"But cannae we travel west to find the King's encampment?" the Irish bard asked the Queen as they rested in the hollow of the oak wherein they had hidden from the warriors of Sven Ormyngel, as they would later learn was his name.
"I do not know," Josephine replied. "The men I saw seemed to come from both directions of the Roman road. I do not know if even traveling through the countryside will be safe."
It had started to drizzle, and while the huge old tree sheltered the pair to a degree, the dampness of the woods around them and showers from wind-shaken leaves had them both well soaked. Neither was much inclined to optimism as they shivered. "Sure, and should we not at least try?" Shannon muttered.
"Let us wait until this rain stops. Then we can scout west. I just do not want to run across a party of enemy scouts or soldiers." The Queen's lips were pressed around her irritation. "You do not want to die, do you?"
"Och, at this point, at least Hell would be warm and dry," the bard complained.
Josephine started to remonstrate with him, but then could not help laughing. "So that is the explanation for your terrible behavior. You want to go to Hell so you can be warm."
Shannon smiled lopsidedly, then chuckled. "Well, right now, anyway. I am that fortunate I have not been absolved since last night."
Though the drizzle eased off and Josephine and Shannon could stiffly stand and stretch, walking outside the shelter of the tree hollow just added soaked leggings and shoes to their already damp clothing. "Which way?" the Queen asked.
Shannon got his bearings, then pointed off in the direction of a ravine. "That be west." The two started to slog through the mud and wet underbrush.
They were making steady if miserable progress when Shannon suddenly stopped. He put his arm back away from his body to halt Josephine as she walked beside him. "Horses," he whispered. They took cover where they could and waited.
"I do not know about this," Josephine whispered back after the sound passed and what few voices they heard were not speaking either Brythonic or Saxon. "Methinks there are scouts all around us. If they know we are here, they are looking for us. If not, they may still come across us.. and I have lost both my weapons."
Shannon grinned. "Ye still have your fair self."
Josephine smiled and squeezed his arm. "Shannon, I think we cannot go west. And I am certain the bridge has been taken as part of this offensive. I do not know if the King has even learned of this." She bit her knuckle as she thought. "I think we must go south and seek a crossing of the Trent nearer.. what is the name of that town, Hucknall?"
Shannon looked frustrated, but replied evenly enough, "Och, aye, Hucknall. I recall. I came thence on me way to Lincoln the first ere I came to Christenlande."
Josephine looked at him. "That was a long way around," she said as if chiding him.
"'Tis no matter where I go, folk like to hear me sing and will give me food, drink, a warm pallet and a warm wench… beggin' your pardon, lady." Shannon flashed an apologetic smile.
When the two judged they were safe from the scouts just passed, they put their heads together to plan their escape. "I seem to recall a small river not far that flows to the Trent but goes south at first. I do not know if 'tis the season for it to be navigated, but I suppose we shall have to find out." Shannon nodded, and the Queen led the way east towards where she remembered the river should be.
There it was, even nearer than her memory had told her, and it was full enough to travel. As she recalled, the river flowed south rather than east or north as most did that emptied into the Trent then the Humber and then the North Sea at Lawrencium. "If I thought we could be undetected, I would like to find a boat to take us all the way home."
She led the way south along the river's west bank until they came near a mill and a small farmstead. "Saints be praised," Shannon rasped. "A boat!"
Josephine saw it as well. It was beached on the bank near the river, above the waterwheel, and no one was around. Shannon did not hesitate, but looking around him, he dashed for the boat. "It looks like it will hold," he said as he pushed it to the water.
"We cannot take it! That is someone's boat!"
Shannon shook his head, "Which would ye rather go missin'.. this boat or the Queen and her remarkable bard?"
Josephine stood for a moment, then reached to the scrip on her belt and pulled out a silver coin. She looked about for a place to put it. Deciding on the indentation made in the bank by the keel of the little boat, she placed the coin on a rock and climbed in with Shannon, who had taken the pole lying beside the boat and was standing poling them into the flow of the river.
Thus the two, staying near the overhanging branches of trees were able to make their way south more quickly than they could afoot, and even found a place under a willow where they could tie up and sleep through the evening. By the second day from the attack and their flight, they had come to a space where the river seemed to widen and slow.
'We shall be after reachin' the Trent, methinks," said Shannon. "Time to tie up and take to our own feet again."
"I shall not mind the exercise," the Queen replied, then helped the Irishman tie up to a slender birch truck and climbed out, handing him his lute and then taking his free hand to be helped out of the boat.
"Wait here, me lady," Shannon said when she had both feet on the ground. He put a finger to his lips and slipped away.
Josephine, judging that she should stay where she could climb aboard and cast off in the boat if danger loomed, found a place to sit where she might see up and down along the bank of the river.
Some time later Shannon was suddenly back. "Put these on, me lady," he instructed , handing her a bundle of clothes.
"Why? I have clothes." Josephine took the bundle and shook it out, finding herself in possession of a rough woolen gown and linen apron, and seeing the head covering that had fallen on the ground.
"Me lady, ye cannae be seen dressed as ye are.. ye must disguise your birth. We can travel with less suspicion if we dinnae draw attention to you. To me, now, that would be good."
Josephine laughed, "You? Why?"
"Because, me lady, if they look at and listen to me, they willnae notice ye… save as some drab wench in me company." He winked at her.
Josephine saw the sense of his plan, and able to retain her own undergarments and leg wraps and shoes, she donned the simple garments after making Shannon swear not to look. "Alas, I have soiled the headdress when I dropped it." She wrapped it around her head, covering her golden hair completely. "Where did you get these clothes? I was not aware you were carrying coin."
He looked at her, reached down to pick up some wet earth, then stood before her. As he reached his muddy hand to her face, she flinched. "Me lady, ye must entirely look the part. Get used to being dirty. And I did not buy those clothes.. I stole them. Off some bushes where they were dryin'." Josephine started to protest. He stopped her, carefully streaking her face and clothes with mud and dirt. "Ye can send a coin or two to the owner when ye are safe." He gave her a commanding look.
The Queen stared back, twitching her nose with the discomfort of the mud splotch that was drying there. "We cannot go through the village, then, where these clothes may be recognized."
Shannon looked amused. "Me lady, have ye e'er looked at villagers as they go about their work of a day? "
"Of course I have. What mean you?"
He bowed and reached for her hand. "Come this way." He led her towards where they could hear the chatter of people at their simple tasks. Before they started down a path to where the people would see them, Shannon dropped her hand and told her to walk slightly behind him. "Speak to no one. Ye can be me cousin Fiona again, as when the wool merchant was about to expose ye."
Josephine fell back and followed, hoping the Irishman knew what he was doing. As they entered the edge of the little town, she made a point of looking at the women they passed, while Shannon grinned and greeted those who stopped and stared. Then she saw what Shannon had meant. There was no difference in the manner of dress of any of the women. Each wore just what she wore now.. the same dull colors, the same rough wool cloth, the same soiled head scarf. She was indistinguishable from all the other women.
"Goodwife," came the voice of a small girl from her ankles. "You have such pretty boots."
Josephine stopped realizing that her well made boots were nothing like the cloth wrappings and poor leather shoes of the people, or the bare feet of the children. She looked at Shannon with a frightened expression.
The Irishman had it well in hand. "Now, wee lass, that's how we make shoes in Ulster. This be me woman, and she must make me not ashamed. So good boots she has. Now, be a darlin' and let us pass in peace. "
The child stopped and looked up at him in astonishment. She started to say something, but then just turned and dashed to one of the cottages.
When they had passed through to the far side of the village otherwise unmolested, Josephine looked at Shannon with new admiration. "That was very quick," she acknowledged. "And I see why you were sure these clothes would not raise alarms. Now tell me, why did none but the child speak to us?"
Shannon replied, "They know 'tis war. They dinnae want any part of strangers, even a bard and his woman. That lass will probably be beaten for speakin' to ye."
"Nay, that cannot happen," she protested.
"It must, for otherwise she will ne'er learn to stay away from strangers. Ye dinnae know what peril these folk face daily. Her life may depend on it."
Josephine nodded sadly, wished there was some way she could send word to Lawrence that they were away and safe, and then just fell into step with Shannon heading for the fortress village of Hucknall in the south.
Outside Ratherwood the King was astride his horse, in full armor, and was about to press his troops onto the road. Edred was mounted, frowning, on the horse next to his, and Horsa held the royal stirrups. "My liege, I beg you to reconsider. This is not the time to leave your army. You put yourself in grave danger and the army in peril of loss of confidence."
Lawrence scowled down at the older man. "You will have to handle that, Horsa, for I am going after her. Methinks you will be better off without me." He spurred and the party set off east.
Next: Lawrence Learns of the Attack
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
Sunday, November 1, 2009
New Stories: Fleeing South (Happened)