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

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Stories: Calamities - Grave Condition III (Happened with Cuts)

In the novel the story of Aelflynn ends with Josephine's arrival to nurse lawrence at Grantham. The healer simply walks away and is only mentioned again when Lawrence thinks of her when attacking Grantham after Gadfrid's usurping. As I said the other day, I enjoyed writing the sexual tension and the murder mystery, but I am content to have left out all these complexities in the novel. Things are complex enough with Josephine and Elerde at this point in the novel.


elflynn wound her way along the path to her cottage in Grantham. The King of Christenlande, who had been under her care, was healing from the arrow wound in his thigh. She had eliminated the infection through her skill with herbs. The wound was healing. He would not lose his leg.

As she walked she thought about Lawrence, for that is how she thought of him. She had no liking for ranks or titles. She had seen the great and small laid to rest from the same illnesses, the same injuries. Everyone ate and drank and everyone pissed and sweated. She stuck to the formalities in company, but in her mind Lawrence and she were just the same, mortals on the Earth and under the sky.

She liked him. That was unusual for the healer. She generally found other people to be trivial and heedless. But this man was thoughtful. He knew pain made him scream just as it did a peasant. He was grateful for her skills and for her kindness, oddly delivered as it was. She also honored him for his great regard for his wife, the Queen. So many men of all classes looked at their women as vessels for their lusts and their progeny. This man appeared to genuinely care for his wife. He sought to protect her from anxiety about his injury. That was not the way of most men she knew.

As she returned to her cottage in the growing dusk, she saw before her, clearly waiting for her, just one of those men who cared for no one but themselves. It was her brother, Hugh. He was younger than she . He sometimes came to live with her in the cottage when he had outworn his welcome wherever he had found work, on a farm, in a brewer's shop, at a fulling mill… he was not fond of hard work and he was of fighting, so Aelflynn saw him often.

"Sister," Hugh said as she reluctantly slowed to greet him. "Well met. On thy way home from the manor?"

She nodded and went on. Her brother fell into step beside her. "What, no smile for your little brother?" he pressed.

She managed a faint smile. They walked on a while.

"Aelflynn, I hear thou hast a nobleman under thy care," he said in an insinuating voice.

At that she stopped and confronted him. "What dost thou want of me, Hugh?"

The man pretended to be hurt. "My sister, what canst thou mean? I merely asked."

"Thou hast heard that I healed the King of Christenlande and now thou art at my doorstep. That is no coincidence. " She glared at him. "Thou wishes me to ask the King for something for thee. I shall not do it, whatever it is."

Hugh frowned. "Hear me out, Aelflynn. This is my one chance to get away from the work I am forced to do. It is beneath me, I know that and thou doth as well. And if I could get some favor from thy friend at the manor, I could move away and start mine own brewery and leave thee alone." He gave her a threatening glower.

She stood and stared at him. That was a temptation she could not dismiss without some longing. All Aelflynn wanted out of life was to be left alone with her herbs and plants and potions. If she could but get Hugh out of her life she could relax and spend her energy where she might. Perhaps she should just hear him out.

"What dost thou want of the King?" she asked frankly. They had reached her dooryard and stepped into the dark of her cottage. She went to get him a cup of mead as she knew he would be demanding in a moment. He sat down. When she handed him the cup he took her wrist and forced her to sit at the table with him.

"My sister, this is good fortune for us. Thou did save his life. He is beholden to thee. He owes thee a boon." Hugh at least made a weak effort to give her good reasons for what he wanted her to do. It was only after she refused that he would usually become angry and hostile. He would threaten and she would give in to get rid of him over and over.

Now she said, "Hugh, thou knowest that the healing I do without asking a boon in return. It is my calling, not my profession."

He grew impatient. "Nevertheless, Aelflynn, thou will ask this boon for me."

She glared. "What is it then?"

Hugh sat back, smiling his acquisitive little smile. "Now, let me think on that." He pretended to ponder the question. "I should like some money, first of all.. and some land to build a brewery. And the right to sell my ale and mead without competitors." He leaned towards her, "Surely this good man, this King, would honor thy love for thy brother?"

Aelflynn considered. "That is a great deal to ask."

"Not from a King it is not," her brother snapped.

She gazed at him without any hint of friendship. "And thou will go and leave me in peace? Go far?"

He grinned. "I shall build my brewery in the man's new capital on the other side of the kingdom. That should be a fine place to sell what I brew, especially if my product is the only one the taverns and the castle may buy."

Aelflynn sighed. "I shall think about it, Hugh. She stood. Her brother grinned again and reached and slapped her bottom.

"I knew thou would not fail me, sister," he laughed and went back to his drink.

Lawrence was considerably better and now could stand and, with the aid of a crutch, move about in his chamber. He tried to exercise his leg daily so that when he could ride again, he would go to his wife seeming none the worse for his wound. His mood was light, if impatient. He had sent to the Duke that he should be able to return by early in the month of August if not before. He would go straight to the Convent of St. Helens and, God willing, he would be there when the Queen had their child. He knew nothing of the fear of miscarriage that Lorin and the counselors had had. But Lorin did send on the message in the King's own hand to warm the Queen's heart.

He was standing with his crutch looking out the window of his chamber when Aelflynn arrived to minister to his wound. It was a very warm July day. Lawrence was anxious to see how soon he could be leaving. He turned a bright smile on her but saw that she was not herself.

"Aelflynn, what is wrong? Thou looks worried," he asked with concern.

She sighed, seeing the look on his face. How could she ask for such a greedy boon when he had been so considerate and appreciative?

"My lord," she replied. "'Tis nothing. Think not of it." She went over to him and guided him to a chair where she could undress and examine his wound. He sat, and she knelt at his feet, reaching to take the dressing off his upper thigh. It came away with no blood, no pus. It was as clean as if it had been wrapped around healthy unblemished skin. The wound itself was not quite fully knitted. That would take a while more. She examined it, felt it with her fingertips. It was not over warm. It was not tender. It was dry. She looked up and asked him, "And thou art exercising the leg, my lord?"

He smiled down at her. "Aye, just as thou instructed. It is still stiff, but it is loosening." He asked, "When shall I be able to ride?"

She gave Lawrence a wan smile. "What is thy haste? Better to rest and heal. Thou canst command a kingdom from any chamber in the country."

She began to redress the wound. She could feel the muscles in his thigh, strong and fully intact in spite of the grievous wound he had sustained.

"The Queen is due to bear our child in August. It is my wish to be there for the event and to be with and comfort her."

Aelflynn sat back on her heels and looked at him, touched yet again by his sweetness towards his wife. She impulsively took his hand and kissed it. He looked surprised but pleased. "Good woman, that is an unexpected kindness."

Aelflynn waved his comment away. She was embarrassed at the gesture. She stood. "I must go now, sire. I have much work to do." She quickly gathered up her tools.

"Aelflynn," the King said from where he sat. She turned and looked at him. "I shall miss thee when I return home."

Her pale face went pink. She turned and without asking leave, left the King's chamber.

"I cannot do it, Hugh," she told her brother later. "I cannot repay his kindness and friendship with such a base greed."

Hugh flared. "Base greed?! It is only what thou art due for thy act of saving the life of the King of Christenlande!" He realized something she had said, "Friendship? Is that it? Thou art in love with the man? And has he in his sickbed had thy company?"

Aelflynn reached out and slapped him. He grabbed and twisted her wrist. She cried out with the pain. "Sister, thou will regret this. Now that I know of thy 'affection' for the man, I shall have other means to get what I want from him. A King may have mistresses, but I hear this King cleaves unto his wife and would not dishonor her. Mayhap he prefers her think that way, anyway." He grinned broadly. "Methinks I shall have to pay a visit to Lord Jehan and the King tomorrow."

He shook her and knocked her to the floor and left to find drink in the village.

Aelflynn fretted and worried all night, unable to sleep until a doze overtook her in the small hours of the morning. She could only hope that Hugh would lose interest in this latest project as he most always did.. or that he would execute his threat so poorly he himself would be thrown in prison.

The day dawned fair and hot. "A fine day for some exercise outside," Aelflynn thought as she went to the manor that morning. She found Lawrence in fine fettle, restless, ready to leave the manor, no less ready for a walk in the woods near it. She promised him, "Soon. Any day now." She felt sad to know he would be leaving so soon, but her work was nearly done. And perhaps if he was gone Hugh would leave off his threats.

The King and Aelflynn walked slowly along paths through woods and clearings near the manor. He limped alongside the small woman, relying on one crutch to take the pressure from his wounded leg. She coached him to put his weight on it judiciously.

When they stopped to rest a while, Aelflynn decided she must tell Lawrence of the threat her brother had made. "My lord, I have something very difficult to tell thee of."

Lawrence had been laying down his crutch next to the log where he was sitting, and looked up startled. "What can that be, Aelflynn? Am I not making progress?" He looked anxious. She knew he was very worried that he would not make it to the Queen to be near her during her lying in.

"Nay, 'tis not that. Thou mayst leave any day if thou promises to take the ride back slowly and to continue to exercise as I have shown thee," Aelflynn replied, pleased to see his face relax.

She stood and went a few paces away. "My lord, this is hard for me to explain. I have a brother who can be a bad and grasping man. He heard of my.. relationship with thee and has pressured me to demand a boon of thee…"

Lawrence interrupted, "What is this boon? If it will help thee as well and is in my power.."

Aelflynn spun and shot a sharp look at the King, "Stop it, Lawrence, I did not want thee to think I have come to ask such a thing. He is not worthy of thy help and I should feel dishonored by the gift in that case."

Lawrence looked at her seriously. He was always taken aback by her familiarity. He sensed something untoward in it, and wondered if she had formed an attachment to him that he could not allow. "Aelflynn, it is not fit.."

"Lawrence, I know that. It is my way. Besides, I want to warn thee of a threat, not complain to thee of my brother." She looked flustered.

Lawrence settled a bit and said in an even voice, "Go on."

Aelflynn wrung her hands. "My brother .. with no encouragement from me whatsoever, sire, has decided that thou and I have formed an unseemly bond, that we are lovers. And he seeks to extort a boon from thee by threatening to tell thy lady wife."

Lawrence's face clouded. "I do not fold to threats, lady."

Aelflynn nodded sadly, "I know, my lord, and I simply wanted to tell thee so thou shouldst be warned and take what action thou canst to prevent such tidings reaching thy lady's ears.

Lawrence struggled to his feet, taking the crutch and placing it under his arm. "Lady, if such tidings should reach the Queen's ears, she would have more faith in me than apparently thou dost." He began to hobble away from her and towards the manor.

Aelflynn looked after him. She wanted to call to him to make him see she did not want to hurt or upset, just protect him. But she had no words.

Hugh saw the King limping into the manor yard with an angry expression and heard him bark to a servant to tell Lord Jehan that he should be preparing to leave in the next day and that he would be taking his leave of his host.

Her brother found Aelflynn where she still stood, unhappily replaying the scene in her mind.

"What happened, sister? The King looks very angry. What did thee do?" Hugh's countenance was dark.

Aelflynn looked up at him and shook her head. "I warned him of thy plan. He is not concerned."

Hugh flew into a fury. "Warned him? Thou ungrateful.. That was my one chance and thou has ruined it!"

He grabbed her by the throat. She struggled, but his grip was tight enough that she could not scream. Her world went dark and she fell to the ground. Her brother went pale as he realized he had killed her. He knew that he must flee and never come hence again.

When a village lad found her body later that day servants whispered among themselves that the King had been seen scowling and angry as he left the woods near the spot. Jehan looked at the King speculatively. He did not believe the man would kill the woman in cold blood, but what if she had tried to extort him or what if they had been lovers and the King feared for his young wife's displeasure. At any rate, he was the king. He would do what he would do, and devil take any who stood against it. It was a moot point.

Lawrence was shocked and saddened when he heard that the strange, remarkable woman was dead. He could not imagine who might have done this. He suggested that her brother be called in to question, but when the man could not be found, the matter was dropped. Lawrence was blind to the suspicious looks around him. It simply never occurred to him that someone might think he could have killed the healer himself.

He left for the Convent of St. Helen's the next day after Aelflynn was buried.

The kingdom was abuzz as quickly as such stories may fly, and with each telling the tale changed. When it reached St. Helen's the King was said to have had a hand in the death of a woman he had seduced. If the rumor ever reached the Queen's ears, she did not reveal it.

Next: The Birth of Peter

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About the author

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