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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Stories: Calamities - The War With Mercia (Happened)

There are minor differences from the novel, so consider this "happened"... "Jehan" was rechristened "Harold" in the novel.

The King sat in his saddle looking out over the enemy lined up on an opposite ridge. The war with Mercia had gone on for months. The time away from home, away from his wife, and unable to visit the new capital he was building, was taking its toll even more than his first two experiences in war had. For one, Josephine was at least five months pregnant. He had been able to make two trips to the castle to arrange for more provisions, something Lorin did anyway, but the time away from his armies weighed on his mind and conscience, so he finally told his wife he would not come again until the war was won. The leave-taking was the worst they had yet experienced, with so much at risk with them both.

The one thing that held them each together was knowing that Lorin would be on top of everything behind the scenes, would always know what was needed before it was needed and would do what was right. Lawrence could relax a little with Lorin with the Queen, and Josephine knot only needed the assurance of his presence but felt better knowing the King could concentrate on winning the war and coming home to her and their child.

The war with Mercia was, he believed, coming to an end at last. The attack on the southwest frontier of Christenlande was a grab for some of the very fertile land of the Welland valley. The war had consisted mostly of skirmishes across the border by Mercia's forces, harrying of the farms there, and occasional occupations of the monasteries and villages of the area. The King's armies spent their time, energies and lives - actual lives - trying to keep Mercia on their side of the Welland and cutting their forces bit by bit until the Earl of Mercia would no longer have the strength to keep up the raids. When the King of East Anglia joined Lawrence in opposing Mercia, for fear that nation would be its next target, the tide turned from stalemate to route.. it would not be long before the Mercian armies would go back over the Welland and stay there. Maybe even after this battle, Lawrence thought, letting a ray of hope into his heart and mind.

Lawrence was 20 now, comparable to a man in his late 20s or even early 30s in modern times, with the life span so short in the Dark Ages. His life would have aged him even if the era had not. He was not now the fully formed and filled out man he would become in just a few years, but he was changed, even more than after the death of his brother Roland, his wife's rapist. The tedium of the constant back and forth of the battles and the anxiety for Josephine wore him down.

The Mercian line on the opposite ridge was holding pretty well, considering their reduced numbers. The King turned to his general, Horsa, who would be with him for many years, and said, "General, I think if we come at them all at once in our full force, they will simply turn and run back across the river."

Horsa considered. He was himself East Anglian and had helped bring about the alliance that had turned the direction of the war. "Aye, sire, but I would be very watchful of those archers. Mercia has them in an odd position.. I do not know what he is up to."

Lawrence shaded his eyes and looked at the archers, who usually were positioned behind the rank and file of soldiers at the beginning of any battle. Instead Mercia had placed his archers split into two sections on the outer edges. "Mayhap he plans to have them shoot across his own forces? Diagonally?"

Horsa sighed. "I do not think that would be wise, and whatever Mercia is, he's not a fool."

The King's horse fretfully moved about under him. He calmed it and thought a while. "Aye, we need to watch them. But I still think the full onslaught will do the trick." Horsa agreed, and rode to his captains to give the order.

The King kept his eye on the enemy forces while Horsa's men repositioned to make an all out onslaught. None moved.. no change in their positions. He was puzzled, but he remained confident that this would be the battle that would send the enemy off in disgrace. He saw Horsa and his captains turn to look at him and knew it was time to give the signal. He lifted his sword above him, and then brought it down with a whoosh. The Christenlandian and East Anglian soldiers moved forward all at once, with the archers of both countries raining arrows on the field between them and the Mercians as they too moved forward.

Lawrence had been right. The line of Mercians held for a short time, then the sheer immensity of the allied push overwhelmed them. They started to buckle and then.. to run. They ran every which way to reach the river. It was too easy. Too fast. There was something not right. Lawrence spurred his horse forward to shout to Horsa that there was some sort of trick afoot. His retinue followed close behind.

The King had lost sight of the archers on the left flank of the Mercian army and did not see that both edges had moved around to come alongside the allied push. They had an almost clear shot now at any mounted knight. An arrow flew from somewhere to the left and struck the king in his thigh near the hip. He was stunned. He almost did not consciously realize he had been struck. He finally felt the blood running down his leg and looked, seeing the shaft of the arrow sticking out of his thigh and the blood pouring from the wound. He was aware of Horsa shouting something about archers, and his own troops turning to face them. He felt like he was in a tunnel of fog. He reached down and broke the shaft as close to this thigh as he could. The pain it caused was excruciating and he almost passed out. He struggle for and regained his senses. He spurred forward to join in the routing of the remaining Mercians.

At long last the field, strewn with the bodies of dozens and dozens of dead and wounded men was won. The Mercians had crossed the river in a mad dash, their numbers decimated, and many soldiers even drowning in the river. The King sat astride his gorse gazing over the carnage with a dazed expression. Horsa rode up to him and cautiously peered into his face. "My liege?" he began.

Lawrence tipped sideways and simply toppled off his mount onto the ground. A dozen knights and Horsa dismounted at once and went to him. He was unconscious. They rolled him over and several gasped when they saw the short piece of the broken shaft in his thigh.

Horsa cried, "God's eyes, he has been bleeding out for sometime. Quick make a litter and take him to Jehan's manor. We must get him to a healer immediately. They made a makeshift stretcher from a shield and pulled the King, who was already pale from loss of blood, onto it and four of the knights ran with him to the manor.

In the castle a few days later Lorin received the news of the King's wounds. He hesitated to tell the Queen, her condition being as delicate as it was with two failed pregnancies before this one. But he knew he must, or she would learn from someone who did not love her as much as he did.

He went to her chambers where she was resting in front of the window, seeming to doze. He entered quietly, but she looked up as soon as she heard his step. "Oh Lorin, it's thee. Is there news of Lawrence?"

Lorin turned his face away from her and responded as positively as he could make his voice sound. "Aye, it appears the war is won." He expected to hear a laugh or cry of joy, but when he did not hear it, he turned and saw Josephine sitting up straight with her hand on her belly and a stricken look on her face.

"And..?" she barely could force out.

Lorin's look was grave indeed. "The King hath sustained a terrible wound. He lost a great deal of blood. He is at Lord Jehan's manor. He is alive. Just."

Josephine cried in pain and fear and slumped back on her chair, appearing to faint. Lorin called for wine and rushed to her . She held her belly as though it would burst if she did not. He knelt by her and took her hand. A long heartbroken cry came from her lips. "Lawrence, oh my darling… I cannot lose thee."

Note: The image above is part of a "yarn painting" I made called "The Great Hall". This is Horsa with his lady wife in front of him. I will post the whole image tomorrow.

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About the author

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