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

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New Stories: To Regain the Throne (Cut)

This is the 100th post on this blog. None of this in this story happened. And don't worry.. I eventually stop writing forsoothly.

One year to 18 months after the marriage and coronation of Lawrence and Josephine.

orin stayed crumpled on the floor unable to bring himself to leave his sister, even from outside her chamber. He covered his ears so as not to hear what sounds came through the heavy oak. He continued to weep for her, his violated sister.

He did not know how much later it was when the door was pulled roughly open. Roland, the usurper, stood in the doorway looking wild and disheveled. He growled and spat on the young prince. "Now my brother has lost the dearest thing he has." His smile was at once satisfied and rueful. He strode down the corridor and out of sight.

Lorin got up and dashed into the room, hearing Josephine's sobs from the bed. She lay there curled into a ball, her clothing torn and a bruise covering one side of her face. When Lorin touched her she flinched. "Now, now, dearest sister, it is I, Lorin," the boy reassured.

"He.. he took me.. by force," Josephine wept bitterly.

Lorin stroked her hair and whispered, "Shush, shush, now there." He did not know what to say or do. If her grief and pain had been bad after the stillbirth, Josephine was inconsolable now.

"He will never want me again," she cried.

Lorin replied, "Who will not, Lawrence? Do not believe that. He loves thee, he would ne'er blame thee for what his brother hath done to thee."

The Queen shook her head. "Thou knowest that not, Lorin. Men do not want a damaged woman, especially one whose brother had done it."

Josephine continued to weep. Lorin went to her door and ordered that her ladies be called to her aid. When they arrived, they stood about and looked uncomfortable and frightened. He finally sent them out with a curse. Now h called for her servants. They came to her and kissed her hands and told her brother to leave them while they bathed and dressed her. He looked at his sister, who nodded sadly, and he left.

Lorin stormed his way to the Great Hall, looking for Roland, intending to kill him if he could just find a way. Instead he found himself confronted by three of the usurper's cronies. The oldest of them, a man named Cariadoc, stopped him with a strong heavy hand on his shoulder and said, "Your grace, what hath happened?" The man looked more wary than concerned.

Lorin spat at him, "That puppet of thine, the real King's brother, hath raped the Queen and hurt her sorely. Is that the kind of champion thou wish to see on the throne of this country?" he demanded.

The men exchanged looks. The first man turned again to the boy. "This is our country, not thine. It is none of thy affair who is the King."

Lorin hit the man's arm with the side of his forearm, so startling the man that his grip was loosened. "Aye, it is thy country.. and thy Queen who hath been violated. And it is my sister!" He shouted.

All three men stared at him angrily. Cariadoc snapped to a nearby man at arms, "Take this boy away to his chamber and keep him there." He leveled a glare on Lorin, "And if thou leaves thy room or maketh contact with any person, thy next billet will be the dungeon." The guard dragged the boy away.

In the northern forest the King crossed the encampment of soldiers with his long purposeful stride. He caught Athelwick's eye and nodded for him to fall in step with him. "What tidings, Athelwick?" he asked grimly. He had seen one of the outlaw's spies riding into the camp.

Athelwick bowed his head. "My liege, the Queen hath had a stillbirth. The child was born dead."

Lawrence stopped where he was and stared at the outlaw. "Dead," he repeated. "And the Queen?"

Athelwick replied, "She lives."

Lawrence's heart warred with itself, grief over the loss of the child and for the pain his dearest Josephine had endured, but relief as well that she lived. Everyday he thought of her in Roland's hands. He had never experienced so much pain. He was torn up by the thought of her terror, her grief, the fear that she thought he was dead. Alone in his tent at night he was reduced to stifled tears.

His resistance force grew steadily but was long away from the strength he would need to storm the castle. Meanwhile he tried other avenues. He sent messengers to the men who had supported his uncle and now his brother, first offering them mercy if they gave up their ambitions. Then when no response came with the returning herald, he sent new messages telling them that their punishment when he regained the throne would be the more harsh if he learned that they had done anything to harm the Queen or her brother or other members of his household. No response came from them to this message.. not at first. Several days later he received a messenger from one of the cronies, a man named Albrecht, secretly inquiring as to whether mercy would be afforded him if he left his co-conspirators and came to the King's side. Lawrence reluctantly agreed.

When Albrecht arrived at the encampment, he was instantly taken prisoner. He was brought to Lawrence's tent and made to stand outside. At last the King came forth and stood glowering. Albrecht, who had intended to voice his outrage at the treatment he received, wavered. This was not the boy king he saw before him. It was a man. Lawrence was stronger, more filled out, craggier and bearded. He looked more like the man he would be in the coming years than the boy he had been but a twelve month since.

Lawrence continued to glare at the man. Then he snapped, "Unbind him." The traitor noted the alacrity with which the King's orders were obeyed. He understood why, for Lawrence had acquired an authority, even a majesty in his anger and grief.

When the man was unbound, Lawrence advanced to him and grasped him by the chain mail at his throat. "Ye want mercy, then, traitor. What possible reason might I have to give thee anything but a taste of my sword?"

The man stared back into the King's steely blue eyes. "Thy word, sire. Thou gavest thy word I should be unharmed if I came to thy side."

Lawrence released him with a shove that sent the man stumbling. "Aye, that is so. I am surprised thou callest on honor to save thee, villain." He spat at the man's feet. He stood still glowering and finally asked, "The queen. What news of the Queen?"

The man blanched. He knew of Roland's attack but feared the wrath of this man if he revealed it. He grasped at bad but lesser tidings, "She hath been delivered of a child who died, thy child, sire," he said.

The King just stared at him, frowning malevolently. "Aye, we know this. How fares she now?"

Albrecht lied, "She is well, my liege. She knows thou art living and seeking to rescue her."

Lawrence considered the man. He did not know whether to believe him or whether he was telling everything he knew. He turned to Athelwick and commanded, "Take him and find out everything he knows about the castle, its fortifications, its garrison, and what plans my brother has for defending his scurrilous claim to the throne."

Athelwick's men advanced to take the man. The traitor spoke up, "But shall I be granted the chance to fight with thy forces, my liege?"

Lawrence turned back to him with a look of hate. "Nay, thou shalt not." The last word he fairly spat at the man. "I will not have thee making reconnaissance of our position and strength and turning up missing, only to have thee back in my brother's employ," he said. He added, "Thee and thy cronies, thou knowest thou hast tied thy wagon to a mad boy, do ye not?"

Albrecht thought to himself, "Aye, and more than ye know, my lord." He said nothing.

"Take this traitorous scum, away," Lawrence ordered, and the man was bound again and taken to be held with other prisoners.

In the castle Lorin spent long days and nights out of contact with any other living soul. Servants brought his food and took away his refuse and chamber pot but were not allowed to speak to him. He knew nothing of how the Queen fared. He knew not if Roland visited her again with the violence he had committed that one night.

Unbeknownst to him, the men who had used Roland to legitimize their claim on the throne were realizing their error. The boy was unstable. He had attacked the Queen, but only the once as his supporters, calmly weathering a torrent of abuse and anger from the usurper, had told him in no uncertain terms that it was not in his interest to harm the Queen further. They assured him his only hope to hold the crown was to do as they advised and as he had promised in the beginning. He seethed and fretted but complied as best his troubled mind allowed.

The cronies spoke among themselves when the King's first offer of mercy came. They yet held their ambitions and believed not that he could overcome them. By the time his threat came, they had had reports of his growing strength and ignored the message again but more uncertainly. When one day soon after they noted their fellow, Albrecht, had gone missing, they knew that their situation was becoming more fragile. The intelligence the deserter could supply the King and his allies was damaging. And if the man told the King of his wife's rape their fates would be not worth so much as a traitor's oath should they be overcome and captured.

Roland himself had become more and more erratic. He stayed away from the Queen, but was discovered plotting to kill her and her brother, flew into violent rages one moment and weeping tantrums the next. He was a boy of 19 who knew his life was over, that the best he could hope for was a quick death.

When his supporters learned in early winter of 767 that the King was advancing on the capital, and heard that his force had grown to immense size, they met one last time to discuss their flight. They called for the Queen to be brought to them where they met.

When she arrived all were struck dumb. She was well along with child, and they knew that it was Roland's.

One man, Jean d'Armagnac, a mercenary lord who had supported the usurping for the reason the others had overthrown the rightful King, nothing more than greed, offered the Queen to take her to France to a convent he knew of where she would be cared for and protected.

When she started to protest, Cariadoc broke in, "My lady, so long as thou art here, the King may think twice about attacking the castle for fear his brother would slay thee in revenge." When he referred to Roland, he glanced at her belly. "If ye go with d'Armagnac we will send him word that ye have been rescued. Then he shall not hesitate to tear this castle down stone by stone to have his vengeance on his brother."

Josephine glared, holding herself with as much dignity as she could call forth. "And thee? Where will the rest of thee be while my lord is tearing down his own castle?" she demanded.

Cariadoc answered, "That is not thy concern, my lady. Will thee accept our offer or not." He nodded to her swollen belly, "It mayst be thy best choice, my lady. The King shall not warm to the sight of his wife with his brother's child inside her."

Josephine's face paled and they knew she had thought long and hard about this too. "What warrants that I shall make the convent in France in safety?"

Cariadoc rolled his eyes. "Bring thy brother with thee as a protector, if thou wishest. My lady," he continued impatiently, "thou hast no real choice."

The Queen reluctantly agreed. "Give me leave to speak to my brother," she said quietly.

Next: Separations

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About the author

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