Pictured left: Elerde of Brittany
Continued from yesterday's post.
Elerde of Brittany rode towards the nearing fortress of Ratherwood at a leisurely pace. Lagu, his lieutenant, rode alongside him. "My lord, if I may," he asked his commander, "what shall you tell Lord Malcolm of the Queen?"
Elerde glared back at his longtime ally and friend. "What Queen? I saw no Queen?"
Lagu grinned and nodded.
Many rows back Rory McGuinness walked between two guards. Over the past many days since he had been discovered looking in at the fortress Elerde held, Rory had succeeded in freeing himself from his bonds in the stable. He had managed this by recalling every Breton song and tale he knew, and he had drawn his captors to him where he played on their nostalgia for their homes. He had continued to play up effeminacy as well in order to appear as unthreatening as his muscles and height would allow. Against his general best judgment the commander had agreed to release him so long as he did not leave the compound. Rory was now a great favorite with Elerde's men, and they had begged to be allowed to bring him along on this journey.
Before departing Keito Uxello Rory had managed to find an opportunity for a few private words with Josephine's aunt, Modron. She had asked Elerde to let him come to sing to her husband who was deathly ill. She said she had heard him singing from the stables. Elerde had agreed, but had had a guard on the three in the uncle's chamber nevertheless. One brief opportunity presented itself as the guard stepped outside to send for ale for the coughing Ceretic.
"My lady, I thank ye for not givin'; me away," Rory had whispered to the old woman.
"How did you get here?" she had quickly asked.
"I was after lookin' to see if your niece was here when they found me peerin' in. She and her cousins must yet be at Ingbirchworth. "
Modron eyed him. "Were you not as well, you and the other Irishman?"
Rory looked at the floor. "We left the party early to go on our own way. I now wish we hadnae done that." He glanced at the pale, raspy breath man on the bed. "Your lord has worsened much."
Modron nodded sadly. "He had a spell when the soldiers arrived. I have little hope now." After a pause, she added, Where is Shannon?"
Rory put a quick finger to his lips as the guard's footsteps sounded coming towards them. "I am hopin' in Críslicland guidin' the King to his dear wife."
On the journey to Ratherwood Rory's heart was in his throat. The guards teased him as he tried with difficulty to entertain them with song. It was one thing to hide in plain sight where no one knows you, but at Ratherwood the potential to be recognized was much greater. He tried to cover his furtive glances back and forth for a means to escape. His own popularity with the men now worked against him. They crowded about as they walked, keeping him close to hand.
Malcolm greeted Elerde with narrowed eyes and compressed lips. "Breton, I would hear your report." He nodded to a servant who departed for refreshment. He gestured to a chair, then took his own seat.
Elerde sat casually, maintaining his disinterested expression. "Lord, I have sent you dispatches.."
"Aye, aye, dispatches. Brief dispatches."
"I am a man of few words.." the Breton began.
"Your parsimony with words is not helpful, sir. There must be more to report than that you arrived and took the fortress, but found no Queen there."
Elerde's eyes smoldered. "Are you suggesting that I am lying, lord?"
Malcolm's own glare burned into him. "What I am saying, old friend, is that you are not telling the entire truth. Do you mean to tell me that you did not search for the Queen? That is precisely why you were given this assignment."
The Breton examined his fingernails. "Aye, we searched. There was no sign of the cousins or of the Queen. The servants, as I have told you in the dispatches, had little to say even under duress save that the party had gone into the mountains for Bealtana. The Earl is at death's threshold, and I will not press the old woman. I do not need to, and I do not think she would reveal what she knew in any case."
"Where in the mountains?" Malcolm demanded.
Elerde looked vague. "Ah, such a long name, Ing birch something. I do not remember."
Malcolm grew angrier. "You may think your act amuses, but it does not, sirrah. The place you name is Ingbirchworth. It is the Earl Ceretic's hunting lodge. And you are not going to tell me you did not search there, are you?"
Elerde raised a frank gaze to his soldierly companion of the past and responded, "Aye, we did, with no success. She is in hiding, perhaps, or has fled to Mercia or Northumbria.."
Malcolm held Elerde's gaze for some time. He reached to his table and removed a small scroll of parchment. "Would you be surprised to hear that I have received reports of garrisons being shot at by bowmen along the Ermine Road from Horsfort?" He watched Elerde's reaction.
A small derisive smile played on the Breton's lips. "Resistance?" he said with unmistakable amusement.
Malcolm glared with more intensity. "We may be old friends and comrades, Elerde, but I am your commander in this war. I hired your sword arm. Have you forgotten that?"
Elerde looked thoughtful, then leaned forward towards the other man. "You are right, Malcolm, and I do assure you. I am not hiding the Queen nor have delivered her to her husband. That should be the last thing I wish to do."
Malcolm considered him, then seemed to be content. "That I can believe. Not only do you want her, you want her royal husband to suffer."
Elerde smiled to himself but said nothing.
Malcolm concluded, "Críslicland is on his way here now from the river. Ricbeorht and his men are impeding his progress, but we need to meet in council ere you and Sven Ormyngel depart to prepare for the next phase of our strategy. Ricbeorht will arrive by the time we sit down to meat this evening. Sven is already here. In the morning you and your men and all of theirs must be out of the fortress."
Next: Josephine Resists
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
Thursday, October 15, 2009
New Stories: Malcolm Makes his Plans, Part 2 (Happened)
Pictured left: Elerde of Brittany