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

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Stories: Mementos (Happened)

The only change in this story is the name of the world-be paramour. This scene relates of Elerde of Leon and is at least in part in the novel.

March 767

Adult content.

ir Robert Elerde de Riffet of Brittany left many things behind when he left his beloved Queen with her husband at Ratherwood Castle. He was on his way to serve Queen Josephine of Christenlande by commanding a trio of outpost garrisons in her and her brother's birthright, Affynshire. Her husband the King had commanded it but in the mercenary knight's mind and heart the man only did it on his wife's behalf.. and that was how Robert intended to look at it.

When he set out for the far northern country, he dropped much of his name.. shortening it to Sir Elerde of Brittany. He also cut his hair short to make it simple, and so he could leave a long lock of it where Josephine would find it someday, in a book of verse he had given her. Shorter, his hair curled. And he left behind any chance of seeing the lady for years and of ever finding a wife and having children and an heir for himself.

Sir Elerde knew exactly why he was being sent so far and for so long. He had dared to love the Queen. The King, who had left the perfect creature alone for so long and to heartache so bitter had come back and made sure his rival was not there to remind him of his stupidity. Sir Elerde had wondered why the man had not killed him.. he certainly could have and received no condemnation for it.. except perhaps from his wife. He wondered if Josephine had interceded on his behalf with her husband. If so, it told Elerde much about this King, and he tucked the knowledge away for use at some possible future date.

He did not hate Lawrence but he also did not envy him his wife. The love he held for her himself was something apart. The King may possess her but Elerde knew a Josephine that perhaps this man would never.. vibrant, risk taking, and aglow in a way Elerde was confident belonged only to him. He would have her in his life one day, he was sure of it.

As he rode north with his contingent of men at arms he fingered a soft leather treasure he had in his sleeve. He did not know if the item would be missed, save by the lady herself.. one glove, the right, with the scarlet stitching around the wrist. It had been a gift from her husband to her he knew.. but it also had been the hand he had held on their walks through the snowy forest paths. He smiled privately as he felt the texture of the delicate stitching.

At Ratherwood Castle in Lincoln the King waited in the Queen’s chamber while she said her goodnight to the infant Peter in the nursery. Lawrence walked idly about the room, feeling content in anticipation of having Josephine in his arms again that night. He cast about fond glances at the things that were hers, and touched some, picked some up, smiled at all.

He happened to look into a small chest that lay on a table, open, with curled and beribboned parchments, odd items of jewelry and some small hand bound books. He lifted one whose spine stuck out.. and opened it. It was in Latin and he recognized the names of the love poets whose work was beautifully illuminated inside: Catullus, Ovid, Virgil and Pompertius. He smiled with affection at his wife’s owning such a thing, so sweet, so romantic. He riffled through a few pages and was startled when something fell out. His smile disappeared as he looked at the thing on the table where it now lay. It was a lock of hair.. long, dark and of unquestionable origin. “Robert..” he breathed bitterly.

The King stood a moment and stared at the lock. Did she know it was here? And was the book a gift from the would be paramour? His heart felt dull and heavy. He heard motion in the corridor and swiftly snatched up the lock, putting the book back where it had lain under two others in the open chest. He walked over to the hearth and impulsively tossed the lock of hair in. It caught fire instantly and burned up.

Josephine came in with the smile she always had when she had been with her child. She saw Lawrence at the hearth with his back to her. “My dearest, what an odd smell. What may have burned in the fire?”

When Lawrence turned she was startled by his expression. She could not read it. He seemed perhaps to be a bit paler than usual, but he was clearly trying to hide it. He caught her own puzzled look and covered his unease more successfully. He smiled, not quite his usual warm smile, and came to her.

“I believe it came from out of doors,” he lied. “I noticed it but a little while ago. It shall pass soon. Come to me, my dearest love.”

She went to him and pressed into him to be enveloped in his arms. He held her tight, then leaned to kiss her with an even more than customary intensity. “Lawrence!” she cried a bit breathless when he finally let her lips go. He only responded with another hungry kiss.

Lawrence felt his ardor multiplying by the second. The sight of the lock of Robert’s hair made him want Josephine more than ever. He felt an almost frightening need to possess her, to make clear to -- to whom? To her? To himself? -- that she was his and his alone. He looked into her eyes with a fervent lust and was gratified to see her respond. He could not help a fleeting thought, “Is this what she wants? Is this what she has not gotten from me that she seeks in another?” The thought only made him more urgently need her.

He did not latch the door, he did not take her to the bed. He put his arm behind the small of her back and bent her so her weight was held only by his own arms. He kneeled, lowering her to the floor. He lay atop her, pressing her knees apart with his own. He took her head in both of his hands and pressed his lips to hers ravenously. He overwhelmed her and made her breathless with his passion. He took her there, on the floor, leaving them both gasping and spent after.

Josephine lay with her head on his shoulder, his arm around her, thrilled at the sudden passion her husband had displayed, but still wondering, what had brought it about? He was ever an ardent lover, but this had been different, had been unexpectedly urgent. It reminded her of the first night he was back from Lawrencium. But this time he had not gone without lovemaking for a long time. In fact, they had made love that morning before rising. Might there have been more than just longing on both occasions? She could not guess that knowing about Sir Robert was the impetus for both.

Distracted by plans afoot to move the court to Lawrencium now that spring weather made the roads passable and residence in the castle possible, Josephine did not notice her husband’s frequent speculative looks. In his mind he was playing over his thoughts at seeing the lock of Robert’s hair and the book of love poems. Had there been more to her friendship with the Breton knight? He did not suspect adultery – he trusted her more than that. But he also knew she was capable of not realizing how her demeanor might communicate something less innocent, more inviting to a man smitten with her. He wondered if the book had been a gift from the Breton, and again as he had before, if she had known the lock of hair was tucked into it. If so, he wondered, why did she keep them? The thoughts pressed on him, made him question his own ability to please her and keep her happy. Their lovemaking was colored by this mixture of self doubt and the urgent need to possess her. He noted her puzzled pleasure at his intensity.

The Queen instructed her servants on packing her own and the baby’s things, but there were some personal treasures she chose to go through herself. One was the small chest she kept on a table in her bedchamber. She waited for solitude to open it and go through the contents. It held small mementos, a few pieces of jewelry, some prized books, and other keepsakes. She carefully took the book of Latin love verse out and smiled remembering the private moment when Robert had given it to her. They had discussed Latin verse on more than one occasion and she had expressed a liking for Ovid in particular. How he had obtained such a rare item she did not know, but she suspected it was something of his own.

When Robert had been sent away she had brought out the book and read every poem, stopping with surprise when she found the lock of his hair pressed between pages near the middle next to this poem of Ovid’s:

He Commends Himself to his Mistress by the merits of his Poetry, by the Purity of his Morals and by his Vow of Unchangeable Fidelity

My prayer is just: let the fair one who has so lately captivated my heart love me ever, or so act that I shall love her ever. Nay, but 'tis too much I ask! Only let her suffer herself to be loved. May Cytherea incline her ear to all my prayers. Vouchsafe thy favours to a lover who swears that he will serve thee through the years, who knows how to love with pure and lasting fidelity. If I have no long line of famous ancestors to recommend me, if the founder of our family is but a simple Knight; if innumerable ploughs be not required to till my fields; if my father and mother are constrained to husband our resources, at least let Apollo and his choir the Nine, and the discoverer of the vine, plead with thee in my behalf and Love who gives me unto thee, and faith that shall fail not, irreproachable morals, guileless sincerity and modesty that knows how to blush. I am none of those who love a hundred women at a time; I am no fickle philanderer. Thou and only thou, believe me, wilt ever be beloved by me. Whatsoever the tale of years the fates may spin for me, I will pass them at thy side, and, dying, be lamented by thee.

Vouchsafe to be the joyful subject of my song, and my songs shall be worthy their theme. 'Twas poesy that gave renown to the nymph Io, affrighted at her horns, and to the fair Leda whom the divine adulterer seduced by taking on the semblance of a swan, and to Europa who, carried off by a fictitious bull, traversed the sea, grasping in her virgin hands the wide horns of her captor. We too shall be sung throughout the world, and ever my name shall be united with thine own.

Josephine’s heart had fairly stopped. What a rash and risky act Robert had done by placing this lock of hair here in a book she should not have accepted and certainly should not keep. What if someone else had found it? What if Lawrence had found it? She cast about for something to do with the hair. She took it in her fingers, thinking to throw it out the window or into the fire, but the feel of it stopped her. A pang of loneliness for Robert touched her heart. It was too precious a thing to destroy. But it was too dangerous a thing to keep. She sat in panic for a few moments, then pushed the lock back into the book, resolving to find a way to dispose of it in a way that would not dishonor Robert. O rash impetuous man! She pushed the book under two others in the chest and closed the lid.

Now as she looked through the book while preparing her things for the move, she planned what she would do with the memento the knight had left just for her. She would walk in her garden, a beloved spot at Ratherwood Castle she knew she would miss in Lawrencium and the site not only of many lovely walks with Robert but of many more with Lawrence. She would scatter the lock among the flowers that were just beginning to bloom. It would be a fitting way to honor and remember the gallant man who had helped her through the loneliness and despair of the past winter.

But at the Ovid poem she gasped and put the fingers of her right hand on her lips. The lock was not there! She started to look frantically in the chest but then remembered the odd smell of burning from the evening several days before. Realizing suddenly that Lawrence must have found the lock and thrown it into the fire she dropped the book and cried aloud. Tears sprang to her eyes. She had known that Lawrence knew something of the incident with Robert. He had revealed that in both where he had arranged the knight to sit in the Hall at supper, at the furthest point from the high table, and by dispatching the man to the furthest outposts of their frontier for untold time and untold dangers. But he had said nothing to her about what he knew or suspected. She had hoped, vainly now she realized, that her husband simply trusted that she would not hurt or betray him and had decided the less said the less pain.

Now Josephine had to add to this confusing state of affairs the fact that while he had obviously found and burned the lock of hair, Lawrence still had not mentioned any of it to her. In fact, she could not remember even hearing Robert’s name from his lips. What did it mean? Then her mind ran to the sudden and overwhelming passion of their lovemaking that night.. and now that she thought of it, every night since. She questioned now whether that passion had been love or anger.. or both? She chided herself bitterly, “Why did I not destroy the lock and this book as soon as I found it? Now what will I do to let Lawrence know I have not shared my love with anyone but him? Will he e'er trust me again?” The tears spilled from her eyes and flooded down her cheeks.

Lawrence noticed her tension over the rest of that day. He noticed every nuance of her expression or movements or voice during this time after discovering the memento Robert had left behind. He could not help but examine her behavior for clues to her feelings. He worked hard to convince himself that Josephine had been unaware of the secret treasure the book held, and that this itself was proof that the book meant little to her and was no indication of more feeling between her and her knight. He bit his own lip at the thought, “her knight”. What was he doing, thinking like that? Did he not trust her? Was he trying to sabotage his own faith in her?

Josephine herself was distracted by trying to find a solution to the problem. How could she broach the matter with Lawrence? The very thought made her tremble and go pale. She must find a way to demonstrate to him that the lock and the book had no meaning for her. She would find a way to give the book away to someone carelessly as if it was of no value to her and make sure he saw this take place. But just as she hatched the plan she realized, and guilt gripped her as she did, that the book and the lock did matter to her. She felt she could not part with either. No that was not true, she could part with them, but never carelessly. This would not work. She was not the sort of person who could carry out such devious plans.

What’s more did such a subterfuge not make her exactly what she wanted the King not to think of her? Did it not make her a cheat and a liar? All she could do, she admitted to herself, was tell Lawrence the truth about it all. She could no longer live on the hope that Robert’s name and the whole sad affair would be lost in the silence for herself and her beloved husband.

Josephine resolved to speak to the King as soon as they were alone in her chamber as they often were just before going down to supper in the Great hall. She took the book of verse from the chest and looked around for the best place to put it where he would not fail to see it. Not on the bed, as that was too intimate a place. Not on the table, for he might intentionally try to overlook it there. She finally determined to place it on the large clothing chest along the wall where he could not help but notice something out of place. She then sat on the bed and waited for him.

As chance would have it, he did not come. Instead a messenger rapped at the door, causing her heart to skip a beat, and came in with a note from the King saying he was delayed and would join her during supper. Repressing tears of strain, she finished getting ready and went down to the Hall.

Lawrence was not over late. He arrived, smiling and kissed her on the cheek. He conversed animatedly with his general, Horsa, who sat by him on the opposite side of him from Josephine. Lorin, who sat at the Queen’s side, perceptively noted her unease and asked if she was well. She nodded distractedly and left him looking at her puzzled and anxious.

Lawrence turned his full attention at length to his wife. He saw the same discomfort that her brother had, and, in fact, exchanged looks with the Duke. He leaned confidentially to his wife and asked in a soft voice, “Dearest, art thou unwell?”

His voice startled the Queen out of her racing thoughts. She looked up at him pale and responded, “Oh, my lord, I am sorry.. I want to speak with thee after supper when we are alone about a matter of.. about a matter.” She saw his look grow solemn. He nodded. “May we leave now?” Lawrence took her hand and they stood, causing the assemblage all to stand until they had left the Hall. The courtiers’ smiles were suggestive as they passed from the room.

Lawrence waited in the corridor to see where Josephine wanted to have their discussion. She took his hand and led him directly to her chamber. She opened the door and ushered him in, and she turned to close the door and latch it. The King stood just inside fearful of what this revelation might be. Then he glanced over and saw the book, recognizing it immediately. He cast his eyes down rather than risk looking into her eyes at that point when he had not a chance to control how they might appear to her.

She wrung her hands, coming to him. She spoke, “My lord, it is about this book and ...something that was in it.” Lawrence looked up at her. He nodded, then cast his eyes down again. She understood that he knew that she was talking about the lock of hair. She continued, “I owe you an explanation. Both of these items were given to me by...Sir Robert... but I did not encourage him to give me them.” Here her voice faltered slightly as she lost confidence that she was entirely blameless, but she pressed on, “I confess that I find the book very beautiful and I was loathe to get rid of it, though I ought to have. The other...item...appeared only recently and I had not thought how to dispose of it. You may find it difficult to understand this, but I could not simply throw it away. Again, I ought to have. I fear I must appear...very foolish...nay worse, I fear that you may doubt me."

Had she looked up into his face a moment before she did, at the point when she had said, “I could not simply throw it away,” she would have seen the troubled look that crossed his face. But she did not look at him until her last word was said, and the look she gave him was full of anguish.

The King’s heart melted at the sight of her pain and fear. He said, “Oh my dearest darling,” and gathered her up in his arms. He held her tight with his cheek pressed to the side of her head. The Queen sank into him, shocked at his reaction, but also feeling the erratic rhythm of his breathing. In an uneven voice he said, “Jo, we have not spoken of the knight ere this. I had hoped we ne’er would need to. Aye, I found the lock and I did burn it. It grieves me that it meant so much to thee that thou dist not destroy it thyself. But I do not doubt thy constancy.”

She felt him either sigh or sob silently. She lifted her face to his, heartbroken at the look she saw there, of self doubt, of fear, of deep hurt. “Lawrence, I love only thee and have ne’er willingly been with any other man than thee. And so shall I be constant to thee so long as thou love me.” She put her head back on his chest, for comfort and also to avoid continuing to see the expression on his face.

He sighed, “I must wonder many things, my love. I must wonder if thou knowest I sent the man away to keep him from thee, not to keep thee from him..” He felt her squeeze him tighter. “And..” he hesitated, then went on, “I wonder what is lacking in me that thou shouldst find such pleasure in the man’s companionship. But I realize that I didst leave thee alone and with us on unhappy terms, so I must bear the responsibility for that. I am truly sorry, my darling, I am so truly sorry.”

Josephine’s heart went out to him. “Oh Lawrence, please, do not. “Tis not thy fault.“

The King continued to hold her. “My love, this is most difficult for me to ask. I do not question thy truthfulness at all. I simply want to.. need to.. know what the knight’s behavior was towards thee.. did he press his suit.. did he hurt thee in anyway?” He pushed her back just far enough to look into her face.

Josephine shook her head, “He did not hurt me. He took some liberties, but he stayed himself the moment I said him nay…”

The King’s face reddened with anger. “Took liberties with thee?~ How dare he. I will kill the man!”

Josephine looked up at him alarmed. She put her fingers to his mouth. “Nay, nay my lord, please do not do any more than thou hast done by sending him away! It is not entirely he that was to blame. I was very foolish; I indulged my pleasure in having so well-read and accomplished a companion. In your absence, there was no one else here with whom I could share such things. I should have realized how it would appear to others..."

Lawrence thought to ask if her brother was not such a companion, but thought better of it. He allowed his anger to subside. He asked, “What did he do? What liberties did he take? I must know.”

She looked into his face with all the earnestness that was in her heart. “He kissed me. That is all.”

The King’s face now displayed anguish. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. For a few moments Josephine felt locked out of his mind. She pursued, “He started to, Lawrence, that is all. I stopped him. He apologized. I told him I would no longer speak to him or spend time with him. He accepted all with honor.”

Her voice cut through his pain. He opened his eyes and looked into hers, finding only sincerity and truth. He nodded. “I believe thee. I shall not punish the man further, for it would be a dishonor to myself and thee as well as him to do so. And I do not wish to give the wagging tongues any more fuel for their fires.”

It struck Josephine then how her husband must have felt if he had learned about the idle gossip. As it no doubt embroidered the entire incident into something far more significant and scandalous than it had in fact been, it was to the King’s credit that he had held his hand at all, no less had been so circumspect in how he handled the knight’s advances to his wife. She looked at him with profound sympathy. “Oh my darling, I am so sorry if my foolish and thoughtless ways have brought thee so much pain.”

He tried to smile. “Josephine, I love thee with all my heart and soul. I would gladly die for thee. I shall e’er be utterly devoted to thee and our children. I just hope that is enough for thee. If there is aught I can give thee more, do tell me. I shall do my best to make thee feel complete.”

She embraced him and said, “Oh, my dear, my dear, thou doth. Thou are my lord and my life.”

“The book. It was from him. I must ask thee now to leave it behind and not bring it to Lawrencium..” he ventured.

She did not reveal her reluctance when she told him, “I shall not bring it to thy capital.”

He murmured, “No more secrets between us, Josephine? I cannot bear it.”

Josephine promised, “My dearest, no more secrets.”

Then she remembered the brooch Robert had given her the morning of that ill fated winter ride.

Next: The Brooch, and the Move to Lawrencium

1 comment:

  1. Elerde is Robert is Elerde...doesn't matter what the dude's name is, he can't get a break with Josephine. Lucky for Lawrence. I guess.

    Poor old pathetic Robert Elerde. Can I call you "Bob"? Hey, Bob, some advice from twelve-hundred-forty-god-dam-years-in-the-future: maybe you should forget about the cold, teasing what’s-the word-rhymes-with-twitch? and go to Mercia, Ireland, or even back to Brittany to find some adventures. What you have is what we in the 21st century call a no-win situation. You deserve a lot better. I'm sure there are lots of fine women out there that would second that.

    It's a lot of fun to read these stories and parallel them to what's actually in the An Involuntary King novel. The old stories are fun in and of themselves, but you see a lot of themes and roots in the final novel.



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About the author

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