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

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Stories: The Leave-taking (Happened)

This story was another bone of contention between Laura and me. Again, it was over her insistence that showing much emotion is not "lady-like" so a tearful farewell would not be josephine's style. As I have explained before, I finally came to understand that what Laura meant was "dignified". Even so, I maintained that after all the royal couple had been through, even not knowing what lies ahead, both would be likely to find a leave-taking a dignified affair. I wound up asking Laura to write the story with me, back and forth, and Josephine finally broke down and wept. Phew! I was beginning to think Elerde could have the Ice Queen You can probably guess that Laura had no hand in the love scenes.

October 1, 769

The King and Queen emerged from the tiny cottage hand in hand. Edred approached them. "Sire, the escort is ready to leave, if it pleases you and my lady."

Lawrence frowned. "Nay, it does not please me. Not at all. Tell them they can wait a little while." To Josephine he said, "I need to talk to you about something. Can we walk a bit?" She nodded and took his arm, and they turned to walk in the meadow on the opposite side of the camp from the fortress.

Their love-making that morning had been hungry and intense, as if they could store it all up for the long time apart - who knew how long? There had been no words, as their bodies communicated with each other on a level beyond conscious interaction. It had nothing to do with slaking sexual desire but rather healing the grief and pain of yet another leave-taking, with the fresh memory of the fear they had each felt when the short visit to her family turned into the Queen's peril.

Lawrence and his Queen walked slowly, stretching out the little time they had left together. They did not speak but sought each other's company as a balm. Lawrence at last stopped and turned to her, taking both her hands in his. "Jo, we have to talk.. about what might happen."

Josephine gazed evenly into her husband's eyes. "Do we, my lord? Do you think that I am not prepared for whatever may happen here? I am prepared, if it is possible to be so... I beg you to put your mind at ease on that score, as I will do everything exactly as you have instructed me in the past."

The King's face clouded with impatience and a hint of irritation. Josephine knew him well and knew this only meant that he had some other deeper need he was avoiding bringing to light. She continued to look at him, waiting for him to look down, nod, and finally open his heart to her as he always did. He said, "And here I interject the gloom, selfishly, to salve my own fear of our parting, while you bravely set all in its rightful place. I know I can trust you with all, 'tis not that I fear.. but of losing.. this." He nodded to their clasped hands.

Josephine shook her head. "Dearest, that is the only thing for which I am not prepared...and for which I cannot be prepared, regardless of how much we speak of it, and that is the possibility of losing you... I do not accept that it may be so, and I will not accept it as long as you live... And if God's will should be otherwise, then I will find out what I will do then, because I will not think of it now....I believe that you will outlive me...not I, you..."

A look of pain touched his face. "God, Jo, I cannot bear the thought of life without you. Do not say such things." Then he paused, and went on, contritely, "You are right, my love. You are right. Nothing is served by saying what is not needful and may only serve to darken our little time together now

She stepped close to him and lay her head on his chest. She took his hands and pull them around her so they stood body to body. "There is no darkness for me in your presence regardless of what you may say...." and after a pause she added, "Do you feel that? I cannot tell which is your heart beating or which is mine, or if indeed we have only one heart...nor where I end and you begin..."

She lifted her head so she could look up at him. "I do not believe that it is possible to part us...even though we must be parted. No matter what shall happen I shall keep this moment always in my mind so that I can feel the part of me that is you. A thousand times a day I shall think of you, so that I face all things not alone, but with you...And whenever you think of me, you will know that I also am thinking of you...and you are not alone...."

She added in a softer, barely audible tone, "And if it should happen that you would ...would never return to me again in this life, I would go on exactly as I have said, thinking of you in every moment of the day and feeling that you are still a part of me, as you are in this moment..."

Josephine stepped back from him a little, her hands still upon his, and she tried to give him her most radiant smile, one that could last him forever if need be... But having forced herself to speak of the very thing which she most wished not to think of, tears sprang to her eyes suddenly and streamed unbidden down her cheeks. Her smile faltered... She tried to turn away, raising her arm to hide her eyes.

Lawrence gently held her hands so she could not turn away. He pulled her to his chest again and put his cheek on her head. "Oh my dearest, I have made you weep. I set out, I think, to air my own fear and sorrow at our parting, and all I have done is grieved you. If I could take back the words.."

Josephine replied from where her tears had wetted his mail shirt. "Nay, love, nay. 'Tis well we acknowledge what may come to pass. It serves no purpose to pretend we are not thinking of it."

He held her tight for some time, feeling her breathing at first ragged then calming. He sought to soften the moment. "My lady, you will rust my iron mail."

Josephine pulled her head back and gave him a wry smile. "Well, now, I should not like to do that and weaken its protection." She tried to smile again, but again could not summon the strength.

Lawrence said, "That is all.. I shall not grieve you further. I will do everything I can do with honor to come back to you." He reached to stroke her hair. He smiled, "Now promise you will take care of that ridiculous Irishman on the journey back. I do not think he is all that well riveted together these days."

Josephine laughed softly and smiled. The King kissed away a single tear at the corner of one of her eyes. "I will look after Shannon, my darling. I promise."

"There is no sense postponing the inevitable. You should go. You need to make the bridge by tomorrow night."

"Oh Lawrence, I love you so," Josephine said as she embraced him with all her might.

"I love you as well, with all my heart." He turned her and put his arm around her shoulders and guided her back to the camp.

A bleary eyed Shannon was there by the empty carts that were going back to Lincoln for supplies. The bard was taking leave of a young woman he had been with since their arrival just a few days before. Lawrence and Josephine exchanged looks.

The Queen waited until the woman had stepped away from the kiss and said to Shannon, "If you do not object, I will ride at least part of the way back to Lincoln in the cart." She knew Shannon would not ride, but wanted him at least to have her company.

"I should be that grateful if ye would, me lady," Shannon said, with one of his funny lopsided smiles. He helped her up into the cart, then climbed in himself after handing her his lute to stow. A man at arms brought the Queen's horse and tethered it to the back of the cart.

Lawrence came around the side where the Queen was settled into some fur covered straw and reached for her hands. "Be safe and kiss the children for me? Tell them I will be home as soon as I can be. I miss them sorely."

Josephine's eyes were full of tears, so she just nodded. He kissed her hands, then stepped back. He signaled to the captain of the escort, and the man called "Forward!" As soon as the horses had cleared the way, the carts lurched into motion. Josephine turned and looked back at her tall, handsome husband who was waving. She waved back but soon her horse was between them and she could no longer see him. Finally the spearmen came into line behind them.

Beside her Shannon picked up his lute and started in on a boisterous, funny song to ease her sorrow.

From the ramparts of Ratherwood Malcolm watched the small force go. "Tell me, the Queen is riding among them?" he asked the younger man at his side.

"Nay, I cannot see her.. nay, wait, I do. She is not riding. She is in a cart with a man with red hair."

Malcolm smiled. "Then our timing will be perfect. This could not have turned out any better if we had planned it this way." He clapped the astonished younger man on the back. "Now things are going to get much more interesting."

Next: Supply Lines Are Cut

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About the author

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