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, September 1, 2009

New Stories: The Brewer of Lawrencium (Cut)

Here is where I got to have some real fun, though the tale never made it to the novel. Aelflynn was not murdered nor had she even a brother in the book. But I got to write a mystery and now you get to read it.

You may want to review the murder of Aelflyn.

August 767

Lawrence looked up as his brother in law the Duke came in with a questioning smile. “My lord, you called for me?”

“Aye, Lorin, I needs must talk over something with you,” the King replied.

Lorin came into the room, then accepted the chair Lawrence nodded towards. “Of course, my lord.” He waited as Lawrence composed what he wanted to say.

Lawrence stood, motioned for Lorin to stay seated, and paced to the window. “There is a certain fellow among the people of the town.. a brewer named Hugh. A most unpleasant fellow.” He paused. Lorin waited. “I cannot tell you what it is,” the King went on, “but there is something about the man, something familiar. Something I like not.”

Lorin asked, “Do you suspect him of some dishonesty, my liege?”

Lawrence shook his head. “I am not sure. I would like you to make some inquiries. About where he is from, how he conducts his business, whatever you can learn of his background, his past.”

“Your pardon, lord, but is this not a fitting task for the sheriff?” Lorin suggested.

The King shook his head. “Nay, if I am wrong I do not wish to embarrass the man. Mayhap I just took a dislike to him and cannot shake it for some reason. I know you shall be discreet. Let us find out what we can first ere we take any steps to discomfit him.” Lawrence looked at Lorin with the face that meant, “That is all.” Lorin stood, bowed and left the chamber just as Sir Artur looked in at the door.

“Artur!” Lawrence called warmly. “Come in, come in, mon ami.” The French knight came in and took his customary seat. “How are you, my friend,” the King asked solicitously.

Artur tried to smile. “Mon dieu, not well, my lord. The enfant is a joy but I miss my Gwenlian so much.” Lawrence nodded with understanding. The knight went on, “Did you just tell le Duc about your concerns about the brewer?, my lord?”

Lawrence nodded, looking down at nothing at all. “Aye, I did. It weighs upon my mind, dear friend. I cannot tell you what makes me so uneasy about the man. I have only laid eyes on him a few times, but every time I grow more certain there is something I should know… should recall.”

Artur nodded. “Eh bien, Lorin will find out what we need to know, I am sure of it.”

In the royal nursery the nursemaids tended to the young prince and also the little boy whose mother had died giving him life. Peter sat up in his crib, and having had his first birthday just days before, was an alert, bright and cheerful fellow. He held onto a rattle made from carved wood and shook it at the tiny baby in the other crib, chanting “Mama mama ma!”

“Here I am my dear little one,” the Queen smiled as she came into the nursery. The boy beamed and shook the rattle at her. The King came in behind her, to the gurgled delight of the boy. Lawrence playfully made the Roman salute, right fist over the heart, and Peter screamed with pleasure.

“Oh, Lawrence, look at Tavish. I have grown so accustomed to how hearty Peter is. Then to look at the poor baby and he seems so tiny.” Josephine shook her head.

Lawrence reassured, “Well remember, love, that he is just a month in the world. Methinks he is not tiny for his age.” He turned to him and placed a palm on her belly. “Now this one is a giant,” he said. Josephine was only a month from her time and her belly was enormous.

“I swear either there are two or one child with twice as many arms and legs as should be, “Josephine laughed.

Lawrence laughed too. “Let us hope it is the former! A four armed four legged prince is all this country needs. “

“Prince? Is that a command, my liege?” Josephine smiled as she leaned against him.

Lawrence planted a kiss on her head. “If it has twice the arms and legs it should, then it should be more merciful if a boy.. but two little girls would be a joy beyond joys.”

He held her to him.

“Master Hugh,” the weasely fellow who drove the brewery’s cart called to the brewer.

The man looked up from his own tankard. “Aye, Godfrith, what is it?” he demanded irritably.

Godfrith came into the room, crushing his already battered hat in his hands as he wrung it. “I am sorry to tell ye, Master Hugh, but the inns would not take the ale. Not the better inns. The innkeeper at the Blue Lady chased me out of his kitchens with a cudgel.”

Hugh glowered. Under his breath he muttered “Damn the man.” He said to Godfrith, “The better inns, ye say. Then some took it?”

“Just the taverns on the west and the north roads.” The man went on more hopefully, “But I did convince one French ship to take many barrels for their voyage.”

Hugh growled, “Well, that’s something.” He looked at Godfrith, who was still just standing there. “Aye, what more is it?”

Godfrith cast his eyes down and shrugged in that infuriating way he had. “Beggin’ your leave Master to speak.”

Hugh snapped, “Aye, what is it! I am a busy man!” He chose to overlook the glance Godfrith sent to the tankard and empty table.

“’Tis just that.. there have been rumors.. questions.. about ye, Master.” Godfrith backed up a little.

Hugh stared. In a low angry voice he asked, “Questions? About me? What kind of questions? Who is asking them?”

Godfrith shrugged. “The King’s men, I think, and they ask where ye are from, Master, and who knows about your past..” He looked at Hugh eagerly, “I thought ye would want to know.”

Hugh was lost in thought. He finally looked up at the cowering man, “’Tis all shit, ye devil. Do ye knot know to ignore rumor?“ He got up and went over to stand uncomfortably close to the carter. “And if I hear a word of this has issued from your mouth..” He held a closed fist under the shorter, thinner man’s chin.

Godfrith quickly backed and bowed and scampered out of the brewery.

Hugh went back to his tankard. He sipped, then spat. “’Tis shit, I know it myself. But they would all drink it if ‘twas all there was.” He threw the contents of the tankard on the floor. “If that bitch of a sister of mine had not ruined it, I would have the custom of all inns and the castle as well.. damn you Aelflynn.”

He thought about the last time he had seen his sister in the wooded paths near Grantham Manor when the King had been in her care. He had demanded that she tell the King to give him a monopoly on the brewing for the new capital he was building here in Lawrencium. He would tell the court and the Queen in particular that his sister and the King were lovers if he was not granted this boon.

But his sister, the healer Aelflynn, had refused. And Hugh in a rage had killed her.

He had been surprised not long after to hear that the hue and cry had not been raised much beyond Grantham… he knew her body would have been found. It would have been clear to anyone she had been murdered. Why did no one look for the murderer?

He had made his way as quickly as he could to the town set to be the new capital and set up a brewery with the generous funds the crown offered those who chose to settle the town. He had been amused at all the scandal about the King and his sister, followed by the short estrangement of the King and Queen, and finally all the talk of the Queen having a lover in Ratherwood. But at the same time he saw that nothing came of it all. The two were reconciled, the Queen carrying what was to be presumed the King’s child, and no visible rift between them in spite of all the possibilities.

Hugh had decided that he should leave well enough alone. Perhaps they were not to be split apart, or black mailed for that matter. He should just take the money he made from the crown and the custom and count himself lucky to have gotten away with literal murder.

But his brewery did not prosper. He knew it was the poor quality of his product. He had known little about brewing, having only lasted a few months at his job in the brewery in Bourne. Nevertheless he blamed the King for his lack of success. Had the man given him sole right to sell in the capital, he would have made a fortune, no matter how poor the ale he brewed. “Just a lot of worthless outlaws and their brats,” was his assessment of the people of Lawrencium, and “a lot of fine noses in the air” his assessment of the castle folk.

And now was it true that the King was making inquiries? The foul rascal. Hugh had met the King several times in Lawrencium. He had hidden his own disgust at the man who had so taken Aelflynn’s heart. But it was obvious that the King was uneasy with him as well. Did he know? How could he? If he did why did he not say anything? Might he have ultimately but secretly been happy to be rid of Aelflynn? Hugh wondered.

Hugh walked over to where a wooden chest sat against a wall. He touched it, considering, then opened it. ON top of a number of assorted items was a dagger in a sheath, and next to it a small leather pouch. He picked up the pouch and pulled it open. He put in his fingers and withdrew a small stoppered bottle, brown in color, with a dark liquid inside. He held it up to the light from a window and shook it. The liquid sloshed from side to side. Hugh smiled, put the bottle back into the pouch, the pouch into the chest, and closed it again. This time he made fast the latch on the chest. He thought to himself how advantageous it had been to have an herbalist for a sister. “Ye shall have your vengeance Aelflynn for the ill usage from that blackguard of a king..”

Lorin sat in his council chamber and frowned at the man who stood before him. “Are you certain, Will?”

The man, a slight Saxon with thinning hair, nodded. “Aye, your Grace.”

Lorin looked troubled. He seemed to be in thought for a minute or two, then looked up at his servant. “Thank you,, Will. You have done well. Now do me a favor and have someone ask the King if I may have a private audience.”

The servant bowed and left. Minutes later Lawrence himself came to Lorin’s door. “News of the brewer?” he asked as he came in and stood across the table from the Duke.

Lorin stood briefly, bowing, and then sat again. “Aye, and ‘tis most unsettling. It seems the man is from Grantham.. that is all his erstwhile master at the brewery in Bourne could say, but there were rumors the man had been engaged in dishonest dealings while in that town.”

Lawrence sat heavily in the chair he had stood in front of. “Grantham,” he said in a chilled voice. “That is it.”

Lorin waited for the King to go on.

Lawrence looked up at his wife’s brother. “We must send to Lord Jehan de Grantham.. I may know who this man is. I think he is the brother of the healer Aelflynn… that is why he looked so familiar.. he looks like her.”

Lorin looked puzzled, “Aye, sire, but how does that affect how we deal with him? Forgive me, but did you not have a certain respect for the woman? I do not remember your saying anything untoward about her… save for her being murdered, that is.”

Lawrence nodded, looking grave. “’Tis just a matter of why the man did not make himself known to me as her brother. I knew she had one, she told me that he was something of a scoundrel. But other than that… I know not. That is why we need to communicate with Jehan.”

Lorin nodded and considered the matter. “My lord, “ he began, “might we send Sir Artur on this errand? Methinks the highest level of discretion is called for.” He said this last with some delicacy.

Lawrence leveled a speculative gaze on the Duke. He seemed to consider something, then broke his own concentration, “Aye, he is the wisest choice. Have your servant get him.”

After several uneasy minutes when the King stared candidly at his brother in law, with a slight scowl on his face, Sir Artur was found and answered the summons. “My lords, qu’est-ce que voulez vous?” he asked as he bowed to the King and Lorin.

Lawrence continued to look at Lorin, who took the cue to answer Artur’s inquiry. “Seigneur, the King has an errand that requires much discretion.” Lorin was uncomfortable as the King’s gaze intensified and started to burn into him. He could not fathom what the impetus was, but went on. “The brewer Hugh, the one whose brewery is in such disorder, it seems he is possibly hiding something.. The King needs you to go to Grantham Manor and inquire about him of Lord Jehan there. He may be the healer Aelflynn’s brother.”

The King added icily, “I am sure of it. She said he was something of a scoundrel, and I am certain he is hiding something. Find out what it is, mon ami, and come back and tell me.”

Sir Artur acknowledged the errand, bowed and left, not at all surprised that the uncouth brewer had stirred suspicion. That Aelflynn the healer had been murdered while the King was at Grantham Manor he knew, but any suspicions beyond that did not enter his mind.

But in the Duke’s chamber the King thought he saw suspicion behind his brother in law’s desire for added discretion. “Sir,” he demanded of Lorin, “what do you believe about the matter of Aelflynn that requires such caution? Do you suspect my honor?”

Lorin flushed. He was unsure how to answer, as he never had pursued the matter of the healer with the King. He had felt it the best part of discretion not to question him. The King would do what the King would do.. He did not suspect that Lawrence had a hand in the young woman’s terrible fate, but he did not wish to stir up unwonted talk if the King’s relationship with the woman had been more than … well, proper.

“Sire,” Lorin finally said, “I shall be frank, for I know you will catch me in any lie. I neither believe nor disbelieve the rumors of thy .. affection for the healer. ‘Tis not for me to judge you either way.”

Lawrence rose quickly from his chair and roared, “Damn you, Lorin, is that to follow me for all time? There was no relationship. Had I known you thought it possible all this while.. Have you said aught of this to the Queen?”

Lorin had risen when the King did. “Nay, my lord. Of course I have said nothing to her nor to anyone else.. and ‘tis not a suspicion.. just a decision not to address the matter one way or another.”

Lawrence leveled a stormy glare at the Duke. “Never withhold such speculation or lack of it again, your Grace. Trust me or quit my service. Do you understand?” His words had issued through clenched teeth.

Lorin bowed deeply. “I beg your forgiveness, my liege. I thought I was doing rightly. I understand that you have nothing to reproach yourself for. I did not think you had, but now I see that your faith towards my sister is even greater than I knew.”

Lawrence scowled at Lorin, then turned and left the chamber quickly. He turned at the door and said, “Lorin, have more faith in me. I cannot bear to have you think I would do that to my Josephine.”

Next: To Expose a Murder

Painting borrowed from Daily Life in Anglo Saxon England.

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About the author

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