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 26, 2009

New Stories: Lawrence Learns about Robert (Cut)

It could be said that this story does happen in the novel after a fashion. I blended the old Robert with the old Elerde and then smoothed away the differences to make him one person.

We are still not out of the letters yet. Amazing how much happened in just a few epistles! :)

October 766 - January 767

Adult Content

Lawrence sat at his work table staring at Lorin’s message. His presence was urgently needed, but no further details. He called back the messenger and grilled him but the man could shed no light on the urgency. As far as the man knew there was no impending danger, no illness, no matter of state that threatened the kingdom’s stability, although the man confessed he would be unlikely to know about any such as that last. He had been carefully chosen for his discretion by Lorin who had strictly counseled him not to speak of any scandal or rumor about the Queen.

The King dismissed the man with his thanks, and reread the message. Lorin was not prone to using words idly. If he said Lawrence was needed urgently, that was in fact the case. He called for his servants to make ready for him to journey back to Ratherwood Castle in his former capital of Lincoln.

It had been about three months since he had left Josephine standing in the courtyard at Ratherwood gazing sadly as he rode away. Lawrence found the memory almost unbearable. He regretted his decision to leave greatly. The ride to the new town and capital of Lawrencium had been hard, both emotionally and physically, as immediate loneliness ate at his heart and the constant motion of riding pulled at his thigh wound. He almost called for the party to reverse direction and go back to Lincoln, but he did not. He pressed forward determined to stay with his original plan. The anticipation of seeing his new capital helped him strengthen that resolve.

Coming into the town and seeing the Castle of Sunshine atop its ridge was glorious. He had a moment of regret that Josephine was not at his side for this arrival. He recalled that he was there to make her new home ready for her and their son.. and future children.. and allowed Athelwick, who had ridden up to meet him, to usher him through the town to see the many new buildings and facilities for the new inhabitants, and to the dock on the shore of the River Welland where it emptied into the sea and where ships were already arriving to trade their goods.

The King was pleased with every aspect the former outlaw showed him, but he was most anxious to see the castle, his new home. The road up to it was well prepared. He found himself already fantasizing Josephine’s arrival up that road into his arms. The castle itself was a stout walled courtyard with several buildings, including the keep and the armory, forge, laundry, a large brimming well and a place carved out for the middens. He noticed and asked about an older building embraced with the others by the thick castle walls. Athelwick explained, “’Tis part of the old Roman fort, my liege. It seemed strong and a pity to remove it entirely. We built it back up and it can house thy soldiers if thou chooses.” This was the same building that years hence Elerde would enter to save the Queen as it burned to the ground.

The only occupants of the keep itself now was a skeleton crew of servants who were making ready the place to house the King and his family, the Duke and his family and the many officials and nobles who lived at court, some with their own families. The King proved to be the keep’s first resident noble. He moved into the chamber he would occupy for many, many years, which he had ordered made with a privy stairway down to the Queen’s chambers on the level below. He had only a camp bed for now. The major furniture was being made or imported. The castle was very chilly, for although there were large hearths aplenty kept bright with roaring fires, there were as yet no tapestries or other wall hangings to keep the chill of cold stone from the rooms, and no window coverings from the mostly unglazed tall narrow windows. The King had sent a merchant to trade abroad for glass for the Queen’s chamber and the royal nursery, but it had not been delivered yet.

The King wrote briefly to his wife, letting her know he had arrived and how beautiful the town and castle were. He realized after dispatching his message that his words could have been read as formal or cool although he had not intended them to be anything but bright and cheerful. He sighed inwardly, then distracted himself with work.

In early November the sad news of Lorin’s wife’s and child’s death came to him and he grieved for them himself and for his beloved’s loss of a dear friend. He longed to be with her and comfort her.

At his arrival in Lawrencium, the King had had some considerable pain from his wound due to riding for so long. He had had to take his walking tours of the castle and town carefully and slowly, but by the end of November it was much better, healed, knitting well inside, and the pain in his thighbone eased. One morning he awoke in his camp bed to realize that he had had a dream of making love to Josephine. He took care of his own sexual need himself, and spent much of the day happy at the thought that perhaps he was still a man after all. He began to hope that he could send for his wife and son sooner than later. Those around him saw the solemn visage replaced by a smiling one.

He wrote again to Josephine about her coming to Lawrencium for Christmas, but blizzards temporarily prevented the message from going out and then made it apparent that travel for her and her infant child would be out of the question. He began to think of a reunion in January after the new year and after his own natal day. This scarred and weathered King would be turning 21.

The weather presented another impediment to the reunion he longed for. The wintry weather was making it hard for trade, and many of the things needed to make the castle livable were not able to get through by boat or land. As Christmas approached he sadly had to admit that without the furniture and wall and window coverings the keep would not be a fit home for a young mother and her baby. He steeled himself for a longer wait. Little word came from the castle since the news of Anne’s death. The roads were mostly impassable nearer the capital. Lawrence understood that this part of the equation in choosing this location for his capital had not entered his mind. He hoped that most winters would not be so harsh.

Lawrence wrote to his Queen.

My beloved wife,

I am sore at heart to have to delay thy coming to Lawrencium. The weather is chill and the castle not yet fitted for warmth. I myself am closeted in my chamber covered with many furs in my small bed at night. I cannot allow thee to come and bring our son to a place where thou wouldst both be miserable and might become ill.

I do long for thee, my precious one, and to see our Peter again. I shall try to come to Ratherwood in the new year since thou canst not come to me. I do dream of taking thee into mine arms and holding thee close. I promise it shall be as soon as I am able to leave here.

Thy adoring husband

At Ratherwood the Queen discovered this message for her the morning after her misadventure in the woods with the Breton knight. She sighed deeply. “Soon, my darling, soon, I beg thee.”

In Lawrencium the King anxiously waited for weather to improve. Then came this cryptic, alarming message from Lorin. The King set forth through the snow to Lincoln making all haste that he could.

Lorin had received a message of his brother-in-law’s impending arrival by the Duke’s own returning messenger who had been sent ahead of the returning King. He told his sister, whose reaction was mixed. She seemed elated and at the same time anxious. She looked hard at her brother and asked, “Lorin, didst thou tell him about Sir Robert and our rides?”

Lorin truthfully denied imparting such information. His sister pressed, “Lorin, I have nothing to hide, I was and am not unfaithful to mine husband.”

Lorin smiled affectionately, “My lady, I know that. I have complete trust in thy word.” He did not say that he did not entirely trust her heart or her body with such loneliness and such comfort conspiring together to lead her astray.

The Queen had carefully avoided Sir Robert de Riffet since they had returned form their ill fated ride that day. He had kissed her, she had rebuked him, and she had sworn to him she would never be alone with him again. She was able now with Lawrence’s impending arrival to banish some of the memory of the knight’s touch, his kiss. But other memories, of the King’s distant behavior when he had come back from Grantham, made her worried. Worst of all was wondering why Lawrence was coming to her now, when he had just written to say he would not come until January. It could not be a coincidence. He must have heard something, some wag’s unkind rumor mongering.

Josephine heard the halloo that signaled riders approaching the castle. Her heart leapt in two different directions. She called for her cloak and hurried down to the courtyard to meet her beloved. Her eyes were filled with love when she saw him astride his horse, coming through the castle gate. He was tall and straight in the saddle. He was magnificent.

Lawrence saw her too, small and delicate standing with her hands folded in front of her. His own heart swelled at the sight. He urged his mount forward and leapt deftly as he neared her, hiding a twinge of pain in his thigh when his feet hit the ground. He hurried to her. He saw her face was full of trepidation, and he thought to himself, “I was so unkind to her before.. she knows not how I shall treat her now.” He put his most loving smile on his face and went to her and gathered her up in his arms.

She had seen his look of concern and the transformation of his face into the old familiar loving sweetness. Her heart rejoiced as he took her in his arms. “He loves me! He loves me!” she chanted to herself.

Lawrence held her tight, then leaned to kiss her with all the ardor he had saved up for this moment. She yielded to him hungrily. When he pulled free of the kiss, his eyes were misty with desire. “My darling one, I want to stay with thee now, but I have had an urgent missive from thy brother and I must see him first.” He lifted her hands to his lips and gazing hard into her eyes kissed them lovingly. "Forgive me?"

Her eyes were bright with happiness. “Oh, aye, my love. But be not long.” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.

As Lawrence stepped past her, after casting a longing look back at her, she heard him catch sight of someone and greet him. “Sir Robert, well met!” The Breton made no reply. She thought with a skip of her heartbeat, “Lawrence does not know!” But then she thought, “But no doubt that is what Lorin will tell him.. that he needs to be home keeping an eye on his foolish wife.” She cast down her eyes and turned and hurried past the knight, not seeing the look of heartbreak on his face.

Lawrence was met by Lorin inside the keep and led to the Duke's own office. The King stopped and took Lorin's shoulders in his hands and said, "My dear brother, my sorrow for the loss of thy dear wife and child is great. How are thee?'

Lorin bowed his head and nodded. "My liege, I thank thee. It has been hard to bear, but I have business I must discuss with thee."

The King gave Lorin a squeeze with his hands on his shoulders then let him go and settled back against the edge of a table. Lorin noted a slight discomfort on the King's face, then that he shifted his weight to his other leg and looked up at the Duke expectantly. Lorin wrung his hands and turned away, walking aimlessly across the room.

"My lord, there is a certain young knight here at Ratherwood Castle who has conceived an improper affection for.. the Queen," he explained measuredly.

Lawrence stood up straight, an angry look on his face. "Who? Who is this blackguard?"

Lorin looked up at him and saw he would have to say the name. "My lord, it is a Breton, Sir Robert de Riffet." He saw Lawrence curl his hands into fists. "Lawrence, please, it is improper but not deliberate. The man is smitten. He has showered attention on her in her loneliness. It is innocent."

Lawrence's face worked as he thought of the kind greeting he had just given the man in the presence of his own wife. "Bastard! But much am I to blame for making my beloved so lonely. If the man is not pressing his affections on her, I may let him live. But what is it that made thee call for me? I think 'twas more than just comfort for thy sister, though that shouldst be quite enough."

"The court loves a scandal, my lord, as thou knowest. Although the Queen has made it clear to the knight and to all that she hath no heart for any man but thee, I fear that thy continued absence would allow malicious tongues to wag."

Lawrence roared, "Malicious tongues? Are they speaking ill of the Queen? Then they shall have to reckon with me! Her virtue is without question! Nor is it a permissible topic for courtiers' idle speculation!"

Lorin nodded. "My liege, thou shalt be making my sister very happy and easing her burden if thou stayed."

Lawrence calmed and agreed. "Aye, had I ne'er left in the first place. I fear mine own actions hath set these disgraceful matters afoot. I must go to her and assure her of my love and devotion."

Lawrence went in search of his wife, a sharp angry look a-ready should the Breton show his face again. He did not see him, but thinking of him made the King slow his pace. He had to think about how he had left his beloved in so cool and unthinking a manner. Perhaps he had in fact asked for some man to come along who could calm her fears and make her smile. It was high time he was with her, and it was now his job to make her happy and smiling.

Lawrence found his lady waiting for him on a cushioned bench near the entrance to the keep. She stood as he approached. He took her hands in his and lifted them to his lips. He saw that her smile was tinged with apprehension. He carefully covered his own regretful thoughts with a loving smile. Her own face cleared and she smiled dazzlingly into his eyes. He took her in his arms.

"My own darling, canst thou e'er forgive me for the cold and heedless lout I have been, to go and leave thee so unhappy?" He held her tight.

"My lord, that is all forgotten now that thou art with me again." She looked up at him and smiled. He kissed her sweetly, then put his chin on the top of her head.

"Oh my dearest, dearest one. I have so longed for thee."

"And I for thee, my darling."

He squeezed her. "And how is our beautiful little son, my dearest?"

She grinned and took his hand. "Come and see!" She led him to the nursery where the pale haired prince slept peacefully in his crib. Lawrence put his arm around Josephine's shoulders as they watched. Little Peter yawned once and screwed tiny fists into his tiny eyes. The parents sighed together, "Ahhhh."

Lawrence turned to face Josephine and put his arms around her. "My lady, he is the precious fruit of our bodies, our love making." He looked down and then up again into her eyes. "My darling Jo, I have longed these many weeks to make love to thee." He saw her loving smile and took her hand, and led her to her own chamber.

Lawrence shut and latched the door behind them. He went to her and took her chin in his hand. He leaned to kiss her. He lingered with his lips on hers long, then bent to pick her up. She put her arms around his neck and he gazed lovingly and desirously into her eyes as he carried her to the bed. He placed her on it and climbed up beside and on her. His voice was thick when he sighed, “Dearest one, I do so much love and desire thee."

He lay half on and half off her as he reached to undo her clothing. He spread open her bodice to reveal her breasts, still swollen with nursing. He leaned and put his lips to one nipple and kissed it. He reached to his own clothes and loosened first the jerking, then he unbuckled his belt and let it clatter to the floor beside the bed. He reached for her skirts and pulled them up. She lay breathing hard, her lips constantly seeking his, and gasped when he pulled her skirts up far enough that he could enter her. The feel of him in her was like a jolt of energy. She cried out. His lovemaking was urgent, almost uncontrolled. Her entire body was suffused with an intense and overwhelming thrill. He did not take long before he had spent himself in her. He opened his eyes as it happened and his look to her was like pain and rapture all in one. Her body quaked with the glow of its own release.

They lay gasping together, unable to move or speak. She was finally able to turn her head and look at him. He gazed with heavy lidded eyes and parted lips at her. He reached a hand to her face and stroked it. Josephine drew nearer him and nestled into him. They lay for sometime and then slept.

The Queen woke to fading light in the room and the sight of the King’s face near hers on the pillows. His eyes were closed and his face slack. Her own face filled with love and a sweet smile touched her lips. "My lord is here with me,” she sighed to herself.

Deep within her two of his seed had reached her waiting egg and entered it at once together. The cells began to divide rapidly and two little lives began to grow.

Next: Lawrence Deals with Sir Robert

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About the author

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