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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Stories: A Day Apart (Happened)

Still castles, still anachronistic. I just looked this message up on Ghostletters.. it was written and posted on Oct 3, 2006, just two years ago..

5 May 769

awrence woke early in the morning to the sound of the castle coming to life
after the night’s rest. He lay in his bed, eyes closed, letting consciousness
creep in slowly. He knew his page would be in soon enough to start the day, and
he wanted to enjoy the quiet companionability with his Josephine for a few more
minutes. He could smell her.. and feel her warmth, next to him. He could hear
her slow breathing. He rolled over to face her side of the bed. Then he
remembered. He opened his eyes on the vacancy next to him, frowning. “It shall
not be long now,” he reassured himself. He sat up, swung his legs over the side
of the bed and tried to shake the disappointment of her absence out of his head
and heart.

At her cousin’s camp at Ingbirchworth in Affynshire Josephine was already awake,
despite their late arrival last night after fleeing the raiders who had taken
Keito Uxello. She sat in the screened off space where she was given a bed in
her oldest cousin’s house. She felt the chill and damp mountain air yet
untouched by the fire she could hear Ruallauh’s wife Mairead rebuilding in the
main room. She gathered her cloak around her, realizing that she had left
whatever clothes she had back at her uncle’s fortress, save for the riding dress
and the gown she had worn for the Bealtana feast day.

She was not ready to face other people yet this morning. She had awakened early
to visions of Elerde standing before her in the forest, his lieutenant holding a
dagger to her cousin’s servant s throat nearby though out of sight.

She pushed away the image to think about waking up, as she had so many times, to
find her husband, the King, awake and looking at her. He would be up on one
elbow gazing and smiling. This strong and powerful man would seem soft, mild,
gentle, his lips slightly curved and his usually piercing blue eyes mellow. She
could hear him say softly to her “Good morrow, my dearest.” He would lean
forward to kiss her. Then she would let him take her head against his shoulder,
lie for a while longer in the warmth and quiet of his breathing, his smell, the
firm feel of his arm around her as she drifted back to sleep. All this in such
stark contrast to the night before, when this quiet calm nurturing man was all
hardness and fire and his back muscles taut under her hands as she held him as
he made love to her. She sighed thinking of the two men in one, the sweet lover
and the fierce lover who made up her husband.

Josephine thought about mornings in Lawrencium. If she had slept with him in
his bedchamber, she would hear his page come in, outside the curtains that
enclosed their bed, quietly making the room ready for the King’s day. If they
had shared the bed instead in h er own chamber, like as not the children would
rush in and fling the curtains aside to jump onto the bed and join their
parents. How she longed for the warmth and strength of Lawrence and the
laughter and smiles of the children. On those mornings, Lawrence would wake and
smile and laugh along with them sitting up and grabbing one of the girls and
tickling her, or pantomiming a sword battle with one of the boys.

Josephine put her fingers to her lips and kissed them and then reached to place
the kiss on each little face, then at last, on her husband’s faraway lips. How
long would it be until they were all together again? Would they all be together

Hearing others in the household stirring and Mairead’s whispered greetings to
her children,, she put aside the cloak and prepared to dress.

In Lawrencium, Lorin entered the King’s work chamber to find him standing at the
window, his bearded chin in his palm and his elbow on the window ledge. He
turned to look at his Chancellor. “Only a sennight now.. or two days more at
most. And your sister will be home.”

Lorin smiled. “Aye, it has been so drear with out her.. and the minstrels.. has
it not? Sire, have you broken your fast?”

Lawrence stood up straight and went back to his table. “Only just. What is the
order of business for today, your grace?” He pulled out his chair and sat,
waiting for Lorin to do the same. Lorin’s assistant who had come in behind him
laid out the rolls of parchment on the table. Lorin reached for one, handed it
to the King, and the latter dragged his focus away from wondering if his wife
had broken her fast yet as well to look at what the scribes had written thereon.

Elerde rode away from his new fortress of Keito Uxello. He had ensured that the
earl and his wife were as well as could be and his men ordered to bring them
whatever they required. Josephine’s uncle was not well at all. The shock of
the forces that took his fortress had caused another attack, and Elerde
despaired of his recovery now. Had he known.. nay, it would have made no
difference. If the man died now, it would mean one more barrier to Josephine’s
heart. He did not look back as he set out to rendezvous with the other
commanders at Ratherwood.

Rory woke in the stable at an inn of a small village south of Ratherwood. He
took a moment to remember not only where he was but why Shannon was not asleep
next to him. It was early, but later than the tall Irishmen usually slept,
thanks to the very late night he had spent in the tavern telling tales and
singing while at the same time trying to gain more news of the takeover.

The forces passing the two minstrels as they walked along the Roman road in
search of whatever adventure they might find had alerted them , and thereafter
they had tried to learn what was transpiring. Two days after their sudden
departure from the mountain camp the night of Bealtana they had found comfort
in a small crofter’s cottage and learned that early that day it had gone about
that the castle at Ratherwood had fallen to an army. There had been no use in
leaving that late at night, but in the morning Rory and Shannon had headed
closer to the seat of Christenlandian government in the province, learning that
indeed the fortress had been sacked almost at dawn the day before this. The
rumors were sketchy at best at this point, but one lad they met claimed that
the leader of the force had been Malcolm of Horsfort along with several other
mercenaries. The name, unfortunately, meant nothing to either of the Irishmen.

They had discussed the circumstances and what best to do. Shannon was for
heading back to Lawrencium to bring the news. Rory thought they needed more
information. He was also greatly concerned about the safety of the Queen. He
urged Shannon with a plan he argued long and hard for and finally got the
shorter man to agree to. Shannon would creep back to Keito Uxello to determine
whether Josephine was aware of the takeover and to help her get to some safe
place. Rory who had the skill at arms the other had not would travel on to
learn what he could. In five days’ time they would meet at the bridge across
the Trenta into Christenlande and go on to tell the King what they knew.

Rory now remembered why Shannon was not there. He had left, anxious to get his
mission underway, and Rory himself had continued on his way and took every
advantage he had to gain intelligence about the events of the past few days.
The night before this he had learned somewhat more than he had. It was Malcolm,
an earl of Affynshire and a notorious cross border raider, who had endeavored to
wrest the kingdom back from the control of Saxon Christenlande. He had put
forward a Briton king, Maegwig, whom some supported as the rightful hereditary
ruler and others mocked as a self-aggrandizing buffoon with a tenuous claim on
that title.

Rory’s heart had chilled at one piece of news he received as he drank with some
soldiers after entertaining them with tales of battles and dragons. They had
mentioned some of the names of Malcolm’s confederates. He had never met the
man, but he had heard much of Elerde of Brittany, one of these commanders. He
knew from Shannon, and also from the gossip at the Blue Lady in Lawrencium, that
the man was the bold soldier who had fought alongside the King but then fallen
from grace for wooing the Queen behind his liege lord’s back. It was this man,
as well, that people said had survived the King’s attempt to kill while hunting.
Rory had not believed that Lawrence would act so dishonorably.. and any fear he
had momentarily experienced as a result of the tales had left him. All this was
in spite of the fact that he himself had declared his love for the lady. And
now he colored at the memory of the kiss in the mountains, a sweet pleasure even
the brace Breton had not had.

Rory stepped into the inn yard to relieve himself, then gathered his few
possessions. He took a seat in the tavern to break his fast with ale , bread
and cheese before he went on his way.

Meanwhile Shannon had reached Keito Uxello and followed an instinct not to rush
in through the gates. Though the cousins’ cottages were intact, they seemed
deserted, so he found his way along the fringe of the woods to a place where the
wall around the fortress was in more disrepair than the rest. He had tried to
see if soldiers were about, but his vantage point proved unrewarding. He did
overhear some boisterous shouts though, fr0om soldiers at horseplay with swords.
And he had heard a voice he thought he recognized. It was clearly the commander
of the force occupying Earl Ceretic’s fortress, shouting at his men to quiet and
not disturb the “old man” who was ill. It was the Breton the King had sent away
from court not long after Shannon had come to live there.. and whom Lawrence had
shot with an arrow and nearly killed. What was he doing here?

Shannon was in a panic, wondering if the man had possession of the Queen whom he
sought as a leman. He could not decide how to go about finding out. He stood
almost shivering for sometime, before deciding the nest he could do was to go to
the bridge and wait for Rory, hoping to get his wise judgment as to what to do.
He prayed that his hesitation and indecision would not be disastrous for the

Now Shannon awoke in a strange bed. Like Rory he was at first puzzled . He had
a vicious hangover, though, unlike his more moderate friend. IN the midst on
sitting up and putting his palms to his head to hold the ache in it, he felt a
warm body stir next to him. The person sighed, and Shannon knew it was the
woman he had met at the tavern the evening before. He remembered now that he
had finally broken the resolve he had stuck to all that long time with Heather,
to stay true to her. She had tossed him out cruelly and he had chosen, at last,
to consider his marriage to her over.

Shannon glanced at the shapely form visible under the thin wool blanket next to
His feelings were divided between deep regret that now his tie to his wife was
well and truly over and at the same time relief that he could at last follow his
nature and feast upon the willing womanhood who responded so warmly to him as
he traveled. Shannon leaned over the woman, whose bare back was to him, and
reached his arm under the cover to wrap around her warm smooth body. He put his
face into her neck and was rewarded as he nuzzled with an answering giggle.

Josephine spent the day with her cousins as they plotted how to deal with the
change in power. She had pendulumed between a sort of numb disbelief and
anxiety and a fierce determination to fight back against those men who had taken
her birthright and defied her beloved husband. She was starting to come out of
the extremes of emotion now, and she joined her male cousins as they talked
about how to formulate a resistance.

Her oldest cousin, a famous archer, was urging his two brothers, a forester and
a soldier, to support his plan to use archers to harass the usurpers. The
younger brothers were inclining to his plan but it was Josephine’s words that
convinced them. “We can move quickly and silently as archers and find where the
enemy is encamped or passing and rain arrows seemingly from nowhere. As long as
they must replace their dead and wounded and further occupy their forces hunting
us, they will be weakened for the response that shall come soon from my lord

She could see that her youngest cousin, Ioruert, a soldier, was chafing with the
lack of a role for his skills. “Ioruert, she suggested, “should make his way
somehow to Christenlande and join my lord’s army. You can be a most valuable
guide and fight with him.” Ioruert looked bout him worriedly, unsure of leaving
his family and venturing on his own, but agreed and prepared immediately to set
out to the north to move through the wilder parts of the province that had been
their family’s kingdom.

As the afternoon drew to an end Elerde was surprised to find himself joined on
the road to Rather wood by O’Donnell who was accompanied by his own force of
armed men like Elerde’s. “I thought you should be busy quelling the Saxons at

O’Donnell’s grin spread wide the drooping red mustaches that framed his jaw.
“Och, ‘twas less of a challenge that we thought. The Saxon lord of the fortress
fled across the border into Christenlande. The men left behind were an easy
slaughter. I would be after wagerin’ that Affynshire is well and truly fallen
to us.” He looked curiously at the Breton. “So was the Queen of Christenlande
that pleased to see ye again, me lord?”

Elerde’s face was unreadable. “Alas, the lady was not there.. some journey to
celebrate Beltane took her and her kin away, save for the old earl.”

O’Donnell just gazed at the man, his faced a picture of speculation. “I see.
And ye dinnae ken where the lady had gone?”

Elerde eyed him easily, “Alas, nay, but my men are seeking her now. She shall
not elude our grasp.”

O’Donnell continued to consider him. “Malcolm will be most unhappy, ye

The Breton did not reply.

Shannon kissed the young woman goodbye reluctantly. They had spent the day
dividing their time between lovemaking and eating. He was sober… and he felt
wonderful. He had had more sex in the past day and evening than he had had in
weeks. He pushed an image of Heather and his son Seamus as far from his mind as
he could, each bedding with the comely lass making it easier and easier. He
wanted to stay and obliterate Heather’s face from his mind. But Shannon knew he
had to get to the bridge and he hoped Rory would be there shortly too.

Rory was however nowhere near the bridge. He was in fact in Ratherwood. He had
presented himself that evening as a minstrel and been welcomed to the Great
Hall, now cleared and cleaned of bodies and blood and worse. He was glad of the
dim light, for he felt his face pale as he surveyed the horror that was yet
left. The men crowded about the trestle tables were drunk and carousing. Many
had women at their side whom they were alternately ignoring and molesting. A
few were trying to save themselves by pleasing the men, but the others sat
sullen and resigned, earning clouts from the backs of their men’s h ands for not
smiling. Rory was chilled by the display. Among the women he saw serving
women, women brought into the fortress from the countryside, girls who could be
no more than twelve or thirteen, and several women whose garb showed them to be
of higher birth. He his a shiver as he thought of Lady Jocelyn, the Queen’s
friends, who would have been among these last had she not traveled to Lawrencium
the year before. He struggled to keep his voice dramatic as he told tales of
daring deeds.

Josephine sat in the light of the hearth. She was examining the bow that her
cousin Ruallauh had given her. She heard him come and sit by her. She looked
up, her solemn face yet set in determined lines. “I shall ask you to help me
hone my skills with the bow.”

Ruallauh put a pot of ale down next to where she sat on the low bench. “Most
certainly, my lady. You are already an accomplished archer.”

“I am also thinking that I will need to get clothing that serves me better as we
travel through the forest.”

Ruallauh thought. “With all your clothes and my brothers’ left behind at Keito
Uxello, we shall have to find some other means. “

His wife came up from the darkness that lay beyond the light of the hearth. “I
can take one of your jerkins and make it smaller to fit the Queen.”

“You may as well stop calling me that with all that has happened. Just call me

Ruallauh agreed readily, “I was think of that. We need to hide your identity as
best we can. It may even behoove us to dress you as a boy. Mayhap we should
call you Joseph?”

Mairead offered, “Not Sunshine?”

Josephine saw her face was lit with a warm and affectionate smile. “Nay, I am
not feeling sunny just now.”

In Lawrencium the King had annoyed the children’s nurses by keeping them up past
their bedtimes to keep him company in his work chamber. Tavish sat on his lap
at the table now, leaning forward to make marks on a wax tablet while his
adopted father sat with his head resting on his own hand propped on the table.
He watched the little boy’s scribbling quietly. Peter was making noises that
were no doubt supposed to be the sounds of swords clashing against shields iover
along one of the walls. The twin princesses sat on the floor on a fur and
Caithness played with a kitten while Elaine yawned and seemed about to go to

There was a slight rap on the door. Lawrence looked up but did not straighten.
Peter looked around at the door as well. His father called, “Come.”

Lorin’s face appeared around the door as it opened. “My liege, there is a

Lawrence’s eyes opened a little wider. “From?”

“Affynshire, my lord.”

The King’s gaze lingered on Lorin's solemn face, then he said as calmly as he
could manage, “Send for the children’s nurses.”

“No, Papa," Tavish cried. “Please may I stay up a little longer?”

Lawrence sat up straight and leaned then to kiss the boy on his cheek. “Nay,
lad, you have had long enough to have to speed through your prayers ere you
sleep.” He put the boy gently down on his feet and turned to Peter, “Come, son,
and kiss me goodnight. You two, little ones.”

The blonde prince and his two small sisters took their turns kissing and getting
embraces from their father. Lorin stood in the chamber, not speaking but he
nodded with a sincere effort at a smile as each passed him to go with their
nurses to the royal children’s bedchamber.

“Good night, Papa,” Peter called as he left.

“Good night, son. Say your prayers.”

“I will, Papa.” He hesitated. “Papa, is Mama coming home soon?”

“I hope so, Peter,” was all the King could say, but he smiled as he said it.

Lawrence steeled himself and looked at Lorin once the door was closed and he
knew the children were no longer in hearing. “What is it? Where is the

Lorin said in a quiet voice, “Ratherwood has been taken by Malcolm of Horsfort.
By your leave, I will get the messenger.” He opened the door and stepped out

Lawrence sat stiff in his chair. He put his palms on the arms of the chair and
slowly stood. His face was an impassive mask. Within him his heart was
beating hard and he could feel a roar of rage swirling in his chest, trying like
the devil to find a way out. He clenched his fists at his side, gritted his
teeth and willed the cry to sink back down.

“Josephine. My dearest darling. What has become of you?” he asked in a barely
audible voice.

Then he looked up, watched the door open and Lorin return with a young man who
was tired, filthy and sweating. “You have come straight form Lincoln?” the King
asked him. “How long have you ridden?”

The man bowed as deeply as his weary muscles would allow. “Two days, sire. I
changed horses and rode all day and night.”

“Sit down, and Lorin?”

The chancellor assured the King, “I have sent for food and drink and am having a
soft billet set up for him.”

Lawrence nodded, then turned back to the man. “Tell me. Everything you know.”

Next: Preparing for War, part I

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About the author

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