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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Stories: Affynshire Rallies to its Queen, Part I (Cut)

A shortened version of the Celtic tribes return to allegiance appears in the book. Lawrence did not, after all, go to Keito Uxello.

art I: Keito Uxello

The stealthy advance towards the walls of the small fortress of Keito Uxello was through dense forest so the King's small party missed the exeunt of Elerde's force almost entirely. What little the scout saw was reckoned to be of little more significance than the movement back and forth of troops. It came as a surprise then when the advance scout sent to determine the numbers holding the fortress and the condition of rebuilt walls had mystifying news that none of the Breton's men could be seen.

Lawrence himself addressed the scout sharply. "But you saw O'Donnell's men instead?"

"My liege, aye, but…"

"But what?!" the King pursued irritably.

"My liege, I saw them.. a few of them, but they were in.. a stockade."

"A stockade!" Lawrence roared, causing Ruallauh and other officers to look about in case he had been heard by any enemies.

Cowering, the scout nodded. "Aye, lord. And guarded by men with his banner."

Lawrence looked at the man, glanced where he was indicating, and asked more calmly, "His? Whose?"

"The earl's, sire."

Earl Ruallauh responded, "Mine?"

The scout nodded. He waited for the commanders to continue any questions and was relieved when the King waved a dismissal. "Go get some food and rest. I thank you."

"Is it a trap of some sort? A ruse?" he asked the earl.

"Mayhap. Though to what end, I cannot tell, my lord. I should know the men if they are truly mine. I should go to see." Josephine's eldest cousin showed signs of wishing to hasten a departure. "Your majesty, may I have your leave?"

"You have it, but I am coming with you," the King answered.

Outside the very wall that months before the musician Rory had gotten himself captured the King, the earl and several men at arms listened to the sounds from within the fort.

"Can it be?" Ruallauh pondered.

"The woman's voice?" the King inquired.

"Aye, 'tis certës my lady mother. And she sounds not at all in distress. Wait.." He cocked an ear, then abruptly left the King and his men behind as he circled the wall to a point where he could boost himself to take a short look within. "It is!" he cried as he landed hard again on his feet. "My brother!"

"Wait, Ruallauh," the King called to him as he turned and rushed further along in the direction of the gate. Lawrence gestured to his guard to follow him as he made his way more cautiously after the earl.

Ruallauh startled the guards, men he had known since a child, as he came around the corner and faced them. He quickly removed his helm as they leveled spears at him, startled into action but not speech.

"My lord!" one of the men cried.

"Aye, Huwal, 'tis I! And how come you to be guarding my mother this fine day?" The earl had come to the men and had one hand on the shoulder of each.

"Lord," the other guard, fairer of hair and of greater height of the British Huwal explained, "the Breton lord has gone and taken his men away."

Hearing Ruallauh's companionable speech with the men the King looked about the corner of the wall flanked by his guard. "Your majesty, 'tis safe. These are indeed my men," the earl called, smiling broadly.

Huwal hissed at his partner, "Brennus, down. 'Tis the very King!" The two men were on their knees instantly.

Lawrence came forward hesitantly, but as he saw Ruallauh's face and the men on their knees, he hitched up his belt and commanded, "Up. What has happened here?"

Huwal looked up tentatively, then dragged himself to his feet with Brennus helping arm. "My liege, if it pleases you, the Breton has left and only my lord Earl's men are here now."

Brennus added, "Nay, there are some of the O'Donnell's men =.."

"But they are prisoners, sire. If it pleases you," Huwal repeated.

"It pleases me passing much," the King laughed. He looked to the earl. "Methinks we need to learn more of this. Where is the late earl's lady, guard?"

Ruallauh answered for the man, "Let's see if she is within," and without a second thought headed through the gate into the courtyard. In the moments before the King and his party followed, Lawrence heard the shouts of surprise and joy that came from the courtyard. He commented to an officer, "Well, 'tis a good thing only friendly forces are within, or we should have heard quite another reception."

Lawrence's entrance did not register on those within at first. He looked about, seeing so much change in a place, understandable in all the years since he had first visited, but much of the damage was clearly of recent vintage. The fortress had been declining for years, with the rise of other powers in the formerly Celtic kingdom, and for that Lawrence felt a pang of responsibility. Had he been a better steward and brought the two peoples together better, the whole collapse of Affynshire, the slow ebb and the sudden breakdown, might have been prevented. That this happened to his own wife's family brought him up short. Then he could see beyond the deterioration of unrepaired walls and dilapidated outbuildings to the more violent evidence of occupation by armed men. The paucity of livestock, the damage to fence posts from being used to practice with spears and swords, the filth left behind only now being disposed of, the general look of things being stripped. And no young girls, no young women anywhere about. He frowned, then looked back to where Ruallauh had turned from his mother and brother Cingen back to him.

As soon as the two had recognized the King, they went to their knees. Ruallauh helped support his aged mother as she dipped. Others in the courtyard, men at arms, servants, all but the men held in the small stockade, doffed caps and fell to their knees as well. Before them, though in modest clothing and no particular indication from his armor other than its quality that he was King, was a man no person could have mistaken for anything else. Over the years Lawrence had left behind callow youth and now stood tall and confident, his body well filled out and his chest, back and arms muscular, standing above and outside the common. His face was care worn and rather distant with nonetheless piercing blue eyes that caught anyone who was the object of their gaze up short, Even the prisoners recognized who he must be and many started to jeer only to be silenced by their guards.

Lawrence covered the ground between himself and Lady Modron in a few strides and reached to lift her to her feet. "My lady, my kinswoman, stand. You honour me with your courtesy. Better let me greet you and thank you for receiving us into your home." He lifted her hands together to his lips. "My deepest sorrow for the death of the earl your husband. I rejoice that my lady, the Queen, could have time with you all ere he passed."

The old woman's eyes sparkled with moisture, but she smiled. "Your majesty, 'twas indeed a treasure to see my niece, for both Ceretic and myself. It meant a great deal to him. She and her Irishmen gave him much comfort e'en to the end."

"Ah, you speak of McGuinness who I believe made an unplanned second visit here."

Cingen, who had risen to h is feet, responded, "Aye, and was taken prisoner. He was with O'Donnell and Elerde when they found the Queen." He looked at his older brother realizing the King would already know about this. "My brother would have told you of that odd exchange. Have you word, my liege, of our cousin?"

Lawrence looked grave. "Aye, she made it to our camp at Ratherwood with your brother Ioruert but then disappeared when heading back to Críslicland. There is no word as of yet. In fact, 'tis Ioruert who has gone to find her as he travels speak to the Celtic chieftains and lords."

Modron, seeing the man's pained expression, came forward and put a hand on his arm. "My poor lamb, what troubles and fears you have had. Come in now and tell us the story and we shall tell you ours." She looked into his eyes frankly. "Your Queen is strong and brave and extremely clever. You need not worry for her.. she will be in touch when she can."

Lawrence nodded gratefully and followed her inside.

By late evening the company had shared all the news they had to share of the old earl's death, the occupation of Keito Uxello both by Elerde, whose men had been under control, and O'Donnell, who had not. The King shared news of the war, of Josephine, of Ioruert and of Shannon O'Neill. He could see in Cingen's face that Ruallauh had shared O'Neill's explanation of O'Donnell's odd choice with him. They did not speak of it before their old mother.

It was around the firepit as eyelids became heavy that the first plans for how to proved with taking back the usurped country was on the lips of the men, Modron having retired to her chamber.

"I cannot understand how Malcolm persuaded so many of our country men to cast their lots in with him," said Cingen.

Lawrence did not reply.

Ruallauh spoke instead. "'Tis the old rivalry and resentment. Though their Queen is one of them, at least by half, they are easily led to resent a Saxon King." He looked sharply at Lawrence. "Begging your pardon, sire."

Lawrence waved the look away. "I fear that I have been too slow to understand the needs of this land. I put into position a governor general who had no interest whatever in the nature of it and more than acceptable interest in his own benefit. Oddly the best thing I had done for this country was sending the Breton, though that seems to have come back to haunt me that I did."

The two men looked uncomfortably at their hands as they sat hunched forward in the dim light. They looked at each other with scarcely hidden relief when Lawrence went on, "I should like to have your help, all of you in the family, so that the interests of this land can be assured. If you will agree, I shall make you governor general .. nay, King, subject to Críslicland, of Affynshire, Ruallauh. I do not think your relationship to me will be an impediment. Your people love you, all of you. I have seen that for myself oftimes."

He seemed to think for a while, then turned to Cingen. "Your brother Ioruert has been speaking to those who have been led to oppose me by Malcolm and continues to do so. Declaring Ruallauh King is this land's due and should not, methinks, appear as anything but a just choice on my part. Your cousins have a prior claim, so you shall be under my rule, but you shall also be under my support and protection. We are family, I should not compromise you and your reign in any way."

Cingen's face had lit up with pleasure. He clapped his brother on the shoulder and said, "King Ruallauh! I like the sound of that!"

In the morning the entire company was at breaking its fast when hoofbeats were heard coming fast up the road to the gate. An almost breathless rider came down fast from a lathered horse and was taken immediately to the King, whom he had not expected to see and before whom he hastily knelt.

"What is it, man?" the King demanded.

"Villages, sire, burned. Many, and wrecked and the people killed and raped and stock taken. And the horses.. sire, I don't know.. they were in your livery, sire."

Ruallauh turned sharply to Lawrence. "My lord, this cannot be. You could not have…"

Lawrence shot back an angry look. "Nay, of course not! 'Tis the enemy with the horses they took from us on the road to Lincoln. God and all his saints damn them."

Next: The Villages

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About the author

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