6. Ildico

You don’t get to make many decisions

Ildico looked at the sleeping Hun. She had barely eaten at the feast, but the king of the Huns had feasted, and drank, and then come to his new wife. Now he lay sprawled across the bed, his head almost over the edge, snoring. She had wrapped a fur around her and now sat huddled up in one a corner of the great bed. She thought about her grandmother, who had warned her that being too beautiful was a curse. Here she was, given as a bride to the great king Attila, who had conquered all the tribes of the Goths, whose armies had killed her father in battle and her little brother when they razed the village. A fine husband!

She listened as he snored, and thought about what her grandmother had said while she was being prepared for the wedding. Listen to me, an old woman who has seen many wars. I would happily watch the crows peck out their eyes, but that won’t happen. He has many wives, but no queen. You are beautiful, very beautiful. You could be queen. Queen for our people. Gain his favour, even if you hate him. He gives gifts to all his wives. Let our people be the gift he gives you. Give him a son, give him a favourite, and have your son inherit his empire. You’re scared, you’re scared, but try to find your courage. You could save us.

His snoring stopped. She took a deep breath, thinking he was awake again. But he wasn’t; he was snoring again. Only it sounded strange, almost as if he was choking? He was, he was choking! She scrambled over to his side. He was too drunk to wake. He might die! He might die…

No! She was going to be queen, she was going to have a son. She had to save him to save her people.

“Help! Help! The KING!! HELP!!” She screamed for help, all while trying to wake him up, to pull him up. He was too heavy. Desperate, she shoved him off the bed. He rolled onto the floor onto his stomach, taking the linen sheets with him, and a great stream of blood ran out of his mouth onto the rug. The servants had broken open the door, and ran over to help hoist him back up onto the bed. Ildico piled up the cushions to prop up his head, and they all listened, terrified, to his breathing. But the blood was all out: he only snored, oblivious to his near-death.

#

And then it happened that Rome and the Western Empire, fell to Attila, king of the Huns. It happened in this way. Attila had planned to attack Constantinople immediately after his return to his palace after his defeat at the Catalaunian Plains, for the Emperor Marcian had greatly angered him by refusing to pay to the Huns the gold that his predecessor Theodosius had promised. He was persuaded by Ardaric to wait, and regather his forces. For the loss against Aetius had led some of the farther tribes to rebel against their submission, and Attila was counselled that it was wiser to defeat the rebels and firmly reunite all the peoples under his command, and then to turn his attention to the Emperor of the East.

But it was not on Constantinople that his wrath fell. For in waiting and warring in his own lands, he acquired great advantages: Galla Placidia and Aetius in the meanwhile had both died, leaving Rome in the hands of Valentinian. Valentinian was not a wise Emperor, having murdered the general Aetius with his own hands. Attila was still abroad when the news arrived at his palace, but his queen, Ildico, sent word to him immediately of the news and begged him to return. It is rumoured that the queen herself urged Attila to leave Constantinople, and take his armies west to claim as his wife, Honoria, sister of the Emperor Valentinian. For this sister had behaved most shamefully, sending to the barbarian king to free her from her own brother. Attila heeded the words of Ildico, for she was his queen and favourite wife, having saved him from great misfortune during their wedding feast, and mother of his heir.

The armies of the Huns and all the tribes that had submitted to them moved west, and found no resistance. Valentinian failed to persuade the Visigoths to come to his aid, and no general had been found to replace Aetius. The Huns overran all the cities of northern Italy, and soon sacked Ravenna. The Emperor and his court were forced to flee over the sea, to Marcian in Constantinople. When they heard that the emperor was fled, the people of Rome sent to Attila, that they submitted to his rule and would open their gates. And so it was that when the Huns arrived, the gates stood open. Attila married Honoria, and was proclaimed King of the Romans. He was now lord of half of Europe, and in the east the people trembled to hear his name. For the Emperor Marcian would still in no way agree to pay gold to the Huns, but rather strengthened his own armies for the battle that must come.

But to finish in Rome, before we talk of that matter, a curious detail. For although Attila married Honoria, sister of Valentinian and daughter of Galla Placidia, it was not she was Empress. That great honour was bestowed upon Ildico, his queen and favourite wife. And though the Romans were angered by the slight to the noble Honoria, they could do nothing, for Ildico being from a tribes of Goths, the Gothic soldiers were most loyal to her and would not allow any to speak against her.

Jordanes, The Origin and History of the Goths

What really happened…

Attila died. His newest wife did not save his life, although it was probably just an accident, not well-earned revenge. The Hun Empire collapsed, and both the Eastern and Western Empires survived.

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