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, August 12, 2009

New Stories: Being a King (Sort of h appened)

This all happened but not quite in the order or the way illustrated here.

June to October 766

osephine woke to find herself naked in a strange bed. She looked around sharply and then relaxed. Next to her in the bed lay her new husband, his face soft and at peace as he lay on his side asleep and facing her. She rolled over to face him and gazed at that face, remembering tentative touches, ardent kisses, fumbling to find how to fit together, then laughter, passion, release. She reached to tenderly caress the stubble on the young chin, and Lawrence’s eyes slowly opened. He looked back into hers, smiled and reached for her. They wrapped their arms around each other and made love again, more confidently, more slowly.

Too soon the knock came at the door. Lawrence called out, “Wait!” He put his legs over the side of the bed and stood, naked,, and came to her side of the bed. He lifted her gown from where it had fallen on the floor and helped her sit up and put it on. Then he reached for her cloak and wrapped her in it. Only then did he cross again to his side and retrieve his own cloak. He looked at her, “Ready?” At her smiling nod, he called, “Come.”

Three ladies of the court came in with Josephine’s father and some other court officials. The oldest lady explained, “We have come for the sheet., sire.” Lawrence nodded and came back around to Josephine, putting an arm around her, keeping her on his side away from the intruders, and leading her to a bench along one wall. He saw her deep blush and put himself between her and the others, shielding her, tenderly protecting her from embarrassment.

The ladies came forward and pulled back the covers. They beheld the required stain of blood from the bride’s torn maidenhead and nodded, calling the men to witness that the Queen had been a virgin and that she now had been properly bedded by the King. The oldest lady drew off the sheet and folded it so it could be shown to any who might doubt.

Lawrence muttered,. “Barbaric custom.”

Josephine’s father came over to her, and looking Lawrence in the eye, reach around him to take her hands. He kissed them and smiled. Josephine stole a look at Lawrence’s face which betrayed an almost comical mixture of pride, bravado, challenge and embarrassment. She suppressed a laugh and just smiled back happily into her father’s face, still blushing. “My daughter,” he said, “art thou a woman, a happy woman?”

Josephine nodded and caught Lawrence’s look of pleasure and boyish pride.

The ladies left the chamber, and Lawrence left Josephine’s side to speak to a maidservant as the men, including her father, left as well. He returned to her and explained, “I asked that another sheet be brought and put on the bed.” His eyes twinkled, “I am not through with thee yet.” Now she did giggle a little.

Those first days, sweet and playful, alternately passionate and slow and loving, they stayed in the bedchamber and had their meals there. No one begrudged them the time together. “They are so young,” some said. “This is a true love match, “ said another.

They talked as well, finally having the time and privacy to learn about each other. Lawrence found his young wife’s regard for him as the King somewhat uncomfortable for him. One time he said as much and she chided him. “My lord, thou art the King. Thou art my lord. All look to thee for thy strength and to be wise.” Once when she expressed concern that he was needed to address affairs of state, he responded lightly that the ministers were capable and could do without him. To his surprise Josephine’s sweet face broke into a frown. “Nay, nay, Lawrence. They need thee to guide them. They may know what they know, but they cannot know thy mind.. and thy mind must guide them for the good of the country, of the people. Thou art the King!”

As she spoke to him like this Lawrence slowly found himself feeling less like a boy playing with his father’s crown and throne and more like a man, a king. He had felt the way those around him saw him, who could not see past the gangly boy who e’er tagged along at his older brother’s side. Josephine’s sweet matter of fact acceptance of him as the King made him feel that he must rise to the responsibilities he now had.

They reluctantly finally emerged from their idyll and joined the rest of the world.. They had to bear the indulgent looks of all around them, the smiles, the knowing looks, the whispers. But they also provoked them now, with little looks and touches of their own. As each went about the daily routine of their young lives, one would catch sight of the other in a corridor and rush to the beloved to steal a kiss or a loving word.

The ministers in the King’s council began their first meetings with Lawrence as if the boy still sat before them, but they soon learned the boy was now seeing himself more as a man. They puzzled, of course. They could not imagine that the King was ignorant of the charms of women before his marriage, so there must be some other explanation for his new found confidence and authority. They could have no idea that Lawrence’s lovely little bride was instilling in him a sense of being the King.

At night and when they could steal time alone together the young couple made love, but they also talked. Lawrence would share the business of the council with her and she would listen, approving of his judgments or suggesting other interpretations or insights into the conflicts and challenges that presented themselves. Lawrence listened to her, taking in the differences in how they thought and making use of her perspective to improve his own decisions.

The ministers at first were hesitant. Had Prince Arneth been standing there they should have acted on his commands without question. With Lawrence there was the unknown about the boy and the self-doubting demeanor of before the coronation. But slowly they came to find that the young King listened to them, made points about their own reasoning that impressed them. He was more confident, more forceful, he even began to show a little of the roar this lion would develop as a man.

The idyll was fated not to last as Lawrence received a messenger one after noon with the news that Josephine’s fathter had suddenlydied. He trudged to where she was doing needlework with her ladies and asked the others to leave. Something on his face quieted their typical smiling agreement to leave the two alone together, and Lawrence faced a pale Queen as he sat down by her.

“Josephine, I know not how to tell thee..” he began as he saw her start to take in a breath. “Thy father was taken ill and suddenly died as soon as he returned from our wedding. .” He reached for her quickly as her hands flew to her mouth and the tears welled and poured down her cheeks. He stood and pulled her to her feet and enclosed her in his arms tightly.

She sobbed., “Nay, that cannot be, my father..." Her reddened eyes lifted to his, begging him to relent.

Lawrence’s face was full of concern and sorrow. “He pressed her face into his breast as the sobs intensified.

Then she abruptly lifted her head and searched his face. “Lorin? My brother? He is alone.. and he is too young to ascend to the throne."

Lawrence gently shushed her and pressed her face against him again. “The messenger said that men loual to thy family have requested that Lorin come to be schooled here at our courtt. I shall have to ride to Affynshire, for they wish me to put the country under Christenlande's protection. Thy brother shall be here within a fortnight, then shall I ride."

“He is coming here?” Josephine’s voice held a note of hope.

“Aye, my darling. He shall arrive within the fortnight.” The King was happy that something other than grief would live in her heart.

That night he held her in his arms as she wept until she fell asleep. His own eyes were wet with tears of pain for her suffering.

Within the fortnight the boy Prince Lorin arrived at court and was enveloped in his sister’s arms at once. Just fifteen years old, he was a solemn boy, quiet, careful in his movements, thoughtful. Lawrence inspired affection and loyalty in him immediately, and Lawrence found himself with a good and trustworthy friend no matter his youth. He had to share his Queen’s attention, but he loved her and gave her all the time she needed with her brother.

He himself was preparing for the journey north to Affynshire. But before he left his wife had news. One morning Josephine told him as they stole a few moments of quiet in each other’s arms before rising, she was with child. Lawrence leapt up and beheld her with complete delight on his face. “A child?!” Oh my Sunshine, what happy, happy tidings!” She smiled at his use of her old childhood name, for when he used it she knew he was the happiest man in the world. He leaned down to kiss her and to stroke her cheek, his eyes damp with tears of joy.

The castle, the city, the nation rejoiced. Lawrence commissioned the building of a new keep at the castle that would be named the Castle of Sunshine in her honor.

On a crisp fall day, Lawrence and his party took leave to head north for Affynshire. He and Josephine lingered long over their good byes. They had made love the night before with a m melancholy sweetness, holding each other as if they could never let go. "I shall return as quickly as I can, my dearest one," Lawrence reassured. The Queen wept bitterly.

As she saw him turn and raise his hand in a farewell one last time before his party entered the forest, she clutched her hands to her belly. She felt as if her heart would break and held her child as best she could for comfort.

They would not see each other again for a long time.

Next: Ambush on the Road

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About the author

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