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 9, 2009

New Stories: Preparing for War, Part I (Happened)

Offa of Mercia - see notes below

The messenger had been sent to the kitchens for food and drink and to rest. Lawrence, who stood behind his own chair with his hands clutching the back, glanced up as Lorin reentered.

Lorin had observed with some surprise the look of resignation on the King's face. He seemed unsurprised, as if he had expected this turn of events. The Queen's brother stood with his arms crossed in front of him. "Your orders, sire?"

Lawrence did not hesitate. His brow was furrowed and his eyes hard. "Send for the Anglian commander, Horsa. Tonight. Also send messengers to Boston, Grantham and of course to Lincoln informing them of what has happened and to call up the fyrd*. Tell them to rally at Lincoln."

Lorin nodded. He lifted sympathetic eyes to his King. "She will be all right, my lord."

Lawrence had been pacing, and now he shot a look at Lorin but said nothing. He continued to pace. At length, he stopped behind his chair again and said, "Call the men together for a council. And see what you have received most recently from our spies in Affynshire."

Lorin opened his mouth to speak, his eyes revealing hesitation.

"What is it?" the King demanded.

"We have not heard anything from our Horsfort spy in some weeks. We sent the Cross Gates spy orders to find out if something has happened to him."

"And?" Lawrence urged.

"We did not even receive an acknowledgement of the order."

Lawrence slammed a fist on the back of the chair. "And you did nothing to follow up on that?!" he snapped.

"In fact, there is a messenger on his way there now, is probably there already this past sennight."

Lawrence leaned his arms on the back of the chair, his hands clasped tightly before. "This intelligence speaks loudly on its surface, does it not."

Lorin nodded. "Aye, lord, that Maegwig is allied with Malcolm.. and who knows who else. I believe we can count on Hucknall. I cannot speak with as much assurance of Matlock Hall. Of course, Keito Uxello is in our camp…" This was the stronghold of the Queen's and Lorin's own uncle, Earl Ceretic."

"You are going to tell me that the force of armed men we posted in Affynshire were in Ratherwood Castle, I suppose."

Lorin bowed slightly. "Aye, and no doubt as dead as their governor general." The messenger had had no inside intelligence, but it could be assumed that Cynewulf had been executed along with anyone else in the fortress who might have resisted the attackers.

Lawrence stared at his hands. "Do we know if the Breton ever left the province?"

"He did, sire. One of our last missives from the Horsfort spy saw him cross the border into Mercia."

Lawrence nodded slowly but his face did not ease. "Get a messenger on the road to Eoforwic to bring the news to Aethelwald Moll. And to the King of East Anglia. We may ask them for help if this turns out to be a difficult and long offensive. No need to contact Offa**. I suspect he knows all about it."

Lorin considered, then agreed. "I should not be surprised if the King of Mercia had some hand in this himself."

Lawrence nodded slowly and sadly. "I suppose they must know my lady is in Affynshire."

"I am sure of it," Lorin said.

Lawrence's shoulders slumped. "And I suppose they know where and will prevent her escape."

"Most assuredly, sire," the Duke replied, his head bowed.

Lawrence went to a heavy table against one wall, put his tensely clenched and white knuckles on its surface, "We are at war, and my lady is a pawn ."

Lorin now came to him and put his hand on his shoulder. "Not necessarily, Lawrence. She is smart, she is with our family, and they have dealt with insurrections before. They will hide her. Malcolm will never find her.. nor any of his cronies."

The King looked speculatively at him. There was a hint of gratitude in his eyes. "I shall try hard to believe that."

After some minutes, he seemed to rally. "Well, this is no time for fearing the worst.. We must set out for Affynshire as quickly as possible."

Lorin bowed and started to turn. The King took his arm, a faraway look in his eyes. "Lorin, I am so glad that Rory went with her… I know he loves her, perhaps almost as much as I do. He will let no harm come to her."

Lorin nodded sorrowfully. "I will go and dispatch your orders, my lord. Do you need anything?" He have his sister's husband a look that disclosed his concern.

Lawrence stood and shook out his arms to relax the tension in his muscles. "Nay, but send my page to me. With wine. I shall not sleep."

Lorin bowed and left his King standing alone in his chamber to give the man his solitude. God knew the King would have to put his mind to other things soon enough. In the corridor the duke stood a moment, crossed himself and said a prayer for his beloved sister.

The King stood in his chamber staring distractedly, unseeing. His right hand twisted the ring on the third finger of his left hand absently. He did not move otherwise. He let his mind go blank, trying in vain to empty it of the pain he felt. He knew war well.. and he knew that from this moment on, nothing would ever be the same.

For a moment he considered whether he should send men to locate the Breton and to ask his help. Surely if the man was not involved in this aggression he would work as hard as anyone to rescue Josephine. But that led the King again to think of the other, perhaps more likely possibility.. that he was part of it and that even now she was in Elerde's custody.

In a little while, hearing the sound of heavy booted feet in the corridor, he took a deep breath, composed himself, clasped his hands behind him, and looked with all the dignity he could to where the door would soon be opened and his war council admitted.

Soon his council chamber was filled with every man who had any role as a fighter as well as numerous scribes and other functionaries. All but the scribes stood, since the King could not stop pacing to sit and face the chairs that surrounded the long table. There was Horsa, the older man who had served Lawrence's father when Lawrence was yet a youth. There was Gaylorde standing by Lorin, his accustomed rich clothing replaced of late with the outfitting of a warrior while Lorin remained almost monk-like in his plain robes. There were well born warriors both young and old. In the morning they knew they would be joined by other lords with holdings near the fortress at Lawrencium.

Lorin had reported all the available news about the takeover and advised the war council that the fyrd of the outlying provinces was to gather and camp west of Lincoln on the Roman road that crossed the Trenta over the stout stone bridge that was only ten years old at this time.

The venerable Horsa spoke, "Malcolm of Horsfort. My liege? Do we know who is with him?"

Lawrence looked at Lorin and nodded. The chancellor replied to the general, "Not for certain, my lord. It is thought that Earl Maegwig of Cross Gates is with him at Ratherwood. The messenger heard that Malcolm may have had two mercenary soldiers leading parts of the attacking army. We do not yet know who they were. And," anticipating the next question, "we have not yet heard from spies at Hucknall or Matlock Hall."

One of the older warrior leaders asked, "Sire, what force shall we have to guard the capital?"

Lawrence looked at Lorin again. This time the look was a question.

"My lords and your majesty, I am at your service if you will have me," came the King's cousin Duke Gaylorde's voice.

The King considered him. Over the past year the man seemed to have taken more interest in his training, lifelong as any other man in their position, as a warrior. He had involved himself as much as he could in affairs of state and especially with the leaders of the royal defense. If there had seemed to be anything less than manly about him at first, it had not had time to become completely embedded in people's minds before he changed his demeanor.

"I thank you, cousin. I shall entrust the garrison here to you.. with Duke Lorin as your right arm."

The two Dukes considered each other. Lorin was less convinced of the man's abilities - or sincerity - but was hesitant to act unless sure of his reasons. Gaylorde for his part hid his irritation at being paired with the Queen's brother, as if he could not lead quite capably on his own. "They will see soon enough who leads best," he was silently grumbling to himself.

A soldier brought in rolls of maps and spread one out on the table. Lawrence called to the men, "I want Horsa, Lorin, Gaylorde, the leaders of the fyrds represented here, and whichever of your officers you choose, your graces, to stay. The rest can go to start planning the journey west." The rest of the men crowded into the chamber bowed and left one by one.

For the next hours late into the night the war council elite remained with the King, looking over the maps and speculating on strategy. All were stymied by the lack of information.

Finally the King crossed his arms and said, "Roll up the maps. We will have to do this all over again when we gather in Lincoln. Let's just get things ready and leave as soon as we can."

* fyrd - Saxon kingdoms did not have standing armies. Certain lords and fortresses would have their own soldiers, called "house carls", and the king could call on the lords to provide him with support and to hire professional soldiers to aid him. Most "soldiers" however were farmers and tradesmen called up like a militia when a battle was anticipated. They would not be provided with weapons or armor but were expected to bring what they had, often just farm implements. Unfortunately the main role of the fyrd was to die and cause the enemy to stumble over their bodies. That was not the intent of the war leaders, but it was generally the reality. The Saxons still fought this way in 1066.

** A real historical figure, the first King of all England. In time he would conquer or annex all of the other seven kingdoms but Northumbria and make London his capital. He was the first king in Western Europe to mint gold coins. He spent much of his reign fighting the Welsh and had a wall built to contain them, Offa's Dyke. Image at top of story is a representation of Offa of mercia.

Next: Preparing for War, Part II - Gathering Near Lincoln

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About the author

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