round the campfire the commanders stood and talked. Each had wandered over seemingly randomly, drawn by a common reservation. The East Anglian general Horsa finally voiced the concern. "Is his heart not in this I wonder?"
The other commanders eyed Edred, the King's aide de camp, warily.
"You are right to be concerned," the man responded. "I have fought with him ere this, and he has ne'er been so conflicted about battle."
The lord of Skirbeck, Botopher, asked no one in particular, "Why is he not champing at the bit to go find his wife? Is the legend of their union only that? A story?"
The bard Shannon O'Neill had been at this campfire when the others approached, so considered his opinion invited. "Och, 'tis real. Mayhap too real?" He looked directly at Edred. "Was not the anniversary of the King's marriage just the other day?"
Edred nodded. "Aye, but I do not think 'tis worthy to talk about this. The man's feelings are his own concern. Methinks we should look to how to support him as our commander."
"'Tis not that he is indecisive…" Horsa stated, nodding acknowledgement to Edred's respectful advice.
The older man turned to look at the very tall broad shouldered and grim looking man on his left. Sagar, lord of Lincoln Castle, nodded. "Sending Jehan south was a good decision.. and marry, the whole plan at hand is a good one. I cannot see how it can fail. So what Is it we worry about?"
Horsa agreed, "Probably nothing. Probably we are just getting to know our King all over again."
Shannon put a finger to the side of his head. "Me lords, I may know what needs to happen… to the King I mean.. He needs to be angry."
Botopher laughed. "Angry? You of all people have seen his outbursts of anger."
Edred cut in, "Aye, but those outbursts are without purpose, just steam released through a crack. I think the Irishman may be right. The King needs some focus for his anger. Mayhap the uprising of Malcolm is not enough?"
Sagar had been looking at a rider who had just come into camp and was all but falling from his horse. "Mayhap that focus has just arrived. Edred, you are summoned."
Edred saw the rider now too and hurried over to learn the man's mission.
"My lord," the man gasped as he was helped down from the saddle by two squires. "I have come from Horsfort…"
Lawrence stood at the open flap of his tent. "Horsfort? How is that possible? Bring the man in and summon the commanders."
"We are all here at hand, my liege," Horsa responded.
In the King's tent the messenger was seated and supplied with drink. Edred sent a man at arms for the army's chirurgeon seeing the man had wounds and bruises that had not been dressed.
The man reported, "I am Eban, his grace the Duke's spy in Cross Gates. I was sent by him to discover the whereabouts and condition of the spy we have at Horsfort."
The King inserted, "The message Lorin sent.. it was never acknowledged."
The spy looked up at the King wearily. "My lord, with your leave, I did send to the Duke to let him know my plans. I hate to think the man I sent was waylaid and is now dead."
The King nodded. "God rest him, if that is so. Go on."
The man took a much needed drink. "'Twas not easy to locate the Horsfort spy, Stepan. In truth, I ne'er did. But I did find out what happened to him. He was discovered, I know not how, and killed. By Malcolm's men."
The men who stood listening all crossed themselves.
"I narrowly escaped the same fate. I thought to pose as a bard." Nodding to Shannon, he continued, "But I was not so clever as I deemed myself. Somehow Malcolm's men found me out.. even knew my name. I was taken, bound, but was able to flee thanks to a servant who secreted a blade in the filthy straw in the cell. I stole a horse and rode like the demon was at my heels. I had to swim the river north of here. I cannot believe that God has let me make it alive in and in one piece."
The chirurgeon rushed into the tent. Without interrupting, the man bent to his task, examining weals on the spy's face and shoulders. Eban stripped off his jerkin and held out his left arm, revealing a gash that reached almost from his wrist to his elbow. "
"It appears not that you are in sooth in one piece," Botopher observed.
The spy explained, Aye, my lord. They followed me, caught me up at a ford, but I was able to elude them.. after some trouble."
The King pressed, "What did you learn in Horsfort? Can you tell us more about Malcolm's allies?"
The man cringed as the chirurgeon examined a red weal on his shoulder. "Aye, some, my liege. He has brought the man I was sent to watch, Earl Maegwig, into his circle. The man appears to regard himself as the new King of Affynshire.. but they do not regard him with any deference but rather with wry scorn. I should not be surprised if Maegwig has plans of his own, but I should not know what they are. And he has commanders, not of the Earls of the land, but mercenaries from across the sea."
Lawrence's attention was now riveted on the man. When the chirurgeon's ministrations distracted the spy from his tale, he commanded, "Leave off a moment. Let him speak. What mercenaries?"
The chirurgeon hid a frown, but Eban seemed happy for the respite if only for a moment. "He has an Iris man named O'Donnell.."
Shannon's head shot up at the mention of that name. "Who O'Donnell, if it pleases ye my liege," he added with a glance at the King.
Shannon groaned but did not comment.
"He also has a Swede named Ormyngel and a Fleming called Ricbeorht. But his closest lieutenant is a Breton, a man named Elerde.."
The King grew stiff and his face began to redden. "Elerde?! Elerde! God's wounds, but I should not have missed. I knew it! I knew it!"
Horsa exchanged glances with the other commanders. He nodded. His face bore a thin grim smile.
"Aye, sire," the spy gingerly addressed the King. "I heard that he has been at Horsfort for at least a twelvemonth, though 'tis known you ordered him banished. 'Tis he who plotted this with Malcolm. But I would wager that he may find himself pushed to the edge of it ere long."
Horsa asked, "Why do you say that?"
"The others.. the Swede, the Irishman and the Fleming, they do not trust him. They follow his orders just as if he was Malcolm himself. But they think he will go his own way if the impetus is there."
Lawrence nodded slowly. He turned and walked a few paces, thinking. "I do not know if that is to our advantage or not. Surely it may weaken Malcolm, but it may also be a sign of the Breton's more insidious intentions." He let his voice trail off. Then he turned, "Take this man and treat his wounds. Sagar, send your man with him to learn what more he can tell us."
His voice was full of fury as he went on. "By God, this shall not stand! Prepare the men for an assault on the bridge as we planned at first light tomorrow. Jehan should be in place by then. Light the fire on the hill.. make it look like an act of pillaging." Lawrence's fists were clenched as he punched out into the air to punctuate his words.
Outside the tent Botopher leaned to Horsa. "Now he is angry. Now he is Lawrence."
Next: Assault on a Bridge
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
Saturday, October 10, 2009
New Stories: The Battle Begins (Happened)