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 http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com
Thursday, November 19, 2009
New Stories: Affynshire Rallies to its Queen, part III (Happened)
Back on track.
Part III: The Council Meeting
The King felt the conflict in his own heart as he watched the chieftains, lords and warrior leaders arrive at the siege camp near Ratherwood. He needed them. Oh did he need them, but to gain their trust he had to show them just how weak he really was. All those years of ruling them ably, generously, justly, they were for naught. The only thing that could pull them away from Malcolm and his cronies was to see just how much the King of Críslicland needed them. Behind grim eyes acknowledging each Celtic leader as he surveyed the camp lay an expression of bitter disappointment staying just out of reach.
The ælderman of Skirbeck, Earl Botopher came to stand behind him with a nod of deference due his own liege lord. "The brothers have done well in their quest. I don't think a single man refused the invitation, sire."
"We shall see. 'Tis one thing to come gawk and another to join us. But I think Earl Ruallauh can address that ably." Lawrence scuffed his dusty boot on the ground, his head bent in contemplation.
"My lord, he shall.. and so shall you. They need to hear you, craving your pardon. They need to trust you." Botopher spoke carefully, weighing his words.
Lawrence glanced up at him with a wry smile just touching the royal lips. "I thought they trusted me once."
"They did, but their minds were poisoned, lord. The racial rivalry and even resentment is still strong. It was easy for Horsfort to play upon," he replied referring to the Lord of Horsfort, Malcolm.
Ruallauh's approach made the two men stand straighter and turn their attention to him. "My brother," the King began, "it seems you have had a good deal of success with your countrymen.
The Earl of Keito Uxello smiled and clasped the King's forearm with a quick salute. Lawrence planned to make this man, his wife's eldest cousin, the next King of Affynshire, a client king but a good, strong man nonetheless. "Aye, Cingen and Ioruert have made many inroads, making my own work easier. At least to get the men here. It will be up to all of us and you now, sire, to keep them here and fighting at our sides."
Botopher, younger than either of the other two men by a few years and much more inclined to finery in even his warrior garb, had made his nod of obeisance to the Briton and now went on with a question. "My lord earl, what are these men and others saying of the raids on the villages. Do they believe they were initiated by Críslicland?"
Ruallauh grimaced. "Aye, they do, at least for now. Half the reason they were so willing to attend the parlay was so they could demand an explanation of his majesty." He glanced apologetically at Lawrence.
The King shook his head. "No doubt to wreak vengeance on us as well, if they yet believe we should do such violence on innocents."
Botopher inserted, "They shall see that we have not added to our stores.."
"If they believe what they see," the King interrupted.
The attending lords and chieftains were indeed and very visibly looking about for evidence of the plunder of the weeks past. They would find only those stores the King had commanded by his right. Whether they could believe that the booty was not simply hidden, time would tell. Lawrence could see several of the mounted leaders dispatching aides to explore the camp and its environs. They would be thorough, but then they knew the King would have been thorough in hiding what he held.
As these same men cast eyes on the added battlements of the fortress of Ratherwood, the King looked too. He tried to see the stronghold through eyes not wearied of watching the walls and earthworks day in and day out for months. What would they make of the newly fortified defenses? Would it convey Malcolm's lust for power or thrill them to his side when compared to Lawrence's own depleted stores and mounts? He thought to himself, "This might be the first battle where being the weaker will win the spoils."
As the evening approached the visiting men and their warriors settled down to camps of their own making. The King and his lords stayed to the side, letting the cousins circulate among their countrymen to answer doubts and supply information as the leaders congregated together to air their intelligence and views. Most of the Britons had brought their own supplies of food and drink, just as well as the encampment had little to spare. The road to Lincoln might be clear now, but it was taking some time to replace the horses that Ormyngel and Ricbeorht had stolen.
Finally Ruallauh came to the King and said, "My liege, it is time." Lawrence stood from where he had been sitting by the fire outside his command cottage, its owner, the elderly Ethelberga dancing attendance on his every perceived want. She stood now, with a pitcher of ale in her hands, and smiled at him. Lawrence cast her back an affectionate look, then turned and with all the dignity he could summon, walked with the Earl and his own lords and supporters to the central fire where the men chosen to represent the Britons already stood in a semicircle.
As the King's party approached, one tall broad bearded man stepped a pace forward of his fellows. He set the precedent by bowing low but bending no knee. The others with him copied his gesture with more or less enthusiasm. Lawrence stopped before the leader and returned the gesture with a slight bow and nod of his own. He waited for Ruallauh to make the introduction.
The Earl of Keito Uxello stood at right angles to each of the two men and extended his arms wide. "My liege, this is Luco Treni, lord of Matlock and the chosen man to speak for these lords and chieftains here. He comes in peace, as I have assured him do you, sire."
The King nodded and extended his right hand in a traditional gesture to show he was without a weapon. "Lord Luco Treni, you are from Matlock? I have heard that the Fleming Ricbeorht had taken that stronghold. Is that true?"
Luco leveled his gaze at the King, considering his answer. "Aye, my lord, with my cooperation. I have not had cause to complain of him. He has not interfered with the rule of my lands and people."
As the King sat on a log set for the purpose by the fire, he glanced up at the tall man, gesturing him to sit as well. "Just interfered with your exercise of your oath to your sworn liege lord?" Lawrence had not hesitated to broach the topic right away. He knew from long experience that the Britons of Affynshire took their oaths as sacred and would regard his challenge as a sign he knew they were not easily forsworn. In fact, Luco's face betrayed neither guilt nor affront as he sat on the log near the King's.
"Sire, my oath was to serve the rightful lord of Affynshire, the husband of our Queen, in his just rule of our land."
Lawrence raised his eyebrows. "Ah, then has the Holy Father offered dispensation to my lady so she could forsake our bed to wed Malcolm who lies now in that besieged fortress?"
It was a game of words, testing each other, making light of the serious and seriousness of the trivial.
The Briton pursued, "The heart of the oath is to the land and people, not to the lady and her husband." Others in the British camp murmured their agreement.
"And how have I failed, as that lady's husband, to deal justly and honorably with the land and people of Affynshire?"
Ruallauh in an orchestrated action made the reply for Luco. "You must admit, my lord, that you have neglected this part of your realm, setting incompetent men to administer it in your name."
"You speak of the Governor General? Or of the Breton Elerde?" Lawrence responded.
"Sire, the Breton did well by us, but you cast him out and not the other, the one who took our goods and offered nothing in return." Ruallauh looked to Luco who nodded.
"I think you know that our coffers saw scant evidence of this immoderate taxation?" Lawrence ventured?
"My lord, that is not to your credit but only to the discredit of the governor. Had you observed him more closely, you should have known and corrected his ways," the big Briton responded with dignity.
The king sat considering the man. Knowing full well what the answer would be, he finally asked, "And is the corruption of the man I set to govern you your only complaint against my reign?"
The British chieftains and lords about Luco had begun to fidget with the triviality of the initial parlay. Now the murmurs began again and Luco voiced their grievance. "Nay, lord, it is not. We most heartily protest the ill deeds of your armies, the villages set upon, the stores stolen or destroyed, the people hurt and killed."
Lawrence leveled a stern gaze at the man, then swept those behind him with the same gaze. He waited.
Ruallauh, again on cue, spoke. "I am surprised men of my own country would be so easily fooled by the ruse. Those were not men of the King of Críslicland but imposters. Saw you not they were?"
One man behind Luco shook his fist at Ruallauh. "We could see the horses and their trappings, all with the King's own symbol, the sword and the sunburst. Do you think we are blind?"
Lawrence now rose and thundered back, "Not blind, mayhap, but too ready to see what you will. Do you think I am so perfidious? Or that I would do such a deed and not own it?!" He glared intensely at the man who had spoken. "Do you not know of the attack we sustained on the Lincoln road? Methinks news travels fast in this land if it is to the liking of those who receive it, but not if it serves another truth, by God." He made as if to turn and stride away from the gathering, but Ruallauh reached and took his arm. The King did not resist but only paused, letting the scene play out.
"See you those horses here now, sirrah?" Ruallauh demanded.
"Nay, lord, I do not," answered Luco. "But this means nothing. It would be a fool who would deny a deed with the evidence ready at hand…"
A woman's voice entered the mix, an old woman's voice both high pitched ad unsteady, especially now with emotion. It was Ethelberga, who had followed the king's party at a distance. "Fools, to believe all the honeyed words of a villain and not the honest word of this good man, your king. I was here when he and his soldiers returned from the fight, walking.." She emphasized the word. "Walking, I said, and the king afoot too so that his destrier could carry a wounded man in his place. They did not hide the horse in the woods and walk back for no cause."
The man Luco looked uncomfortable with the sudden insertion by the old woman. "Mother, what have you to do with these matters? Did this Saxon call on you to do his speaking for him?"
Lawrence had to hold back his impulse to spin and punch the man in the nose. Ethelberga stepped to his side and glanced sternly at him. "He needs not my voice. 'Tis you fools who need to hear it. You who believe only what you wish and not the word of a good and just man."
Someone called from the Briton's side, "The old woman is a Saxon too. They are liars all."
"My man and my boys, they were Saxons, and they died at the hands of the great Briton you so blindly serve. And do not say 'twas a just death," she added quickly, "for they were but servants of the fortress yon, the one whose walls were built with the stuff of half this village's huts and even its church."
The king slowly turned to face Luco again. "You are all fools to believe a man like Malcolm. Know you not how for years he has raided his own and your lands in pretense to be coming across the border from Northumbria? And has he served you in any way since his loathsome violent overthrow of the incompetent but rightful governor of the land? I know that for all your bluster you have aided him little. He called his own mercenary cronies to serve him. Why is that, tell me?"
"It's true," one voice from the group said. "He raided my lands oftimes, and no mistake."
Luco nodded gravely. "I admit I cooperated with the Fleming, but not to the extent that I gave him more than a handful of my fyrd to assist him. In sooth, he took them not on his adventures. Methinks 'tis possible he did not want their eyes to witness his deeds."
Lawrence stood looking into the man's face, his own fists clenched at his side. Ruallauh stepped forward, casting a glance at the old woman that made her back carefully and unobtrusively away. The British earl turned to face Luco. "Sir, are you not ashamed to have an o ld woman need to point out truth to you? Are your eyes so clouded by delusion the ancient eyes must do their work?"
The large man stared back, then lowered his eyes. He removed his mail hood and held it in his hands, then bent one knee and knelt in front of Lawrence. "Sire, I was indeed foresworn. I crave mercy."
Lawrence frowned. Are you prepared to pay for your treason?"
"I am, lord," the man replied, his eyes downcast. Behind him most faces were perplexed, but some were angry.
"And what can recompense me for the losses my kingdom has suffered due to your ill deeds?" the King demanded.
"Lord king, I will pay as you command."
Ruallauh spoke, "Will you use your own voice to persuade these here who still doubt the veracity of the king and of myself? Will you bring your own guard to serve us?"
The last question caused a stir in the group, as the earl's use of the plural "us" confused many. Luco looked up sideways at the man, considering those very words. "Earl Ruallauh, I shall. I shall speak to these honorable men and also bring my guard to serve… you.. and the king."
Lawrence hid the relief he felt under his mask of royal disgust. He looked at the earl. "You will continue these negotiations, my brother?"
He nodded in answer to the man's own gesture of compliance, then cast his eyes sternly over the assemblage. He turned slowly and gave the old woman a similar glance of disapproval, but she saw the wink in his eye as he passed her.
"'Tis not over yet, my liege," Grantham's Earl Jehan said when they had stridden enough paces from the gathering.
"It is in Ruallauh's hands now, and those are hands I trust with my life.. and my kingdom," Lawrence replied. To himself he thought, "I hate this wrangling, hate it to the core. May this war be over so we all may return to our homes and to peace."
Next: The Second Fall of Ratherwood
Image at top: Aragorn, played by Vigo Mortensen ... my image of Lawrence.