Artur/Ansovald's fate is just as much a product of treachery in the novel, but the hand of his dispatcher is an even more sinister one.
ugh listened with rising tension. Although it stuck in his craw to be sitting in the Blue Lady, where his ale was actually banned, he had known if he wanted to find out anything about the castle’s doings, it would be in that tavern. He sipped the tankard of what he had to admit himself was a superior brew, he listened to the gossip around him.
The Queen would have her child in just a few weeks, maybe sooner. The speculation about why the King had been quick to anger of late was rather crude in nature, and it was met with knowing looks and laughter. The Duke was said to be looking about for a wife to replace the one he had lost – after a suitable length of time for mourning, it was observed. The minstrel Shannon O’Neill was quarreling with his wife as always and was said to be talking about leaving for Ireland on some family matter. Aye, there were still rumors about the French knight being sent to the southwest to look into something. Nervous glances went to the brewer about whom this last bit of gossip was said to be.
Hugh glared back at them, fingering as obviously as he could the dagger at his belt.
Outside the popular tavern a bawd sidled up to the brewer as he left and started for his home. He pushed her away roughly. When she shot an oath after him, he turned and raised his fist. She darted away. He muttered something, turned back and headed home.
Approaching the door of the brewery he caught sight of a slender figure in a cloak. He drew his dagger and called, “Who is that?”
The man pushed back the hood of his cloak to reveal a long narrow face and scraggly beard. Hugh eyed him. Sam, what do ye here?” he demanded.
The man shot him a mocking grin, “Why Hugh, no invitation to warm myself with a tankard of your excellent ale?”
Hugh scowled at him, but held the door open so Sam would precede him into the building. “Suit yourself,” he grumbled.
Sam stripped off his cloak and slung it over a barrel. He walked around the room, looking at everything, touching things, making little unintelligible comments. Hugh watched him with a stormy countenance. Sam was dressed too smartly for his station in life. His clothing was too colorful. He wore jeweled rings. It was something that had always irked Hugh, as long as he had known him.
“What do you want, Sam?” Hugh demanded.
Sam turned a melodramatically hurt look at the brewer. “I am crushed by your lack of caring, dear fellow!” He went over to the fire and took a seat in Hugh’s own chair. He sat back and crossed his legs. “After all we have meant to each other.”
Hugh scowled, then went over to pick up a pitcher and fill it from a cask on the table. He brought over two filthy cups and shoved one at his visitor. He slopped ale into the man’s cup, spilling on the man’s fine tabard, then poured himself a cup, and sat heavily in another chair. He put the pitcher on the rush strewn floor.
Sam took a sip of the ale and made a face. He delicately set the cup on a table just to the side and behind him. “Well, then..” he began, but then stopped and looked at Hugh frankly. “I have some information you will want.”
Hugh had frowned at the drama of setting aside the ale. Now he looked up anxiously. “What kind of information?”
Sam drawled, “Life and death information.”
Hugh’s face colored, and feeling it he thought, “Damn.” He knew this foppish fellow well enough to know that the more he looked like he wanted what the man had the more expensive it would get. “What makes you think I want any information?”
Sam smiled. “What a tease you are, Hugh. “ He played with the ribbon ties on his tabard. “What if I told you I have just ridden from… Grantham?” He looked up and smiled broadly, his teeth gleaming white.
Hugh jerked. “Grantham? What have I to do with Grantham any more?”
Sam chuckled. “’Tis not what you have to do with Grantham, my dear, but what you had to do in Grantham.. what you did. And who knows it now.”
Hugh was up out of his chair in a flash. He was on Sam with his knee pressed into the man’s groin, his left hand pressing his shoulder hard into the back of the chair, and the dagger from his belt at the man’s throat. “Who knows it? Knows what?”
Sam could not answer. If his shoulder had not been pinned back he would have doubled over from the pain in his groin. He tried to form words, but could not force them out. But the brewer did not let up. Sam felt the blade of the dagger prick his skin and hot blood start to drip down into the well of his throat.
“The.. the.. King.. “ he finally forced out.
“What about the King,” Hugh snapped, then spit on the floor next to Sam’s chair.
“He sent a knight to ask about you.. Some Frenchman. He spoke to Lord Jehan, then to Ethelbert.. and searched your sister’s cottage.” He choked and wheezed.
“Signifying?” Hugh growled.
Sam cast pleading eyes up into Hugh’s. “He found out, Hugh, he knows about Aelflynn and Jack and everything.” Tears started to come from his eyes. “Hugh, I came to warn you. Does that not mean anything to you?”
Hugh snarled, “How can anyone know any of that. It would all be rumor and supposition.”
Sam wept, “Oh, Hugh, I was just afraid. They do not have to know anything.. they just have to suspect.. and the King.. he may not be very forgiving..” He squeaked out a cry of pain as Hugh pressed the dagger harder against his throat.
“That’s true,” he said to himself aloud. So you must tell me… this French knight.. is he headed back here? And when did he leave?”
Sam looked up hopefully, “If I tell you, will you let me go?”
Hugh looked down into the man’s face. He smiled. “Why of course, Sam, after all we have meant to each other, I could never hurt you.” He pulled some of his weight back off the fellow.
Sam’s eyes were full of gratitude. “I knew it, I knew you would not hurt me.” He went on, “This knight, this French knight.. he was just an hour or two behind me. I saw him leave, but I caught up to him. I passed him, then pulled down a rotten tree to slow him ever so slightly.”
Hugh grinned. He looked at the dagger which he had pulled away from the man’s throat. He turned the blade and examined it. “Sam, my dear, do you know what is special about this dagger?”
Sam shook his head, his face tightening with terror.
“It has a poison on the blade. It takes a little while to kill you, but once it is in your blood you will die. And it is in your blood now.”
Sam was weeping unrestrained now. “You said you would let me go!”
Hugh grinned, “And I will let you go… Straight to Hell.” He took the dagger and slit the man’s throat. The man sputtered, gurgled, and died. “But I did not want you to suffer,” Hugh said. He stroked the man’s hair, then got off him.
Hugh wiped the blood off the blade and then opened the chest where he had the bottle of poison. He applied a new coating to the edge of the blade, carefully sheathed it again at his belt, and reached for his own cloak.
Sir Artur was exhausted, but clung to the saddle of his horse as it hastened towards the end of his journey. He was too tired even to be happy to recognize some of the small cottages on the road nearest the capital. He let the horse pick its way through the town. He barely registered the change in angle when the animal turned onto the steep road that went up to the gates of the castle.
Sir Artur was thrown from the saddle when the horse suddenly whinnied and reared. He landed hard on the road, the breath knocked from his lungs. He felt a hand come down onto his chest and press what little wind that was left out of him. He struggled to see who had startled his horse and attacked him. As his vision cleared, he gasped, “Hugh.. Murderer!”
Artur felt something cold and sharp against his throat. He felt the pain as the blade cut into his skin. He waited breathless for it to slide sideways and cut his windpipe. But instead the man pulled it away. He looked up and saw the lunatic glare in the man’s eyes. “You won’t be able to tell that fool of a king anything now, will you? Because you would be dead yourself.”
The man shifted the dagger in his hand so that it was pointing downward from his clenched fist. He lifted the fist high and started to bring it down. But when the dagger was almost to Artur’s chest, the man grunted and fell sideways, the dagger just grazing Artur’s chainmailed shoulder as he fell.
Artur tried to look beyond where the man had kneeled on his chest and saw at the castle gate an archer with his bow raised but no arrow notched. That arrow was no doubt now in the murderer’s back. Artur could hear shouts and running feet. He lay back, closed his eyes, and waited. He wondered why he could not move.
When he opened his eyes he saw the King’s stricken face looking down into his. “Artur, my friend, what happened?”
“This.. man.. Hugh.. he murdered his sister.. and others.”
Lawrence looked over to the man, then back to Artur. “But not you, from the looks of it. You barely have a scratch.”
Artur started to smile and nod but suddenly remembered the chaos of the healer’s cottage. “The missing bottle.. poison.. “ He used what little strength he could muster to grab Lawrence’s wrist. “The dagger! It is poisoned! Be careful!”
Lawrence reached for the dagger and took it by the handle. He held it up, then sniffed it. “Oh dear God,” he breathed. He looked at Sir Artur with tears in his eyes. “Artur, my dear old friend.”
Artur was growing deathly cold. “He had lost his grip on the King’s wrist. “Lawrence, please, take me to my son.”
Lawrence quickly order the guards to lift the knight and carry him into the castle. He was taken into the nursery and laid on a cot. The Queen came in moments later and cried out at the sight of her husband’s friend.
Lawrence went to the tiny figure in the small crib. He took Tavish in his arms and carried and laid him on his father’s chest. He took his friend’s arms and draped them around the boy who stirred, yawned, and went back to sleep.
“Lawrence, I can’t feel him,” Sir Artur moaned.
Josephine was at his side. “He feels you, Artur.
The French knight gazed into her eyes and nodded slowly. He looked over at Lawrence. “Take care of my child, my friend,” he whispered.
The King’s eyes were overflowing with tears. “As our own son, mon ami. Mon cher ami.”
Sir Artur looked at his little son. “Au revoir, Tavish. God be with you,” he breathed. And it was his last breath.
The Queen crossed herself and bowed her head to pray. The King laid his head on his friend’s chest, cradling the baby in his own arm.
Next: The Trip to Ireland
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 http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com