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

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Stories: The Hunting "Accident", Part 2 (Happened)

heir tour had taken them along the wild northern border of Elmet. At the strongholds Lawrence looked over and approved of the many preparations the soldiers had made under Sir Elerde's command. The fortifications had been strengthened, the battlements made to function better as stations for archers, and the provisions increased in case of siege. One of the most innovative improvements had been strategic tunnels that were so well disguised where they came out into the nearby countryside that shown one once the King could not easily find it again.

As he walked about with his long, confident stride, the King may no more comment than a nod or short acknowledgement. As cool as his outward demeanor was, it was becoming harder and harder not to admire the knight at least for his skill as.. aye, a general. Elerde caught the occasional approving look from the King and struggled with the conflict it brought about in him.

For throughout Lawrence was struggling with his feelings towards Elerde. He found himself wishing the man would be insolent or at least not so accomplished. He had no trouble keeping his temper in check, but this was not what he wanted, he realized. He wanted a reason to lose it. He admonished himself. "I sent him up here, and he has fulfilled his charge. 'Twould be folly to ignore that. "

During rides between the forts Lawrence found himself thinking about something quite different. He kept imagining his beloved Josephine as a young girl with long golden braids running along a brook he passed, or climbing a tree that he reached up and touched as he rode under its spreading canopy. His heart yearned to be back with her in Lawrencium. His body did as well, that much more with her would be lover so near now. He took whatever comfort he could from imagining her girlhood here. He coached himself to let the inspection tour play out peacefully and then go home to his dear wife. He smiled to himself, thinking, "Whatever has happened, I am the one who will do that."

Some weeks into their inspection tour, Elerde brought the King and his party to a well fortified manor in the northwest owned by a redoubtable Scots chieftain named Malcolm. Laird Malcolm was a tall broad man with heavy eyebrows and a trailing moustache. He had been one of the early raiders on the frontier but had come to an agreement for peaceful coexistence at the urging of the Breton. Duke Gaylorde, rightly so as it happens, suspected it was not military threat that had brought Malcolm into the Christenlandian fold. He watched Elerde and Malcolm when he could, trying to find some clue as to the connection. These two, however, kept their dealings, if any, close to their chests.

At a grand supper that first night at Malcolm's manor, the topic of hunting arose. The King was feeling relaxed and more or less content, as the rides of late were short, and he felt restored from the long journey at last. At Malcolm's boast that the stag hunting in the nearby woods was without equal he himself proposed they take time out from the arduous inspection of the fortifications for a hunt the next day. Malcolm accepted the suggestion eagerly. Percy concurred readily enough, and Elerde smiled his faint smile and nodded. Gaylorde chose to remain behind, claiming a desire to go walking in the countryside.

In the morning the hunting party set out. Malcolm had asked to see the marvelous arrows Lawrence carried as they rode to the edge of the woods. Lawrence had taken one from his quiver and held it out for both Malcolm and Elerde to examine. Malcolm took it and held it up to admire the hard wood the slender shaft was made of. The point was well-tempered metal. The fletching was in colors from Lawrence's escutcheon as well as the flag of Christenlande - white, azul, or. Elerde thought to himself, "The tribute to self is quite remarkable in this man.. or is it the need to make himself feel worthy?" Either way Elerde was delighted.,

Having remained at the castle the King's cousin set out to do some exploring of his own. He insinuated himself where he could with the local residents, within and without the manor. He listened as best he could, having no Scots Gaelic and finding the Northern accent difficult to understand, Nevertheless he gleaned enough here and there and in the town to have a reasonable guess as to just how Elerde was managing the peace with at least this chieftain. He smiled contentedly to himself and strode off to find a woman.

The morning's hunting was more sport than success. Malcolm had spotted a stag but his horse had tripped sideways a bit when he shot and he had missed the target, swearing mightily in Scots Gaelic.. Lawrence had suppressed irritation that Malcolm had even taken the shot. It was custom to let the highest ranking person take it. He chuckled at himself though, thinking "I must be becoming used to being King." He remembered the early months of his reign when he had almost felt like apologizing every time he issued an order. He had not thought to be King, but of course his brother's death had changed all that. He smiled to himself remembering how instrumental Josephine had been in helping him see himself as King. He knew when he told her about his momentary pique she would smile and laugh sweetly.

The midday brought time to dismount and take a meal. The horses were tied in a makeshift rope corral. The party found soft dry spots to sit and eat the meat, cheese and bread and to drink the ale the servants had brought. Lawrence enjoyed the peace and fresh air of the northern forest. He even dozed a little.

While he dozed, the Scots chieftain caught the Breton's eye and motioned him to withdraw. They separately contrived to find each other alone away from the camp. Malcolm addressed his former fellow mercenary. "So the King does not know, does he?"

Elerde casually leaned against a tree. "Of our relationship or of our arrangement?"

Malcolm nodded, "Either. Both."

"Nay, he does not." Elerde leaned to pick a bur off his tabard's hem. "He neither knows of our having fought together nor of our agreement to keep the peace."

Malcolm relaxed. "So no one will molest my rustling parties?"

"As a matter of fact, they will not even know about them. "Elerde had had to find some incentive for his old friend to stay a friend. He had not wanted to help the man in his theft of cattle and other livestock, but when it had come down to it, it had been the only way. He reasoned that a few missing sheep were better than dead farmers and villagers. And it had been the last trouble spot. Now his record in Elmet was without blemish.

"Aye?" the Scot replied. Then he changed the topic. "Ye area to be praised for so adeptly keeping the man ignorant of the corruption that is all around."

Elerde frowned but said nothing.

The Scot went on, "So this is the great Lawrence whose very existence vexes you so…"

Elerde lifted baleful eyes to the Scot.

"You are most restrained in your dealings with him, my friend," the Scot had continued.

Elerde sighed. "Malcolm, 'tis not a fit topic for us to discuss."

Malcolm eyed him cautiously. "Ye are not becoming his loyal follower, are ye, Elerde?"

Elerde looked down, his face unreadable. "There is no danger of that, my friend. Whatever the man may be, I have my own ambitions, and as long as he is between me and them..." He did not finish his sentence.

"The lady?" the Scot suggested.

Elerde scowled at his friend. "That is quite enough about the lady," he said, sternly. Then he slowly smiled. "Much more than that, my friend, much more than that." He stood straight. "I have done nothing here to discomfit him, except be. It appears that is quite enough for the purpose."

Malcolm laughed heartily, "I noticed! He does too. He must be under orders from the lady not to harm a hair on your dark curly head…"

Elerde smiled, but countered, "Nay, I think not. He is a slave to her in many ways, but she does not command and he does not follow. I shall give him that. He is the King."

Malcolm looked up to see how the sun was progressing on its journey across the sky. "That may be, but were I he you would not be here to be so ready to admire me." He started away. "We had better find our separate ways back. "

Next: The Hunting "Accident,. Part 3

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About the author

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