The castle did not expect Josephine's return. Rejected queens just did not come back, not even this one! Rory, walking thoughtfully outside the city's walls was first to see the retinue which was headed by a somber Josephine.
She caught sight of him an a rush of joy caught her. "Rory!" she cried, and he leapt and rant to her. "Rory, my dear Rory, has it been two years?"
Rory flashed his familiar smile. "Yes, two long years. Well met, Josephine, well met!"
Josephine's yes sadden "I've come to be a mother to my children. Do they remember me?"
"Of course, they do. Well, perhaps not Donalbain, but he too you for it to have mattered. Josephine, they have not had a happy life since you left. There is little joy in Lawrencium."
As the entered the city, people looked up. Slowly, recognition struck them and they smiled. Some cheered, dropped everything and began to follow her.
"Rory," she said hesitantly, "Will Lawrence let me in?"
Rory looked grave. "Let you in, yes. Beyond that, I cannot say. I have learned one thing in these last two years - I know nothing."
An irritated Lawrence yelled at Clancy, "For God's sake, what is all that racket? Are they hanging a thief?" He went back to his documents.
Several minutes later, Clancy burst into the room with a look of excitement on his face. Before he could say a word, Josephine entered. Lawrence bolted up, nearly upsetting his heavy chair.
When Josephine's eyes focused on her husband, her look of cold defiance turned to surprise. He was thinner, deep-eyed, almost haggard. After looking directly at her, he averted his eyes and asked, with a suspecting tone, "What have you heard?"
On hearing his voice again after over two years, the Queen's first impulse was to cry "Oh, Lawrence!" but she caught herself up. "I have heard nothing. I have returned only to be a mother to my children. Why? Is Juliana not here?"
"No!" Lawrence spat out. He turned and abruptly went into an antechamber. A little hope came into her heart. She had not expected to have a change at his heart. Now she knew she would regain her love at all costs. She stepped over to the bed and ran her hand over its coverlet with an inaudible sigh.
In the nursery the children sat about playing with long wooden sticks and blocks, making tripods and houses. Josephine's eyes filled with wonder. She had left when Peter was 4, the twins 3, and Donalbain 2. No little Donalbain was standing, shouting in a toddler's voice at his big brother who sat with a long-suffering look on his face. Catie and Lainie busied themselves with making sticks dance while Tavish sat and drew intricate designs on a piece of cheap parchment. It was the baby, Donal, who looked up at his mother's radiant face first. He stared straight into her eyes a moment, puzzling. Suddenly, he looked shocked and cried, "Mama!" and then ran right over the sticks to her. The girls looked up, cried and ran to her. Peter, his face away from her at first, hesitated, then turned. His moth dropped open. He turned to Tavish, socked him on the shoulder said, "Ma!" and rushed over to her. Tavish smiled and joined them.
Just then Lorin burst in. "Josie, is that you? I didn't think I'd ever see you again!"
The Queen could barely stand it. "Oh, Lorin!" she wept. "I can't believe they would be so beautiful! Oh, how could I have ever left them?"
He stayed with her awhile while she played with her children. Presently they left the little ones discussing marvelous plans now that mama was back.
Peter rushed out after her. "I knew you would come back! Now will Daddy not be so sad? " Josephine kissed him and he smiled. She and Lorin walked on.
"Lorin, is Lawrence sad as Peter says?"
Lorin looked his old weary self. "He's the loneliest man alive. Days after you left, all his friends deserted him in pure disgust. Only I and Juliana remained." He paused. :she is long gone. She became used to court and was no longer the cultured, quiet girl., but now a mocking, insulting elitist. She rebuked all but his coolest attitude, insulted him at first subtly, then outright. He finally flew into a rage one day and she fled. I'm surprised he is still alive today. It must be the children that sustain him."
"And perhaps hope?" the Queen suggested.
Lawrence refused to come to dinner, so Josephine forced her way past Clancy later in the evening. She demanded Lawrence speak with her. When he tied to be cool and distance, she flared at him. "Lawrence, if you think you're convincing, you are out of your mind.
He then grew angry. "Well, then, if you must know everything, I will tell you. I took Juliana through weakness, a weakness that of which I am ashamed. She was at first a friend- knowledgeable, then physical consolation and finally what I lacked with you, not with me. Then I realized what I was doing. But it was too late. When you left I teetered between the knife and Juliana's bed. Disbelief decided me, and I fell into her arms. But then she changed.
"Why did you not send for me?"
"And be rejected? I'm beyond amazement that you would return at all . To leave a faithful Elerde for me. I've not had the courage dare to think that you would forgive me."
Josephine began to weep. "But I do!"
"Oh, don't say that! I have less courage to face your goodness."
"You forgave me when I was faithless!"
"But you are supposed to be weak. A man, a king, is supposed to be strong."
"I am stronger now, dear Lawrence," she said. He looked up unbelieving. She reached her hand out and he slowly came closer. Then all at once he rushed at her, throwing his arms around her. The both were laughing and sighing with joy. He kissed her brow, her nose, her chin, her shoulders, her hands, her cheeks. Then he drew her closer. And he kissed her lips his face growing more serious and intent. She strained up to him with her hands pressing at the small of his back. Kissing her neck and biting at it, he took one of her breasts in his hand and clasped it. He kissed her again and they both grew dizzy with longing. And the bed was waiting, as it had been for two long years.
On to post-laura stories.
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
Monday, July 20, 2009
Old Stories: Josephine's Homecoming, outtakes