Before there was the novel, there were the stories...

by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New Stories: The Betrothals, 754 AD (Happened)

Note: From here on the stories posted are from the period of 2006-2008 before I started and during the entire process of writing An Involuntary King. They may include stories that wound up making the cut in the novel, others were cut but significant elements remain, stories that were cut entirley and the plot changed, anad finally those stories that I wrote for fun and never intended to include in the novel. The following is of the second type. It is not in the novel, but it still "happened". I will come up with a list of codes for them and post a link in the right hand column.

“This would be a good place for a bridge,” the King of Críslicland, Arneth, observed to his two sons who had just forded the Trenta with him, leading their horses. Lawrence, the younger, had had to struggle with the depth of the river, for, though he was tall for his age, he was only eight years old. His face burned red as he came up from slipping under and saw his older brother’s grinning face. Infuriatingly, the ætheling, named for his father, reached over and tousled his wet hair.

“Well, at least now you will have washed for your little bride,” the younger Arneth said with a laugh.

Lawrence wanted to appeal to his father to make Arneth stop teasing and taunting him, but he knew that would only make it worse and earn him his father’s rebuking look. “Be a man, son. You will not be King like your older brother, but you will be an important man in the kingdom, and you need to start acting like it now.” He had heard it often.

The journey was not very long from the King’s stronghold in Lincoln to where the King and Queen of Affynshire resided at Ratherwood on the River Don. The proximity had made bosom friends of the two kings, Arneth and Willibrod of Affynshire. It followed that the two families would be joined by marriage someday. Willibrod had two daughters and Arneth two sons, so two marriages had been agreed upon.

“I bet Kenna is the prettier of the two,” twelve-yearold Arneth boasted.

Lawrence eyed him. He would rather have avoided the entire humiliating business. The journey was worthwhile, allowing him to ride all day, camp at night, and see the countryside and the people along the way. Fording a river as big as the Trenta would have been the most exciting part of it if it had not been such a struggle.

“Father?” the younger boy appealed.

“Aye, my son?” King Arneth was a tall man, broad shouldered, fair of hair, with blue eyes that were disarmingly gentle. He loved the three children that survived of those his wife, Edith, had borne him. Lawrence knew the ætheling was his favorite, then their little sister, the frail, big-eyed Lulla, but he accepted coming last, for both his parents had plenty of love to spread around their children.

“Will you build a bridge there, Father?”

Arneth seized on the topic to tease his young brother again. “Aye, Father, do. It should be a shame if the lad fell in again.” He grinned gleefully at the red that tinged Lawrence’s cheeks again.

Their father ignored him. “Aye, methinks I shall talk this over with King Willibrod when we are at Ratherwood. One of the local men once told me the old Romans had a stone bridge there. They always built them at the most advantageous point. It would be good for trade between our two kingdoms.”

“But Father, would it not also be a way for our enemies to attack us?”(Arneth asked.)

The King smiled at his heir indulgently. “Now, Arneth, what makes you think our dear friends in Affynshire would ever attack us? Especially with the two of you wed to their two daughters?”

Lawrence stuck his tongue out at Arneth behind his father’s back. The aetheling studiously ignored him.

Their father continued, “And a bridge may be defended as easily as a ford, mayhap more easily.”

Lawrence sat quietly on his horse as the procession entered the small village that had grown about the gates of Ratherwood. The village itself was composed of wattle walled cottages that stretched along the single road, one of the great roads built by the Romans a few hundred years ago. The paving of those roads had long been covered with dirt and dust and overgrown in places, but local chieftains and lords did try to keep them passable, for other than the rivers, these roads were the only reliable way to travel. Even they were dangerous at times, with bandits who lay in wait in forested stretches to waylay the unsuspecting traveler. That had not been a concern on the royal procession’s journey, accompanied as they were by armed men in mail and bearing thick, round, heavy ashwood shields with iron bosses in the middle. These men walked behind the few mounted men.

The boys, like their father, were clad in richer versions of the mail armor the warriors who traveled with them wore. They had helms of iron and steel as well, though they and their father had them strapped to their saddles. The older man was bearded but his fair hair, like that of his boys, straggled down to his shoulders. Under their mail they wore heavy padded brigantines and linen tunics. Their legs were wrapped with wool strips and they wore leather shoes heavier and better made than the warriors had. The horseman who rode before the King carried a long pole topped by a banner depicting a sea eagle gripping a cross in its talons, the banner of King Arneth of Críslicland. The land once called Lindum Colonia by the Romans was long since a Christian kingdom. The Irish missionaries of Northumbria and Lindisfarne had seen to that.

Lawrence’s head swiveled from side to side as the Ratherwood villagers greeted the King and his two handsome sons. The boy smiled at them when they went to touch his leg, waved strips of cloth at them, and called out their messages of welcome and a few ribald comments on the betrothal to come. In the middle of the line of cottages the boy saw a woman of middle years come forward with an affectionate smile. “God bless you, sire,” she said to him.

“And God bless and keep you, Mother,” he said in return. The woman beamed at him as she watched him continue with the procession to the turnoff to the stronghold.

Lawrence’s face was intent, examining the fortress as they rode through the gap in an earthwork and towards the gate. Like Lincoln, it was a vertical timber stockade, with rough hewn trunks of tall trees sunk into the ground around the inner buildings and tied together with fiber ropes. It was somewhat smaller than Lincoln but still impressive. The King of Affynshire’s banner flapped in the steady breeze, a sunburst shimmering in gold thread on a blue background.

“Wager on which girl is prettier?” his older brother invited. (I would put the line about Kenna being prettier at this point rather than earlier. It all fits together well here.)

“Nay,” Lawrence replied. “Josephine is only six. Girls are pretty ugly (I’d use a different intensifier here – maybe “always”? Mostly?) at six.”

“Like boys at eight, eh?” the aetheling taunted.

It was not so much the journey now but the fanfare and bright festoons within the stockade walls that excited the boys. They rode with their father into the dusty courtyard and stopped before the porch of the Great Hall. To each side of it were small wood plank and wattle buildings, some private living spaces for families, longer buildings for caring for animals and stabling horses, others with ovens or forges in front for cooking and metalworking, a little stone church, and many stout buildings for storage. In any Anglo-Saxon steading, from tiny cottage to great stronghold, most of the available space went to storing food and other supplies, as it could be a long time between harvests or wagons delivering survival needs from other parts of the kingdom and beyond.

In front of the small porch of the Great Hall, the King and Queen stood to meet their guests. Willibrod had much the same build and coloring of his Saxon ally, King Arneth. His wife was full blood Briton, a member of the old royal family from before the advent of the Saxons and Angles, and she was petite, dark, and dressed in exotic clothing with elaborate designs embroidered on or woven into the kirtle and mantle she wore.

Lawrence and his brother dismounted when their father did. King The older Arneth went to his friend and clasped him warmly. He bowed to Queen Mairead. She smiled, then asked him, “But sire, your lady wife? She is not with you?”

Arneth shook his head regretfully. “Many pardons, my lady. She could not travel. She is ever plagued with aches throughout her body, poor woman.”

“God grant her ease from her pain,” King Willibrod responded.

All the while both the young Arneth and younger Lawrence had been peering around the three adults at the little girls and the boy who stood behind them. The older girl, Lawrence’s age, was tall but thin, dark of hair and eye like her mother. She looked nervous but was holding herself still. Beside her Lawrence’s betrothed to be, Josephine, whom he had heard had the pet name Sunshine, stood and looked bored. She kept plucking at the shoulders of her rich gown, clearly not used to such finery. She did not look either him or his brother in the eye. She was the only one of the three whose coloring was like her father’s. Lawrence could not see her eyes, so he did not know if she was as blue eyed, as was every member of his own family. Next to her was a small boy, hardly more than a toddler, who was as dark as his mother and his older sister. His eyes were round as shields and he had his forefinger up his nose.

Lawrence’s father was speaking. “My lord and lady, may I present my sons to you?”

The royal couple smiled happily as they leaned down to greet the two flaxen- haired boys. “Daughters, come join us and meet your future husbands,” Mairead called.

The older girl, Kenna, step forward with quiet dignity. The fair-haired Josephine reluctantly came forward, then turned frank, considering eyes on Lawrence. Her eyes were indeed blue, very blue, and they seemed to inspect him and find him wanting. He tried to respond by looking as tall and strong as he could.

King Arneth introduced the ætheling first and watched as the boy bowed graciously to the King and Queen and then to Kenna, as she was named to him. It was Lawrence’s turn then, and he aped his brother’s civility, then surprised everyone, and especially Josephine, by taking her pudgy hand and kissing it. She snatched it back and wiped it on her dress. The adults laughed. Lawrence grinned at the girl.

The small boy turned out to be the heir to the Affynshire throne, Lorin. He came forward rather timidly but bowed to King Arneth and his sons and accepted their own respectful bows. He turned and went to his mother and stood clinging to her legs, peeking out at Lawrence from her skirts. Lawrence gave the child his warmest smile and was rewarded with a dazzling one of his own.

As the father and sons were ushered through the short porch and into the feasting hall, little Josephine sneaked a look at Lawrence, her face revealing some reluctant interest.

The Great Hall was alike decorated with banners and other festoons and lined with repainted shields of the chief warriors of the household. Their bosses were so polished that even with the scars from swords and axes Lawrence could see his own reflection in them. Though it was midday the Hall was dark, being lit only by torches and the long firepit that stretched the length of the middle of the rush- strewn dirt floor. Smoke gathered at the peak of the roof, slowly dissipating into the thatch and outside, adding to the dimness. Lawrence liked the effect. It made him feel like a warrior in one of the tales the bards told of dragons and giants and great feasting in celebration of courage and victory in war. He stood up straight and tall and put his palm on the hilt of his small sword. He walked around the Hall with a swagger, pretending to be Beowulf at Heorott, the mead hall of the Great King.

He had a tagalong. Little Lorin followed him. Lawrence said to him, “What do you want?”

Lorin smiled and reached for his hand and kissed it.

Lawrence snatched his hand back just as Josephine had with his. But something told him the child was just showing admiration. Flattered, he clapped the boy on the shoulder and nodded. “You want to be my oath man?”

The cherub face lit up and the boy nodded enthusiastically.

After the feast he sat where he had been placed as a guest of honor at the table on the dais and played with his belt knife. Lorin had been dragged off, protesting, to take a nap by serving women. The adults were talking and laughing. The bards had told their tales and sung their songs, and the tumblers and other entertainers had left to rest up for the even greater feast later that evening.

Lawrence glanced over at his father who was deep in conversation with King Willibrod. He got up and went to stand behind his father’s chair to listen, affecting a bored and disinterested air. He had noticed long ago that in general if he was quiet, adults did not notice him.

King Willibrod asked Arneth, “Your southern borders. Are they free of raiders?”

The King of Críslicland shook his head. “Nay, but the Mercians have had a good year, or so it seems as they have stayed mostly on their side of the Welland. It may be that in his dotage King Aethelbald has lost his taste for war and his thegns are too busy battling each other.”

“That is true for us as well. And you have no trouble with the East Anglians?”

Arneth shook his head briskly. “Nay, in fact we are almost as close in our ties with Alberht and Beorna as we are with you, my friend. They have sent me a most capable commander who is Beorna’s kin, a man named Horsa, who leads part of our army.” He took a long draught of ale, then set down the drinking horn and sighed. “If there is threat any where it is from my own brother.”

“Nifhmund? Truly? I should have thought he would have learned his lesson by now.” King Willibrod was well aware of the younger man’s aborted attempts on more than one occasion to displace his royal brother.

“My brother is ever prey to the influence and promises of ambitious men. And I may have been too lenient and forgiving. All is calm now, but with Nifhmund one should never be off his guard,. Iif for no other reason than that men lose their lives every time he stirs.”

Willibrod lifted his own bowl. “To peace, at long last, my friend,” he toasted.

Lawrence took a quick look at his father’s face. It seemed weary, resigned.

“May it be so, by the will of God,” his father breathed.

Lawrence moved away. The fear his father expressed about his kinsman Nifhmund disturbed him. He was his father’s brother. Brothers were not supposed to war with each other. He knew Nifhmund, as well as his lady and children. Enemies were not supposed to be people you spent a festive Yule with and got gifts from. He preferred not to think about it but to concentrate his fantasies of war and heroism against the Mercians. They were a nice, safe, easy to identify enemy. The only problem was that they were more or less at peace with the Mercians. He might never have the chance to go to war with them as his brother, the future king’s good right arm. (I don’t quite understand this sentence. Is something missing?)

The boy looked up and saw the little girl who would someday be his wife furtively leaving the hall, carrying something inside her dress. He glanced at the adults at the high table, making a quick bow they did not see, then slipped away after her..

It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the bright afternoon sunlight once he was out the door of the feasting hall. He shaded his eyes and caught a glimpse of Josephine, still cradling whatever she was carrying, dart out from the side of a small shed and make for the gate of the stronghold. He saw her dash out, then followed her to see what she had and where she was going. The guards on the gate must have been somewhere else, joining in on the festivities.

Out the gate he looked to the left and right but did not see where she had gone. He hesitated, unsure if his father would be happy that he went outside the fortress walls. But, he figured, if the girl could go outside it must be safe. It would never be allowed at Lincoln.

He felt a tug on his tunic and looked around. “How did you get out?” he asked the small boy who was smiling up at him. When the boy did not answer, he shrugged. “Well, oath man, we are seeking a girl taken by the Mercian raiders. Do you know where the fair Josephine was taken?”

Lorin nodded and pointed a chubby finger to the right.

Lawrence pretended to mount a horse, unsheathe and lift a sword into the air, and cried, “Onward!”

As best he could Lorin did the same. “Onwood!”

Just past the first earthwork rise on the back side of the stronghold they came upon Josephine sitting high up in a tree. Lorin pointed to her. Lawrence shielded his eyes to look up. She had a cony in her lap and was stroking its long ears. “What are you doing in a tree? Girls shouldn’t climb trees,” he called up to her.

Josephine glared at him frankly. “Why not?” she demanded.

He said, hitching up his belt, “It’s not ladylike.”

“That’s stupid. I am a lady and I climb trees. So that means climbing trees is ladylike. “ She gave the boys a sharp, eloquent nod. “Besides, you can’t tell me what to do.”

Lawrence gaped. “Aye, I can. I’m your husband.”

She eyed him coolly. “Not yet, you aren’t. Anyway, you still couldn’t tell me what to do.”

“What if I was the king? Then you would have to do what I say,” he insisted.

She shook her head with a long-suffering expression. “You won’t be King. That goofy- looking brother of yours will be. I’m glad. I never want to be a queen.”

“You don’t? Why not?”

“Because it’s boring.”

Lawrence considered this and nodded. Hhe rather thought she was right.

Just then the cony she was petting jerked out of her arms and fell towards the ground. She shrieked. Lawrence reacted instantly and caught the terrified animal. Josephine watched with wonder as he cradled the trembling cony in his arms and spoke sweetly to it. “There, there, little one. It’s all right. Lawrence has you.”

He petted the creature for a minute, then gently leaned over and set it on the ground. It hopped away.

A female voice shouted from around the wall of the stronghold, “My lady! My lord! Are you out here?”

Josephine frowned and started to climb down. Lawrence reached to help her when she was nearly on the ground. “I don’t need help,.” she protested.

“I know you don’t. I just wanted to be nice.”

She stood on the ground in front of him and looked at him, measuring. “How did you do that? Calm the cony, I mean?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I just love them, I guess.”

The serving woman had come up to the three children. “My lord and my lady, your mother will be very cross with you. Come along. You know you aren’t supposed to come out here.” She took Lorin’s hand and led him away, looking back and gesturing to the girl.

Josephine was still considering the boy from Críslicland. She seemed to come to a decision. “All right. I’ll marry you,” she affirmed.

As she went to the woman and let herself be shepherded back through the gate, Lawrence looked after her. He smiled and came in after them.

The next day the ceremony was held in the stockade. The four children stood awkwardly before the priest and their families and were pronounced well and truly betrothed. Throughout the rest of the celebrations until they rode home again to Lincoln, Lawrence rarely saw the little girl, though Lorin would not leave his side. During the betrothal ceremony Josephine did stand next to him, but spent the entire time humming to herself and swishing her gown around her ankles.

“I told you Kenna would be the prettier one,” his brother stated as they rode with their father back to the east.

“Mayhap aye.. or mayhap nay,” tThe younger boy replied, inscrutably.

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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .