eyes remained fixed on Clement as if he were disappointed, he did not get to cut him.
Tieg’s father approached Clement, studying him carefully.
“You are the leader of this fleet of ships? A mere boy?”
Clement nodded. “I am Clement, Count de la Haye, son of Hugo. This is my fleet. I have arrived on your shore for two reasons. I seek an audience with the king known as Mac Lochlainn. But first, who is it I address? Tieg’s father, perhaps?” Clement asked sarcastically, glancing at Tieg with contempt.
The man grinned.
“Aye, I am Tieg’s father. My name is Padraig O’Kane, and if it is Mac Lochlainn you seek, you have arrived at the right time. I expect him on this very night.”
Clement glanced over at Olaf, who had been released and had his sword returned. Jacques was standing with the other three rowers, strong Norman men loyal to Clement, who were watching their hosts suspiciously.
“Paidraig O’Kane, we have journeyed far and wish to top off our water supply.”
Padraig nodded. “There is a spring that flows from the rocks.”
He whistled and pointed to a short stout man wearing a dirty white tunic. The man approached hastily and said something in Gaelic.
“Rory will show you where it is.”
Clement turned to Jacques and the three sailors.
“Jacques, can you see to it?”
“Yes, sire, consider it done, but it shall take some time. Being no quay to dock we will have to load the barrels on rafts and tow them.”
“Thank you, Jacques. Have Osment signal to the rest of the fleet. We will do one vessel at a time.”
Clement turned to his host, who was studying him carefully.
“I don’t understand,” Padraig said mystified.
“What is it you don’t understand, Padraig O’Kane?” Clement asked seriously.
“How is it a boy is given the command of such a fleet as this? How old are you? Twelve?”
“I am fourteen. My good friend Olaf, is fifteen and my other good friend, Gorm, is…well he might be sixty or eighty, but age is merely a number.”
“Then you are my son’s age,” Padraig said, pointing at Tieg, who was standing off to the side with a perturbed look, listening.
“The ship you see anchored closest to the shore is my own,” Clement stated. “The rest belong to King Henry. It is he who is responsible for us landing on your shore, but it is Mac Lochlainn whom I seek. I have a message to impart to him from my king.”
Padraig cocked a cynical eye. He wetted his lips and peered out at the quartet of vessels anchored in his bay.
“That is a marvelous looking specimen,” he said admiringly, gesturing toward the Green Ship. “I would give you a chest full of silver for it, Clement de la Haye.”
“And I would not sell it, Padraig O’Kane, but tell me…how do you speak our language?”
“I learned from a countryman, who landed on our shores during the time of the first King Henry. I was but a youth then. I traveled with him to Normandy and lived for half a dozen years among your people before returning to my native land. My wife, God rest her soul, hailed from that land of plenty.”
Padraig was looking beyond Clement toward the Green Ship and espied Dagena and Alice leaning on the rail.
“You have women on board your vessel, Clement de la Haye?”
Clement squinted into the morning sunlight. The bright rays caused the calm water of the bay to sparkle.
“Aye, the Lady Dagena and the Lady Alice.”
“Of good breeding?” Padraig asked rudely.
Clement’s head turned sharply toward his host.
“Explain yourself, sir?”
“Are they of noble blood?”
“Yes,” he lied, thinking of Dagena. He almost immediately regretted divulging this to the Irishman. There was something about him he did not trust. What if he had ill intent? He trusted that Osment and Pierre would post a strong guard on the vessel and see to its security, but he was still concerned. Padraig O’Kane could muster hundreds of men if he were so inclined. What if he decided to make a night attack on the ship?
“Well, then! Let us tarry on this shore no longer, Clement de la Haye. It is not often we have amiable guests not concerned with plunder.”
He turned to one of his trusted men and whispered something in his ear. Clement walked with his host. Olaf and Gorm followed. Tieg and a few of Padraig’s men took up the rear at a distance. They scaled a narrow path, lined by rocks and thick brambles, that led up the cliff to the castle.
Craig R. Hipkins grew up in Hubbardston Massachusetts. He is the author of medieval and gothic fiction. His novel, Adalbert is the sequel to Astrolabe written by his late twin brother Jay S. Hipkins (1968-2018)
He is an avid long-distance runner and enjoys astronomy in his spare time.