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

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Stories: The Bith\th of Peter (Happened with cuts)

"Happened"? Well Peter was born, of course. The first reference in the letters is here. In the novel Lawrence and Josephine are together when Peter is born at Lincoln. There is no separation and no sexual problems in the novel.

August - October 766

The Queen awoke slowly to the faint light coming in through the narrow window in the convent guest house chamber that she stayed in. The first thought in her mind brought a small smile to her tired face. "My baby. My little boy."

Considering the troubles of her first two pregnancies, the boy's birth had been relatively easy, for which she was grateful. The nuns had great skill and had eased her through it wonderfully. Her only regret was that she was again alone, without Lawrence there to share her joy.

As she came around and opened her eyes she caught sight of a figure standing nearby. The shadows and her sleepy vision were such that she could not make it out right away. She stirred and the figure seemed to turn toward her. "My darling Sunshine," the figure breathed.

Josephine's eyes widened and her face was as bright as the name her love had called her. "Lawrence! Oh my love, am I dreaming thee?"

He was coming to her bedside haltingly. She saw his radiant smile and then his crutch. Her heart filled with compassion and love. He sat on her bed beside her and took her hands and kissed them.

Lawrence said softly, "No dream. I am here with you, my darling." His voice took on an almost reverent tone. "My dearest one, he is beautiful. Our boy is beautiful." He kissed her hands again. "Was it hard? The birth?"

She found herself just gazing at his face. It was suffused with a quiet rapture. New lines on that beloved face, she saw. "Nay, my dearest husband, not hard. The skill these sisters have is remarkable. Is he there in the cradle? Wouldst thou bring him to me?" She thought of the crutch. New lines from suffering. "Canst thou, with thy leg?"

His smile wavered but returned. Aye, I can. 'Tis not far and I should ne'er risk dropping our son." He had leaned the crutch against the wall before sitting and left it there now. He stood carefully and walked with an obvious limp to the cradle which was just four paces away. He leaned in and gently lifted a bundle of blankets and cradled it in his arms, his face shining. With great care he walked back to her bed and sat on it, leaning to give her the child.

Josephine took the boy in her arms and Lawrence leaned to pull the blanket away from his face. They gazed into the tiny pink thing with a hint of pale hair. The boy's eyes were firmly shut, but his mouth moved. "He is hungry," the King said.

The Queen reached and pulled aside her nightdress and exposed a breast. She held the boy to it and after a moment he began to suck. Lawrence's face flushed with emotion. He thought how strange it was to see something he cherished and desired now transformed into something even more beautiful. She looked up into his eyes and sighed. "Lawrence, I am so happy you are here to see our little child."

He could only smile and try to hold back tears of awe.

They gazed together into their child's intent face as it suckled on Josephine's breast. At length he said, "He is well then?"

Josephine smiled, "He looks well. They will tell us more when the sisters come in." She looked up at Lawrence, "Hast thou chosen a name for him?"

He looked up, surprised. "I thought thou would want to do that. I will be happy with whatever thou choosest."

She smiled fondly. She had thought of a name, and now she said it aloud, "Peter?"

Lawrence's smile spread to the width of his face. "Peter, that is perfect. Prince Peter of Christenlande. Someday King Peter of Christenlande."

Josephine put a finger to her lips. "Shhh, do not speak of that. It tempts the fates.. and I should rather not think of that future just now, after nearly losing thee."

He quickly leaned forward and rested his arms on either side of her and brought his face as close to hers as he could, without putting his weight on the child at her breast. "Nay, I shall not speak of that more. But my darling, I have an heir. Now do I truly feel like a King." His voice was thick with pride.

Josephine chuckled. "It took thee that long? The rest of us have known that for some time." Her face grew more serious. "Lawrence, thy leg. How is it?"

The King looked down at his left thigh. "The ride gave me pain and I had to rest a while ere I could come in to see thee after I arrived here. But it is well enough. It is almost healed. I must continue to stretch the muscles and tendons so it does not become stiff."

Josephine reached to his hip still holding the baby in her right arm. She touched his hip and then thigh gently. "Oh Lawrence, I was sore afraid when I heard thou were wounded and when thou didst not awake for so long. Lorin told me thou wert better than I think was the truth to try to keep me from going to thee."

Lawrence had watched her hand go to his thigh and caress it. He looked to her face and smiled. "Aye, I commanded that Lorin mislead thee."

Her eyes flashed, "Lawrence, please, never do that again!" she said sharply. "I need to know the truth not lies to protect me."

He was surprised at her vehemence. "But my lady, this little one is here with us because thou wert comforted, is that not so?"

Josephine looked into Peter's face. "Mayhap, but that shall ne'er work again, now that I know thou wilt lie to me. Never lie to me again, Lawrence, I beg thee."

He took her hand and kissed the palm. "I swear. I shall ne'er lie to thee again." He put down her hand and leaned and kissed the small head.

When the sisters came in they confirmed that Peter was a healthy baby and with care would grow to be a healthy child. The King and Queen both sighed with relief. The sisters smiled at the homely scene before them, the happy young parents with their child. They approved the choice of a name for the child. The Mother Superior affirmed, "He shall be the rock of this kingdom, just as St. Peter was the rock upon which Jesu Christe built his Church."

When night fell the King wanted to share the Queen's chamber. The sisters strictly forbade it and banished him to a cell in the guest house. He took his leave of his wife reluctantly. "My dear, I cannot bear to sleep without thee after all this time apart."

She smiled and said a little shyly, "My lord, I shall not be able to be a wife unto thee for some little time.."

He stroked her hair and smiled, "Nay, I know. I just wanted to lie by thee and hold thee." He did not tell her he had some small amount of relief at her words, as his wound was painful and he doubted he could make love to her yet. They kissed, and he left for his solitary slumber.

The time until Peter could travel to the old capital allowed them some time just to be with each other, to touch and smile and talk. Each night Lawrence kissed her and left to sleep alone.

The King had secretly watched his lady wife for any indication that the rumors of Aelflynn's murder had reached her ears. She gave none. In fact, she had heard nothing. The sisters had kept their promise to Brother Leo to keep all news that he did not approve from her ears. They had exercised excellent control over who spoke to her and what they said.

Lawrence knew he would have to tell her everything eventually. He tried to tell her the story in bits and pieces and hoped she did not think he talked too much about Aelflynn. Although his relationship with the strange healer had not been romantic, he knew that a wife might be concerned if she heard another woman's name too often.

For her part, Josephine found his discomfort, which he tried so hard to conceal, puzzling. He told her about how he had been wounded, making her cringe at the story, how a healer had been summoned who had done everything that could be done to heal his wound, about how harrowing the removal of the arrow had been, and how relieved everyone had been when the infection left the wound and he clearly would keep his leg. He carefully avoided the pronouns when talking about the healer. His very caution made her more puzzled.

"Lawrence," she finally asked, "Was the healer a woman?"

Lawrence looked at her astonished. "Aye, how did thou come to that?" He searched her face.

She dropped her eyes and answered, "Thou art so carefully avoiding saying that she is that I thought it must be." She paused, "My lord, why doth thou fear that I know that?"

Lawrence couldn't answer. He tried to say he did not want her to feel jealous, but her reaction, to ask him why his healer being a woman had anything to do with herself, showed him how hopeless an answer it was. So he just went dumb on the subject.

The Queen tried not to be distressed about his wariness about talking of Aelflynn. She tried at first to ask questions about her, but he seemed to want to evade them. Anxiety started to invade her mind. In an insecure moment she asked, "If I wish to thank this Aelflynn, how might I do that?"

He seemed startled and ill at ease. "Thou cannot. She is dead." His nervousness had a tinge of sorrow in it.

The Queen too was surprised. "Dead? How?"

"She was murdered by her brother," Lawrence said flatly, looking away.

Josephine made no answer save a sound of regret and sympathy. She put her hand on his arm. He looked at her hand with some unease. "'Tis nothing for us to concern ourselves about, " he said.

Lawrence's lonely nights in his own cell were filled with too much time to think, to look back over the past months and think about Aelflynn. He was riddled with conflicts. He felt responsible for her murder, as it was to gain a boon from him that Aelflynn's brother had pressed her. He recalled that he had left her in the woods, smarting from the suggestion she had made that the Queen would believe rumors and accusations of his infidelity. It was after he had left her that she had been strangled to death. He realized now he may have been suspected, and he worried that this sort of rumor would in fact reach Josephine's ears. He tried hard to tell himself he could count on her not to believe it. Then nagging at the edge of it all were memories he preferred not to allow to surface, of Aelflynn's soft touch on his thigh, of sleeping in the chamber with her breathing and presence so near. Even had he wanted her, he knew they could not have made love with his injury so painful.. and so strategically located near his groin. But he was starting to realize that he had grown angry with her because she had touched on something he did not want to think about, and that was the visceral rush he sometimes felt when she was touching him. There were just too many elements to his guilt about her death that he could not resolve any of them. He longed to be away, to be saved from sleeping alone. He needed not to think about it all.

Lawrence began to press the Mother Superior about when Peter would be old enough to travel the day and a half journey to Lincoln, the old capital. He complained that he could not govern from the convent and that he did not want to leave without the Queen and their son. She continued to put him off, thinking he was just wanting to get his wife home and back in his bed. She shook her head, but finally after Michaelmas she relented and told the royal pair they could leave.

Lawrence showered gifts and favors on the Convent of St. Helens, and Josephine took her leave with thanks and affectionate farewells. The royal party took their time getting back to Lincoln so as to care for the well being of the child. Lawrence did not call attention to the pain he got from riding.

Ensconced again in the castle in Lincoln, the nursery now occupied with the healthy robust heir to the throne, a moment of truth came to the King and Queen. The first night, alone in her chamber, Lawrence looked at Josephine uncertainly. "My lady?"

Josephine cast her eyes down. "My lord, I should wish you to lie beside me, but I know not if I can yet be a wife unto thee."

Lawrence's reaction was impossible to read. He neither seemed disappointed nor pleased. He said with little emotion, save some hints of anxiety, "I shall stay with thee tonight, then, and I shall be chaste with thee."

He soon began to fidget in bed with her. He found that he could not make his thigh comfortable lying in the bed with another person. He also knew some shame, for although he intended to respect her wish to be left alone, he had expected some response to having her near him. It had been many months since he had lain with her, and he felt he should desire her now, but his body stayed immune to the softness and warmth of her. He thought to himself, "That need not happen now, we must just hold each other," but the discomfort and a nagging fear that his wound had unmanned him finally drove him out of her bed and into his own chamber.

The Queen tried not to worry. He was not telling her much and she wished he could be frank. If there was some difficulty, she wanted to know. He seemed out of proportion upset that his injury made it difficult for him to spend a night with her. She could not decide what to do, to say or how to feel.

Days were mostly wonderful. He could not spend the whole time with her and Peter, but he broke away from work as much as he could and came to the royal nursery and played with his son, smiled and kissed his wife, and gazed with her in wonder over the little being they had created out of their love for each other.

One day when Lawrence could not come to the nursery the Queen sat with her brother Lorin's wife, who was expected to have her own lying in at any time. They idly played with Peter and talked about the latest rumors and other trivial matters. Josephine's mind was on her husband. She could not recall how, but the conversation turned at some point to Lawrence's injury and his time in Grantham. Josephine remarked, ""Twas such a sad thing that the healer Aelflynn was murdered by her own brother!"

Anne looked up from bouncing Peter on her knee. "Brother, my lady? Nay I heard 'twas her lover who killed her."

Josephine stared. "Lover?" she thought, then asked "Art thou certain?"

Anne nodded, "Oh aye. That is the whole point.. she had drugged a man and got him into her bed. She was with child and wanted the man to marry her. But he could not for he was already married. She is said to have threatened to expose him, and he killed her. I have heard that Lord Jehan himself suspected this but for some reason unknown dropped the matter."

Josephine sat stock still. Why with the King there, would he dismiss such a crime? Surely he did not suspect…

She shook her head and said aloud, "Oh, Anne, that is such nonsense. How canst thou believe such rubbish." But she still wondered why Lawrence had told her none of this. If he said it was the brother, it was the brother, but then why all the evasion? She tried to push it from her mind but could not.

To add to her worry Lawrence had started avoiding all conversations about sleeping in her chamber, or her sleeping in his. She had asked about his painful wound and if it was still an impediment. Her own desire for her husband was returning. She tried to find ways to be close to him, to raise his own ardor for her, but he continuously pulled away. "Is he no longer in love with me? Nay, I cannot believe that. But does he no longer want me in his bed? I cannot believe that.. or can I?" she thought. She had heard from other women whose husbands lost interest after the birth of an heir. She had never believed he could be one of those. Still…

Lawrence himself was laboring with fear that he could no longer satisfy his lady. He still had trouble with his leg, but not nearly as much as before, yet here every effort to entice him left him feeling more unmanned, more uncertain. He grew irritable and distant. The lovely times they spent together with Peter grew shorter and fewer as he grew in shame and embarrassment. He could not speak to her of this.. it was not fitting. He could not admit to her of all people that he was perhaps no longer a man.

Lawrencium, the new capital that Lawrence had built on the coast and which he dedicated to his dear love, was complete. The King was anxious to see it, to move the court there. But Peter was still too young for a journey of several days. Lawrence fretted and chafed at the bit, until Josephine suggested he go on to Lawrencium without them and they would join him as soon as they could.

Her heart ached when he agreed so readily. Perhaps it was true, and her husband longed to be away from her. Josephine knew in her heart that could not be but some other more persuasive part of her convinced her that she must let him go, at least for now. When she was able to move to the new capital, they would start afresh… She hoped.

Their leave-taking in the courtyard was terrible and painful. Both resisted the voices that cried for them to stop and think about how many times they had been forced apart and how much they had suffered for it. Now to choose to separate.. what was happening? Two hearts were breaking even as two minds willfully took their leave.

Josephine watched the riders disappear on their way to Lawrencium. A tear ran down her cheek. She would endure, they would be together again. She had her child. She needs must be patient and wait.

Next: The King and Queen Get a Talkling To from their Authors

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About the author

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