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 25, 2009

New Stories: Sir Robert de Riffet (Cut)

If you read the earlier letters, you know that in the original stories Josephine had an affair with a young French knight, Sir Robert de Riffet. Here's how I reimagined that story. There is no Robert and no realized affair in the novel.

October - December 766

What bothered Josephine about Lawrence's departure was not that she suspected he had lain with the healer Aelflynn. Lawrence never lied to her directly, and he had said he had neither slept with nor murdered the woman, and that she accepted was gospel truth. What had disconcerted and now depressed her was what he concealed from her. It was obvious he was upset about Aelflynn and possibly more, but no matter how she tried to broach the topic before he left, he evaded her questions. She realized with the wisdom of hindsight that if she had asked him outright, "Dost thou feel responsible for the healer's death?" and "Doth thou forsake my bed because thou doth not want me any more?" she would have at least had direct answers she could trust. But she had been afraid to anger and possibly drive him away. Now that this had happened anyway, she regretted not being more forthright.

After so long without her husband and then the doubts of the past months, the Queen was intensely lonely and afraid she was losing the love of her young life. She may have been able to turn to her brother for advice and comfort under normal circumstances but he had his own tragedy to cope with now. Soon after Lawrence had left for his capital, Lorin's wife Anne had gone into labor with her first child, and after many horror filled hours of pain had died, along with the little girl she bore. Josephine's grief was deep, for her brother and for her own loss of a dear friend. Lorin, closeted with his work and speaking to no one, would not let her share his grief with him.

Anne and the baby's death made Josephine all the more attentive to her own little one. Peter was a handsome, cheerful baby. The older women of the court declared him the twin of his father as so wee a child. Josephine spent every waking minute she could with her son, drawing love from him and feeling closer to Lawrence through him. But she had little adult company and no other comfort. She herself, like her brother, kept apart, eating her meals in the nursery and never venturing far beyond her own chambers.

As All Souls Day came and went, some of the ladies of the court began to notice how pale the Queen had become. Although they never spoke of it, all assumed the Queen was unhappy at her husband's infidelity, something they accepted as fact. One older woman, a longtime friend to Josephine, begged her to rejoin the court for meals in the Great Hall. At first she used the Queen's own best interest as the reason she needed to mix with people again, then pointed out a sad and sickly mother would do Peter no good. What finally worked was a risk she took, suggesting that the Queen's absence from the major social event of the day did nothing to lessen the tendency to spin more and more elaborate rumors "about things…" she said significantly. Josephine relented and told her friend she would come to the Great Hall the next day for the evening meal.

Josephine found that she was uneasy about appearing publicly as she feared that the whispers and stares would be more than she could bear. But she felt she owed it to both Peter and Lawrence to brave it out, so the next evening she dressed and went down for supper.

It was customary that ladies must be escorted by a gentleman when coming in for the meal. If a lady did not have her own lord to offer his arm, she would be matched with an unattached gentleman to accompany her. When Josephine arrived at the entry to the Great Hall she found herself facing a quite dashing fellow, handsome, tall with dark straight hair that fell to his shoulders and a very flattering look of admiration on his face as he bowed to her.

"My lady, may I introduce myself. I am thy escort and companion this evening." He took her hand and kissed it elegantly. "And may I hope for many evenings hence? I am called Robert de Riffet. I am a knight from Brittany who hath fought with thy husband the King in the war against Mercian invasion." He continued to hold her hand.

Josephine smiled brightly at this courteous and very good looking Breton but pulled her hand away firmly. "Sir Robert, I am pleased to meet thee. From Brittany thou says? That is a Celtic land, is it not?"

Robert offered his arm for her to take and they entered the Great Hall and went to the High Table with a stately pace that Robert set. The Queen heard a few intakes of breath and wondered what they were for.. did she look that pale?

Robert answered her as they made their way to their seats. "That is so, Brittany is a Celtic land, not unlike Wales, Ireland and Scotland."

The Queen smiled up at him as he pulled out her chair and pushed it in again as she sat. "And like this land ere my father's people came to take it from my mother's people."

Robert seated himself beside her on the opposite side from the King's empty chair. "Thy father's people? The Saxons I think? Thy mother is.. was Celtic?"

Josephine nodded, "Aye, she was. She passed many a year ago. The name she gave me was Ceridwen."

Robert for his part was enraptured by the Queen, whom he was meeting for the first time. He did not believe he had ever seen anyone more lovely and should probably never see the like again, even if he was meant to see heavenly angels in the hereafter. Her coloring, pale to some, was ivory to him, her hair was a golden veil, and her eyes the blue of the brightest day. Her manner was dignified but modest and sweet. The sound of her voice was like music to him. "Ceridwen," he breathed. "My lady, may I call thee that, my Lady Ceridwen?"

The Queen flushed slightly, sending roses into the ivory cheeks and completed, unknowingly, her conquest of the knight. "It is not seemly, sir knight. Thou shouldst only call me my lady or thy majesty."

He took her hand again and kissed it, "Thou wisheth and I do, my lady," he said.

Many heads turned often to the pair at the high table. There were smiles from those who loved the Queen and were happy to see her so animated. There were supercilious looks for those who knew the knight and knew he was smitten. Fatally smitten, one might say with hyperbole.

Sir Robert's attention was solely for the Queen, her words, her needs, her every gesture. Josephine basked in the glow of his admiration, lonely as she was for someone's love, someone who had left her side and had not come back to fetch her to his capital yet. As she went to her chambers after the meal, she found herself humming a Breton tune she knew. When she realized it, she clapped her hand over her smiling lips and actually giggled.

She needed not to be persuaded to go to the Great Hall for supper the next night or the next or the next. Her companion was always the dark knight with the gracious manners and doting attention.

One evening she began to tell him how much she and her sister and brother had loved to roam the wilds when they were children. She told him of a little pony she had, Fairylight, that she would ride at its fastest pace through woods and glens in Affynshire.

Robert asked her, "In summer only, or in winter too, my lady?"

"Oh, mostly in the warm months but I do so love to go out in the snow. Pity there is none on the ground now," she answered smiling.

Sir Robert adopted a formal stance as he bowed and asked her, as they were leaving the Hall, "My lady, may I have the pleasure of thy company for a ride near the castle on the morrow?

In spite of herself, Josephine clapped her hands with joy. "Oh, I should like that, sir knight!"

But then she thought better of it. The Queen started to protest that it would not be seemly for them to ride alone, but he stopped her. "My lady, we shall not be alone. My manservant will be with us always.. and thou shouldst bring a maidservant." So Josephine relented.

She had a wonderful time that next afternoon. They rode at a sedate pace with the servants riding at a discreet distance behind them and spoke of Brittany and of her childhood land of Affynshire. He asked many questions, praised her observations about his land, and took every opportunity to turn the conversation back to herself. At the end of the ride he gave her his hand to dismount her horse, then lifted hers to kiss. "May I hope for such joy again soon, my lady?" She agreed happily.

The Queen spent most of her days with her beautiful little son. She played with him, changed him, fed him, and watched him as he slept. Looking at him made her think of Lawrence and sigh. Her loneliness would then spill over her and make her melancholy. But when the child awoke to be taken to her breast, her happiness returned and she sang to him and stroked his fine pale hair.

Then there were the other days she spent not in loneliness but in increasing companionability and adventure with her knight from Brittany. She repressed a nagging sense that she should not be indulging one person in the court over all the others, but the time with the charming knight allowed her to forget her doubt and sorrow and just be in the minute.

She did her best to overlook all his touches as innocent, unavoidable, or so she told herself. Aye, he did have to help her from the horse. Aye he did sometimes have to take her arm as they walked in the new snow of December. It was nothing to be worried about when he put an arm around her shoulder and draped his cloak over them both when he saw her shivering. She might not admit it, but she thrilled every time he touched her. Her lonely body ached for her husband, and this man was giving her a taste of what she needed.

The two of them had found a hideaway, an old unused hunting lodge in the woods. Robert had his manservant bring wine and mulling spices and they drank it together in front of the fire they built in the long cold hearth. There was nothing untoward, he told her, as they were not alone. She did not protest. He took that as the beginning of an invitation to take their touching to a new level.

Robert saw before him a lovely, lonely woman being ill treated by a cold husband. He sorrowed for her melancholy and all he wanted to do was ease it. His own common sense said he was playing a risky game, but his impetuous nature won out as it always did. He saw in her complicity in the rides and the wine at the lodge her willingness if not actual desire for him to love her.

One beautiful bright day with the snow all about on the trees and hills, she met Robert in the courtyard and let him help her to her saddle. She noticed he whispered something to his manservant out of her earshot. The man nodded and looked towards the Queen. She thought nothing of it.

Many of their rides were wild and foolish. Josephine would suddenly take off at a gallop, daring the knight to chase her. This time when the wild gallop resulted in losing the servants far behind them, the servants did not catch up. As snow started to fall faster and thicker, they sped on, eventually losing themselves in a part of the woods she did not recognize.

Robert caught up to her and took the bridle. "Dear one, I think we are lost."

Josephine turned a level gaze to him. He had called her dear one. It was so sweet to hear, but.. "Robert, no, do not say that."

He thought she meant that they were lost and said, "My lady, fear not. I shall find our way home."

"Josephine said, "First, sir knight, I must rest a bit. The ground under that spreading oak looks dry.. let us sit a while." She started to dismount.

Robert was down from his own horse and at her side in a flash. He reached up his hands to her to help her down. As she slid off the horse, he engulfed her in his arms. He put his lips to hers and kissed her with all the ardor and passion he had conceived for his beautiful Queen.

Josephine did not resist right away. She was taken unawares by his action. And it felt so good. To be in a strong man's arms again.. the man's lips on hers. His smell, the taste of him. She had to battle up from a desire to melt completely to protest.

"Sir Robert, no! Thou canst not!" She pushed him away.

The look on his face was shock. "My lady, my dearest, I thought.. I thought thou wanted me.." he said in genuine concern.

Josephine looked into his eyes and saw he was entirely sincere. "Oh, dear Robert, I am sore ashamed. I have been giving thee false messages. " She turned her back to him, not able to bear the pain she saw in his face. "Sir knight, I am a married woman, married to the King of this land. Thou art a knight in his service. Thou shall dishonor us both."

Robert dropped to one knee in the snow. He held his hands up clasped in a prayerful gesture. "My lady, please. Forgive me. I am too rash and too inconsiderate. 'Tis not thy doing but only mine." He dropped his hands and hung his head.

Josephine had turned to see his plea for pardon. She wanted to, longed to forgive him but she knew her only choice was to play it cold. "Sirrah, I shall not speak of this with thee. I never shall be alone with thee again. And I want to return to the castle immediately."

Robert stood and in a very formal and reserved way helped her onto the saddle again. He mounted his own horse and sat straight and dignified in the saddle, avoiding her eyes.

Try as he might Robert could not easily find his way back to the road he recognized. They were hours in the woods, the sky growing dark, and once found themselves almost surrounded by a thicket of bare thorny bushes. They had ridden in too far to easily turn. Robert gingerly dismounted and tried to lead both Josephine's and his own mounts out of the thorns. His clothes were ripped and soiled by the thicket. Josephine's skirts were also disarranged and stained. Branches with dead leaves still on them from the Fall slapped her in the face and stuck in her hair. Robert finally got them extricated and after some searching, located the way home.

When they arrived back at the castle the sky was dark but the castle was ablaze with torches. There was a commotion in the courtyard that only intensified when the two, who rode in icy stillness, came into view.

Lorin rushed up to the Queen's side and helped her dismount. "My sister, we have been sore afraid that thou had fallen and been hurt in the woods or that thou had come to some danger."

Josephine thought to herself, "Well nigh." She let Lorin put his arm around her to escort her inside. Many pairs of eyes registered the state of the elopers' clothing and hair. As Josephine yet tried to avoid the looks, she glanced back at Robert who looked up at her grimly for just a moment.

Josephine went to her chamber and her ladies, silent with tension, undressed her and cleaned her cuts and scrapes. One combed the brambles and leaves out of her golden hair.

That evening Lorin sat down at his desk and wrote to the errant King.

"My lord, I do entreat thee to return to Lincoln. Thy presence here is most urgently needed."

Next: Lawrence Learns about Sir Robert

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About the author

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