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

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Stories: Ambush on the Road (Cut)

Besides the fact that we moved Affynshire and Roland does not appear, there is no Robin Hood-like character in the novel. In fact, Aethelwick is in the novel with a past as an outlaw, but he has been pardoned and elebated to a rank in the army and becomes Lawrence's trainer bty the time the novel starts. This story is in many ways a nod to my first hero, Robin Hood, as in Richard Greene's British series of the 1950s which I watched when about six in La Puente, California. The Roland plot is a holdover from the original stories.

Late December 766

he winter chill invaded the King's warm cloak as he rode, the journey stretching out before him, already many weeks past his leave-taking from his beloved.

Lawrence was grateful to have the journey through the forest and then the open countryside to keep his mind off how much he missed Josephine. If he had loved her before, he loved with a burning intensity now that she carried their child. His misgivings about the quest -- to set Affynshire' s business in order after the old King's death so that the heir, Prince Lorin, could take the throne when he was of age -- troubled him, but he tried his best to remember it was as safe a journey as he could take. He would be back with Josephine soon, certainly before the baby was born. Or he hoped he could.

In spite of his best efforts, though, it was impossible for the King not to let his thoughts stray to his young wife. He tried to keep them on fond memories and away from worrisome ones. He would think of a sweet or intimate moment, and he would smile.

It was with such a smile on his face that the King, who rode at the front of his party save for two men at arms, was brought violently out of his reverie when a "zzzippp" sound cut the silence, followed by a sickening thud as an arrow flew out of the woods and struck one of the guards in front of him. His first thought was "outlaws". He raised his frame in his spurs to look around at the same time a number of his guards swarmed around him to protect him.

More arrows flew and the other rider in the fore and a few of his guards were struck and fell. The onslaught seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. Lawrence finally made out a few figures in the dense underbrush of the deciduous forest, and one man looked familiar. It was one of his uncle's cronies from the war that had killed both his father and his older brother. The lion roared, as Lawrence drew his sword and cried in rage at the sight of the traitor. He advanced his horse to him, breaking loose from the remnant of his guard.

The traitor's men rushed from the woods and set on the party with ferocious force. It was clear in moments that Lawrence's party was far outnumbered, but his fury took him on a chase directed at the one man only. As he neared the man, who was at that point wheeling his mount to face the King, an arrow shot out and pierced the man's chest. Lawrence pulled his mount to a stop and stared, stunned, then looked around. Before he knew what happened, two men in Lincoln green dropped from a limb above him and knocked him to the ground. A blow to his head sent the forest further into darkness.

Meanwhile in the capital (which does not seem to have a name at this point…) Prince Lorin sat in a shaft of warm sunlight in the garden, reading from a scroll. His sister, the Queen, walked up and sat next to him. He looked up and smiled at her, seeing her wan face. "Dearest sister, can thou not find something to cheer thee?"

She smiled back. "Aye, I found thee."

Lorin put his arm around his sister's waist. "I know thou doth miss the King. He shall not be gone that long, then thou shalt have thy child and live happily ever after."

Josephine nodded, but her look was not convinced. "I do hope so… I have a feeling that something is not right. I was thinking of Lawrence and felt him roar with rage and then fall… I know not if this is mine own mind vexing me or a true feeling."

Her young brother tried to comfort her, "It is no doubt that thou art with child and thou art not mistress of thy thoughts ."

"Lorin," she began, turning her face to his. "Doth thou mind that Lawrence is gone to claim thy throne? It is but until thee can claim it."

Lorin's boyish face revealed an emotion beyond his years. "Nay, my sister, I do not. Truth be told, I doth not believe I wish e'er to claim it." He looked at her surprised expression. "Josie, there are men who will be King. I am not one of them and ne'er shall be. If I couldst but choose mine own path, I would to some university to study the great philosophers and lawmakers. But if I canst not do that, I shouldst like to remain with thee and the King and serve thee."

Josephine was about to reply when the conversation was broken by a shout. The shout was followed by the sound of arms and cries of wounded men. Lorin took her arm and urged her to stand, "Sister, go to thy chamber!. There is danger afoot!" She hesitated only a moment and then did as he urged and ran back inside.

Lorin stood and looked about for his options. He did not wear a sword or dagger. His best choice was to hide where he could observe and warn the Queen if need be. He ran to where he could climb steps to the ramparts and hid himself in one of the corner towers where he could see both outside the castle and within its courtyard.

The boy's blood ran cold as he witnessed the men at arms of the castle cut down one after another as they tried in vain to lower the portcullis and stop a large party of armed men. They burst through the closing gates and into the courtyard indiscriminately striking and killing any who thought to stop them. Much of the castle's garrison was shut off outside the gates having been led astray by a feigned approach from a party to the south of the castle on the road down to the village. When the real force came around from the north, the garrison simply could not head them off.

From his vantage point the Prince could see this and knew all was lost. The force in the courtyard succeeded in closing the portcullis and gates, and he looked to see just who the traitors were.

As he watched, a small group of men clustered near the gate to the keep, then dismounted. The men who clustered around a single figure removed their helms as soon as they were sure there were no archers on the battlements, and he saw that they were men of some station, all older. The central figure looked about slowly as he stood, then finally withdrew his own helm and face mail to reveal a boy hardly older than Lorin. The prince looked puzzled, wondering who this could be. He knew.. could it be.. Lawrence's missing brother Roland?

It was Roland. The boy, incensed that his bitterly resented older brother Lawrence was suddenly to be King had left the castle before the army had returned from war with his uncle. He had sought the enemy traitors forthwith and allied himself with them to legitimize their ambitions to grasp the throne of Christenlande. The usurper was barely 18 but so had Lawrence been at his coronation. Roland was ready to set things right.

The Queen's brother slipped as carefully as he could around to where he could find his way to his sister's privy chamber. He rapped quietly on the door, heard her soft call, and as softly told her it was he. A servant unbolted the door and let him in. He found Josephine standing pale as the snow that drifted in the fields beyond the castle. She geld her hands to her mouth. She had seen the riders who invaded the courtyard. And she had seen the young man, from a vantage point closer than Lorin's.

"Oh my dear brother, what is this? What is happening?" she cried to him.

Lorin went to his sister, who for all his youth still was smaller and more delicate than he, and put his arms around her, carefully pressing against her growing belly as he embraced her. "My dear, I know not. I do not recognize the man."

"'Tis Prince Roland," offered a manservant, who had just looked out the window. "He hath been missing these many months since before ye were wed me lady. No one knew where he had fled to and wherefore."

"That is what I feared," said young Lorin. "He hath taken advantage of the King's absence to claim his brother's rightful throne."

Josephine dissolved into tears and Lorin and the man helped her to a seat. Lorin sat next to her, still holding her tenderly.

A loud banging on the door made all jump with alarm. A man at arms demanded, "Open this door, my lady, or we shall break it down." Lorin looked at the Queen, who trembled in fear, and then to a servant, nodding to the man to comply.

"We cannot refuse them," he explained softly to Josephine, who tearfully nodded.

When the servant un bolted the door, it was forced open violently. Two armed men entered and surveyed the chamber. Finding only servants, a woman and a boy, they relaxed and stood aside. Roland entered with a swagger. Lorin saw a mad gleam of triumph in his eyes.

The usurper stood and stared at the Queen. He seemed taken aback by something, something he had not expected. Seeing his glare, Josephine tried to come to herself and stand, to bring some dignity to her plight. She swayed unsteadily on her feet, her brother helping her to stay upright.

Roland pulled off his gloves and slapped them against his thigh. "So, thou art with child, lady.. and not too long before thy term." His eyes glinted.

Lorin stepped between the Queen and the man.

"And who be this whelp, thy brother Lorin, I'll warrant?" Roland demanded.

Lorin pulled himself up to his tallest. "Aye, sirrah, I am Lorin, Prince of Affynshire, and I demand thou explainest this intrusion!"

Roland's mouth molded itself into an ugly smile. "Prince of Affynshire?" he smirked. "Prince of nothing. Thy country is no more."

Josephine looked up at her husband's brother and cried out, "Lawrence!"

Roland walked over to her slowly. Lorin kept himself between them. "Thy husband is dead."

The Queen gave up a thin cry and lost her balance. Lorin turned to help her back to the bench, but she crumpled to the floor. Roland gestured to a man at arms and the man came forward and took Lorin by both arms from behind. "Take this prince of nothing to his chamber and lock him in," Roland commanded.

Lorin was roughly dragged down the hall and literally tossed into his room. He stood and paced worrying about what was happening to Josephine.

In the forest Lawrence slowly woke. He reached for a bump on his head and winced when his fingers touched it. "I would leave that nasty piece of business alone, sire," came a voice with a Northern accent. Lawrence forced his eyes open to look at the man who had addressed him. He saw green all around at first, and then a bleary face came through the fog of his aching head.

"Who.. who. are thee? And where am I?" he struggled to say. He shifted to try to sit up.

"Now there, your majesty, Lest ye want to see the forest upside down, I'd stay where thee are, 'twere I thee." He placed a firm but not rough hand on the King's shoulder.

Lawrence had immediately felt a wave of intense nausea and complied.

The man explained, "My name is Athelwick of St. Edward's Ford. I was the elder son of a good family, but circumstance beyond my control hath made me an outlaw." He saw Lawrence's flinch. "Worry not, my liege, I am not thy enemy. In fact, I brought thee here to save thy life."

He explained how he and his band of outlawed men had seen and followed the force that lay in ambush for the King. They had watched for their opportunity and themselves knocked the king out so they could spirit him away. They had seen that the skirmish was not going well for the King's smaller party.. he was on a diplomatic mission, after all, not going to war. The only way they could save him was to kidnap him themselves.

At Lawrence's question he declared, "Sire, methinks this is the plan of those same men who tried to overthrow the crown ere this, when thy father and brother were killed."

Lawrence, in spite of good advice, had managed to sit and was holding his throbbing head. "But what claim can they possibly have? I am the only person left in the succession." He looked up suddenly, a realization on his face. "Oh nay, not that. Roland."

Athelwick considered and nodded, "Aye, that would explain much."

The King eyed the man and asked, in none to cheerful a voice, "Did thee have to cosh me?"

The man gave him a wink and a smile.. "Would ye have come willingly?"

Lawrence glared. "I suppose not."

The King sat on, wondering what was happening to his castle… and to this wife.

Next: The ueen in Peril

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About the author

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