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

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Old Stories: Josephine's Breakdown, 770 AD

1970. For reference, I graduated from high school in 1970. Laura appears to have graduated after her junior year in high school, since she started college in the fall same as I. We we were not long before our split at this point. Laura's family was in a terrible auto accident, her father was killed, her brother and mother severely injured, but Laura was away in school. The next year my own father died suddenly of a stroke. The realities of adult life hit us hard. Perhaps I will say more about that later.

This is one of the oddest stories. I think Laura wrote it. My own angst will come out in succeeding stories.. what we have from hereon in are plots that would, had they been included in the novel, taken place after the ending it has now... though not the epilogue. Lawrence acquires a concubine and Shannon goes missin, feared dead. These plots do have more recent treatments, but they definitely do not apear in the novel or even in the Universe of the novel.

January 770

he Queen was quiet. The court wondered and conjectured at this. No longer did her gay laugher echo through the hassles. They ere used to a Queen of moods and passions. They were used to reading on her face the state of things. When she was happy she was bubbling with it, sparking with it, when she was upset it was written on her face; she trembled as though ready to cry but determined to be brave. Her shin was lifted defiantly, lips quivering. But in her eyes she was entirely given away. Help me, they said, I am so afraid and unhappy and lost.

But lately, no one knew whether she was miserable or content. Her face was calm and reserved.

It cased Rory at last to inquire. Lawrence was aware of the change more than anyone. But there was a wall of silence between himself and his wife He could not ask.

Rory and Shannon were worried. They said nothing to each other until several nights after Christmas.

Jo was listening politely to a friend of Lawrence's a monk, who was relating a story to her.

Jocelyn was listening intently and several other ladies also. At the end of the story the monk got hysterical with laughter. The ladies and laughed and laughed until they all were crying. The commotion attracted the attention of the whole hall. Rory and Shannon had been watching Jo all the while. Josephine dearly loved a good story. Her eyes would twinkle merrily, she would toss her head and laugh gaily and insist upon retelling it several times. Now however she sat as straight and proud as a carved image, her face as smooth as marble, no expression played across it but an obedient smile curved reluctantly, showing for an instant pearly teeth and then it vanished. The monk noticed nothing. He thought her as Queenly a woman as he had ever known. He did not know the warm, lovable Josephine.

Shannon and Percy exchanged a glance.

"'Tis not my Queen up there. It cannot be her," Shannon said as if he really believed that the real Josephine had been kidnapped and exchanged for this one.

"I thought it was not just me thinking something was amiss!" Rory said slowly. "You are right tho', she is not herself." His face was a mask of agony at Josephine being troubled.

"I'll tell ye what I think," Shannon said, glancing about to see if anyone was listening. "Although I could die for breathing such words, 'tis to do with our noble Elerde that lately left us for no apparent reason, when before he would leave for nothing, although he risked his neck by staying. Tell me if I am wrong. Sweet gay Josephine departed when he did and silent Jo came then?"

Rory winced. "Aye it is true enough. But don't leap to any conclusions. She loved him true, well enough you and I know it, and we're no cause to blame her for mourning his departure."

Shannon shook his head. "I shant see the day I blame Jo for anything, but friend, we know her well, do we not? Then tell me, the Jo we know would weep and tremble and show it so whole castle could see her unhappiness, and whom she was unhappy about. I know it, I am sure of it!"

Rory sighed. "Aye, I know. I've though about it a lot lately. But something else is wrong. Something is very wrong."

Shannon, Rory, the monk, and few other that were closed friends of the King and Queen were invited to the King's rooms for a quiet gathering that evening. This was a common practice with Lawrence. He liked to forget his heavier responsibilities as King and just enjoy his friends.

Right after supper Josephine had an errand to run to the nursery. She never sent a maid, but always went herself no matter what the errand. She spoke quickly to one of the nurses and then went in to her children.

Peter at once demanded a story. She had told him earlier that day that she knew a good story but it was a secret and she couldn't tell it yet.

"Oh dear me," she cried in mock horror, "I forgot all about it. And now the story cannot be told tonight. It's all my fault for forgetting…will you ever forgive me?"

Peter threw his arms about her and forgave her. She smiled thankfully.

The nurse came in with the other four, all ready for ed. They all cried out at once to be held by their mother. Josephine kneeled and took the baby in her arms. Her eyes misted as she looked down at her baby and the four children clustered about her, their little eyes shining up at their adored mother.

A quiet woman, Was she, and shy, Unnoticed and small among others.

She had no opinions Knew nothing of world affairs Of wars and intrigue But sometimes wondered why.

She was not all interesting naturally to talk to. Nor to look at. She liked a nice house But had no definite ideas. Whatever her mother-in-law or sister-in-law liked Suited her.

She adored her grand husband And never let herself think He married her money. Not herself.

The words came slipping off Josephine's tongue dreamily, the children not understanding, but listened, enchanted by her voice, the flow of the words,

Will you believe me When I tell you her secret? She was a Queen! Oh yes, a Queen! Ah yes…

Josephine was suddenly interrupted by a deep voice.

Ah yes A Queen! The fairest and kindest And wisest Queen For she was a mother And her children knew that She was a Queen…yes! A queen and a mother

Rory and Josephine locked smiling glances.

"I ought to recognize that, seeing that I wrote it. It has been several years since I sang it, though."

Jo's smile vanished. Tavish was suddenly crying. He had brightened quickly at Rory's entrance and at once recognizing the man, began to wail.

Rory looked apologetic and awkward. He turned to Jo. "I'm sorry Jo, I didn't know he had anything against me. Sorry, sorry old man. I'll leave post haste."

A looked of unspeakable sorrow passed quickly across Josephine's face.

She wanted to comfort his tears away. But she didn't touch him. Her voice was strict but quiet when she spoke.

"All right, sill , enough no more. B ashamed! In front of all of us, too."

His sobs ceased and he held his little head up defiantly.

"Want Ler!" he offered as his explanation for his behavior.

"Tavish!" came the sharp rebuke from his adopted mother. "Have you so soon forgotten? Never, never again. He won't come. You must not speak his name. I shant have it heard here again!"

The little head nodded obediently. He came and lay his head on her shoulder as though to ask forgiveness.

Her face softened. She leaned over and whispered, " I love you," in his ear and all was well again.

Rory had tears in his eyes as he walked beside her in the hall. With him her quiet was back. He could not tell whether she was deep in thought or not even thinking.

"Jo, Jo," he begged, "What is wrong? What happened to you - you are not yourself."

She glanced at him in surprise as if he suddenly had uttered something insane.

"Why, Rory, you are upset. You've been under too much of a strain lately."

"Josephine!" he cried suddenly. "You're avoiding my question. There is nothing wrong with me. It's you! Jo, you know you can tell me. I only live to love and care for you."

She continued staring at him as if he were crazy.

"I can't imagine where you're getting such crazy ideas. If you go on like this, I shall call the doctor."

Rory stopped dead still and stared at her unbelieving. Then he grasped her by the shoulders and shook her slightly.

"Yea, truly I shall go insane in a moment. What are you doing? You look at me as if you never knew me, never loved me. What's this cold wall you have put up, Josephine? Where are you behind it? You are inhuman, you are dead! Though just a minute ago I saw tears in your eyes as you recited a song of mine. Jo, open your ears! I'm crying out to you! Can't you hear me? Can't you? Can't you?"

She dissolved suddenly into terror. Sobs wracked her body but no tears came. In a minute she regained her composure, but there was a wild, frightened look in her eyes.

"No, I don't want to hear. I'm afraid of myself. Strange, terrible, thoughts! Oh, no, I don't want to hear. Don't want to, don't want to, don't want to!"

Rory began to understand .

For many months she had been under a terrible strain. She had to keep her composure and never forget that she was a Queen; never le Gaylorde gain a victory in breaking her. She had to be cheerful so that her children would not be frightened. She never knew whether Lawrence was still alive, whether Peter would be suddenly taken from her and slain, whether they might all be killed - whether many of her dearest friends were still alive. On top of everything else she believe that one man she loved was traitor to the man she loved most of all. And she wondered if he was going to take advantage of the situation.

And then all at once came relief and joy. Her faith was restored in Elerde. And joy of joys, Rory was alive!

In the midst of these joys came a hard blow - sorrow, pain, disaster? She did not know what it was herself. It was a long awaited breath to a part of her soul she had been smothering. It was inevitable. She and Elerde could not go on living so near while defying their emotions. She was blameless - the agreement between Elerde and Lawrence was made without her influence.

But guild set into a mind already exhausted with strain and fear. She dreamed Lawrence would never forgive her. Her crime of loving another than him magnified itself a hundredfold. She judged herself unworthy of him, unworthy of her friends, unworthy as a mother, unworthy to live. She dreamed that God was punished her by letting her live a few days longer… just a few days longer, letting her suffer.

In her nightmares she was with Robert and Elerde. She was condemned to be with one of them though they hated her and wouldn't speak to her. Lawrence was far, far, away, never to be seen, never to be heard, or thought about without a terrible pain wracking her. And when she though of him she could feel his anger and hurt, for when she thought about him, it disturbed his peace.

She lived half in, half out of this nightmare, never sure which was reality. At length for her one protection against madness, she began living mechanically, and banned thought all together from her head. When Lawrence rose from their bed and went to the window each night, she said nothing of it. She allowed herself to think nothing, feel nothing.

Of course Rory knew little of this. But he began to understand her state of mind.

The moment passed. The terror died in her eyes.

"Goodness," she said, smiling. "I'm a little faint. Whatever was I saying just now. You must forgive me. I am afraid I wasn't myself."

Rory said nothing. But he resolved to do everything he could to help her.

Everyone else was already in the King's chambers. There was a deep conversation going on about the moral state of the younger generation.

There was a faint smile on everyone's face as Jo and Rory entered. They leapt at the chance to tease, knowing that no man was more honorable than Rory and that he would take the teasing almost seriously.

"Here's a direct example of the bad morals of our generation, whatever we may say about the younger one. Don't look so surprised Rory, we know where you've been to!"

Everyone laughed at the mortified look Rory had when he divined their meaning.

"Aye, and it is lucky for ye I'm a forgiving man, for those are bold words. Forget ye not that ye speak of the Queen!" he shouted as his antagonist was preparing to speak again. "And forget ye not that ye speak with Rory of McInnis, who would not hesitate to die for the honor of his Queen!"

"'Would be a shame, Rory McInnis, to die for a mistaken cause," Jo whispered into his ear. As the company had dissolved into hilarious laughter, none heard her other than himself.

He turned quickly, thinking he must have misheard her. She stared vacantly into space, unaware that she had said anything.

He made his way toward Shannon and Lawrence who were now engaged in a serious discussion. Shannon grinned at Rory.

"So, the man who returned from the dead is still as gullible as ever!"

"Ach, I knew t'were teasing. If I didn't, they'd all be dead by now."

He turned to Lawrence, who was staring across the room at the Queen, his face twisted in pain.

"Where is she? Where is she?" he muttered, more to himself than to anyone. Then seeing Rory's attention, he cried out, "Look at her! Just look at her! Her face is dead. As if her soul had fled, leaving a mindless body to carry on. I'm frightened, Rory. Where is my Josephine?"

"Come on, man," said Rory grimly. "You and I need to have a little talk."

When they went to another room he suddenly said, "You can see she is very ill. We must not stop at anything to help her."

Lawrence nodded. "But what can we do? We don't know what's wrong!"

"I want to ask you, you must forgive me, but I am sure…it's very important. Why did Elerde leave?"

Lawrence paled. "Yes," he said brokenly, "it must be important, even though I should rather forget, I will tell you, for it was then that she…changed."

"It is very simple. I was so grateful to Elerde for his role in overcoming the usurpation this past summer, for pretending to be with the insurgents while he was really looking out for me and my interests… and Jo's and the children's…and for completely reversing the situation in my favor by fooling Gaylorde, that I offered him anything he wished.

In a weak moment he asked for the only thing I had that he wanted. He asked for Josephine. For one night. It was, of course, impossible. Impossible for all of us that he should stay. So he left."

Lawrence's face was dead grey.

Rory understood instantly what Lawrence could not, for every time he thought about it the pain was so terrible he could not think straight.

Rory explained as well as he could what he though Jo must have gone through. Lawrence was in agony over what she had suffered without his realizing.

"Oh, what I fool I was and have been. Not to know, not to understand. Oh, dear blameless Josephine. It was none of your fault and yet you suffered more than either he or I. I should have known that would blame yourself that god had made you of so loving a nature as to love him as swell as I. And all this while I have been blaming myself, blaming fate, laming Elerde, but never you. I will make it up to you, though. "

"Rory, I thank you. No I have only to convince her of her blamelessness and of my love. But how do I bring her back to herself? How? Rory, tell me how?"

Rory pondered this a moment. "Only by shock I should think. Talk to her about Elerde and what happened. Make her think about it. And then be there to convince her that it's all right, you do love her, no one blames her, and that God will forgive her."

And so he did. After he chased everyone else away he came and directly asked her to remember that horrible night. At fist she said she didn't understand what he was talking about. He began to suggest how it must have been for her.

She turned pale and began to tremble. "No, no I don't want to remember!"

He went on. She became completely hysterical. Her nightmare was now reality and she forgot Lawrence's presence completely. She dreamed now that her time was up. The devil had come for her. For her betrayal she was never to have another moment of peace. She wanted to see Lawrence once more before she left, to beg his forgiveness. She screamed and screamed for him, but he would not come; she was not worthy of him any longer.

For Lawrence it was a nightmare, too. But he believed with all his heard she would be all right if he could only make her listen. And so he went on talking, droning on in a soothing monotone.

At least she became aware that she was in his arms. She was too exhausted to think any longer. She only she was safe in his arms. And feeling secure, she fell asleep.

When she awoke, it was to a real but unhappy world. She was bewildered. She could not remember if she had dreamt some of the things she thought she heard Lawrence say the night before. But she was quiet and listened to him repeat it all again. How he loved her no matter what happened. How he never blamed her for anything. How he only was sad that she was unhappy and was blaming herself for all the sorrow and woe. And at last she understood. She cried silently, cried and cried and said she was sorry she caused him so much pain. So much pain the night before and the days and days before that. And he laughed and called her silly for worrying about things that she didn't have to.

And then she fell into a deep, long, dreamless sleep.

* * *

The whole castle was relieved. Things were back to normal. Josephine emerged into her usual gay and merry self. Sometimes she was thoughtful. Not unhappy. Just thoughtful.

But she was unhappy when she discovered what she had done to little Tavish. One day in nursery something reminded him of his favorite, Elerde, and although he had carefully trained himself not to cry, he accidentally spoke the forbidden name. He cringed and looked down quietly, as if expecting punishment.

Jo was horrified.

"Oh little Tavish, what have I done do you? You want him to come back, don't you? Well, he will come back some day, I'm sure. Elerde will come back. I know he will come back." And Jo's tears mixed with Tavish's.

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About the author

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