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, November 13, 2009

New Stories: Josephine's Homecoming (Happened with Changes)

I believe I changed the initial meeting with Larisa in the novel.

They heard them long before they saw them, the party from Lawrencium and the palace who came to welcome home their Queen on the southwest road to Grantham. Shannon, who walked alongside Josephine's horse, put his hand on her ankle and smiled up at her. "My lady, you be home," he said with a voice that belied his haunted eyes.

Josephine glanced at his hand, then when he had taken it off her, she smiled back at him. "Oh Shannon, 'tis been a long and hard journey for us both. Now we are home."

Shannon tried to conceal the wince on his face. "Home," was all he said, the word uttered dubiously.

The two were accompanied by a guard from Lord Jehan's household. In Grantham the Queen had been welcomed with joy and relief that she was safe. A messenger was dispatched immediately through Lincoln to the King's encampment to bring the glad tidings. One might well imagine Lawrence's reaction knowing his wife was now on her way home to their children.

Josephine did not tarry long at Grantham. The lady of Grantham begged her to stay and wash and find more Queenly clothes but in her haste to be reunited with Peter, Tavish, Caithness and Elaine she would not hear of it. She waited only long enough to gather a mounted guard to accompany her to Lawrencium. She found Shannon after a short search for him to let him know they would leave forthwith. He was in the kitchen of the fortress, sitting alone and finishing off what appeared to be only the latest of several beakers of mead.

When she entered the kitchen., too anxious to get away to dispatch a servant, he toasted her with the beaker. "Josephine!" The kitchen staff glanced over at him shocked at his familiarity, then made their own proper gestures of respect. "I be an ale drinker meself," the Irishman went on, "but there be something to be said for mead when ye wish to blot out the world!"

Josephine frowned, "Oh, not now, Shan. We are leaving. You need to get ready if you are coming back to Lawrencium."

Shannon put his empty beaker down and looked confused. "Leaving? Now? Can't a man rest his weary bones a wee bit then?" Then he looked at her, bleary eyed. "Do ye want me to come with ye, me lady?"

Josephine had come to where he sat and put one hand on his shoulder. Their time traveling together, depending on each others' wits to see them through, and their shared shock and grief at the news of Rory's hanging had instilled in them a friendship only the two of them could understand. "Of course I do, dear fellow. But come, let's get you in shape to leave."

Shannon stood unsteadily and belched. "Me apologies, lady." He tried to give the Queen a deep bow. One of the cooks reached for his elbow to help him stay more or less upright. "Methinks I should ride in a cart, then," Shannon said with an apologetic expression.

The man had slept off the effects of the mead on the rumbling, tumbling ride northeast to Lawrencium. Of course by the second day he was able to walk alongside the Queen and even sing to her. She could feel his fragility though he tried to keep a light demeanor.

Josephine's joy at returning home included a guilty feeling of relief at not having to hold Shannon up any longer, though she knew his troubles were just beginning. Now that they were back a combination of no one to hold him up and painful memories of time spent with his friend would give Shannon plenty of opportunity to dwell on his loss. Would his wife Heather help him? She would talk to the woman and convince her how much that help was needed.

The Queen looked up from her walking friend to see the foremost of the welcoming party coming. She knew instantly the man in the lead was her brother, Lorin. She spurred her horse onward as did he, and they met halfway between, both leaning out of their saddles to embrace. Laughter laced the words of happiness at the reunion. He murmured to her, "Dearest sister, you will be most warmly welcomed home by four little hearts I could name."

Josephine smiled and pressed his hand.

As the combined parties approached the split in the road that led up to the fortress or farther to the town of Lawrencium, a crowd had gathered at both the city gate and on the steep road to the palace. The mood and appearance of the greeting throng was like a high holiday. The Queen started to say to herself that it was like a hero leading his troops back from the war. The thought startled her, for she realized it was much the truth. She had been at war. She had fought. She had survived. She was returning, triumphant then to her people. But the same thought led her to thoughts of the one still at war, who might not come triumphantly home. Josephine quickly banished the thought.

As they road up the road to the fortress Josephine leaned to Lorin, trying to make herself heard over the din. "The children - how are they?"

"They are well, and they shall be better once they see you." His blue eyes were lambent with happy moisture.

"Recover?" Josephine wanted to ask more, but they were through the gates then and the horses separated too far to speak to Lorin. Again the courtyard was crowded. Josephine's eyes lit one by one on the familiar buildings, and people and drew warmth from the sight. She also noticed a lot of new faces mostly among the palace guard. But, she realized, most of the guard was with the King. These would be his cousin Gaylorde's men. Gaylorde who had volunteered for the role of home guard in spite of the opportunity for glory and reward in the war.

Josephine chafed at the need to stop and greet so many people once she had dismounted. She felt almost painfully drawn to the small building where the royal nursery was. But she instead led the way into the Great Hall. Inside she called to a servant, "Prepare me a bath. I will remove the stink of horse and journey ere I see my young ones."

Her brother, who had taken her arm, asked her, "Will you take some refreshment first? I have something that with your leave I should like to share with you.. and someone to meet."

The Queen glanced at her brother with a look of curiosity. "Meet? Aye, 'twill take sometime for the bath to be ready. Lead on."

She saw as Lorin drew her towards the end of the hall that he was smiling and even blushing a little. She looked to where he was leading her and saw a young woman standing quietly and anxiously near the farthest wall.

Lorin brought her to the woman, whom she realized she recognized as the daughter of the leading wool merchant in the town. Larisa was her name. A simply dressed woman, especially considering her family's wealth, and though not a radiant beauty still had a kind face and genuine manner. Larisa had gone down on one knee in front of her. Lorin was drawing her back up, much to the woman's obvious embarrassment, and saying, "Please stand with me, dearest, as I present you."

The Queen's eyes opened wide at his tone, pleased, excited, and loving. She looked at the woman whose hand he held in his now.. Josephine's smile broadened as she watched her brother's affectionate solicitude towards the woman who was rose cheeked and fair of hair, Ho now, she thought, what has passed while I have been gone? She herself came closer.

"My lady," Lorin said formally as the three met. "May I present Mistress Larisa. I think you know Baldwin, the wool merchant, her father. Larisa has accepted my request that she and I be wed." His face was uncharacteristically pink with excitement and the Queen could swear she even saw a dimple.

"Oh Lorin!" she cried, clapping her hands together in front of her breast. "I had no idea!" She reached for the woman's hand. Larisa was flustered, awed by being this close and intimate with the Queen and tried to bob another curtsy.

"Things developed apace.. since you have been gone, my lady. I had council with the merchants and Larisa was e'er there to serve us. I could not take my eyes off of her… " The articulate duke was almost tripping over his words as he spoke.

Larisa blushed and looked up from modestly downcast eyes. "We had occasion, your majesty, to speak many times, mostly but not entirely alone. I think… think it was .. begging your leave my lady.. love at first sight."

Josephine smiled warmly. "I know how that feels, dear sister." She leaned to the woman and embraced her.

Lorin beamed as the two women reached out arms for each other.

Josephine took her leave. She made a point of stopping to thank the Duke for his role as protector of the palace. She did not like Gaylorde who was arrogant and supercilious, but it was her duty. He accepted her thanks most graciously.

She felt strange stepping through the doorway to her chamber. It clearly had been cleaned and made ready for her, almost as if she had never gone. As the serving women monitored the placement of the wooden tub and the hot water that was fetched from the kitchens, she removed her clothing and put on a dressing gown. She walked about touching her things, her chest of gowns, her dressing table with its comb, silver mirror, and box with her jewels. She touch the bed which, she thought, still showed both her and her husband's impressions in it. She looked at the doorway that led into the King's chamber. Her hand on the handle, and glancing around to see if she could slip away, she opened the door and went in.

The King's chamber was empty of all things that signified occupation. The bed and the chests, the table and chairs, all were there, but the firepit was cold, the bed curtains pulled shut, the rugs rolled up, and in some cases sheets of cloth covering furniture. She saw the chamber was scrupulously clean, just deserted. She went to the table and slid her hand across the top where Lawrence would be working were he here. She pulled a sheet off one of his chests and opened it. Drawing it out she pressed one of his tunics to her face, stroking her cheek with it and taking in his scent. She dropped the shirt back into the chest and, not stopping to close the chest again, went over to the bed. She drew aside the curtain on the side where her love slept. The bed was free of bedcovers. Just the linen covered straw pallet was there. No pillows. The sight of the bare lonely bed made her catch up her breath. She stifled a sob. "Lawrence, I miss you so."

The bath was heavenly. The water was scented with rose oil. Her women washed her hair, brought more hot water as she scrub her skin rosy. She chose a soft blue gown from the chest and remarked on how it was looser in some places than she remembered. The women did up her hair and put the head scarf of the finest linen on her head, held in place by a gold circlet.

Lorin met her in the corridor and smiled as he took her hands. "You are lovely as ever, Sunshine. I wish Lawrence was here to see you look so well."

The Queen smiled wanly and made the sign of the cross over her bosom. "Aye, so do I also wish and pray."

At the door of the nursery she hesitated, her eyes glowing with anticipation. Lorin, who had accompanied her to the spot nodded a now and retreated to leave her alone with her reunion. She reached for the door and pushed it open.

The children were all clean and dressed in their best. A nursemaid stood behind them, beaming. There was the barest moment's hesitation, then the little faces registered that the promise was fulfilled, it was their mother, and she had returned. Finally. There came forth a chorus of "Mama!" from every child. Elaine dashed forward first, throwing her little arms around her mother's skirts while her twin, Caithness,, following her closely, clung to her legs now with heartbreaking fervor. "Oh my dearest children, I have missed you so!"

Peter, who was taller and starting to lose his toddler shape gave his mother a little bow and spoke formally, but his smile, which came from his eyes as much as his lips, belied his excitement. "Mother, we missed you too."

Josephine spread the arm that was around Elaine's shoulders and Peter came into the embrace with his sisters.

"Tavish, darling, look how big you've gotten." Josephine spread the arm she had had around Caithness to invite him in. "Won't you come kiss your mother, my son?"

Tavish's eyes lit up and he came forward. The five stood together in one embrace, tears just moistening the Queen's eyes. She looked up at the nursemaid and said, "I should like to be alone with my children."

The nursemaid curtsied and said, "Welcome home, my lady," and with a smile at the children clinging so hard to their mother she left.

Josephine managed to squat down so her head was closer to the little ones' own. They covered her face with kisses and she reciprocated, laughing and soaking up the sight, sound, smell and feel of them. As she led them to sit with her on a bench she noted how Caithness clung almost desperately and kept coughing quietly. Elaine fairly danced, chanting, "Mama Mama Mama!" Tavish happily settled on one side of her, leaning against her. Peter's face was aglow. He stood before her as she sat.

"Is Father home too?" He asked.

Josephine reached out and patted his flaxen hair. "Nay, my darling. He is still at war."

Peter's face clouded. "Will he get killed with a spear?"

His mother cleared her throat on a catch. "We must believe in him, dear, and pray to God to keep him safe."

Elaine cried, "I pray too!"

Caithness's face came away from where it was pressed into Josephine's upper arm. "I pray too."

Tavish nodded firm concord. Then he asked in a small hesitant voice, "You leave again, Mama?"

Josephine looked back into his earnest little face and shook her head. "Nay, my love, I have learned my lesson. I shall ne'er willingly leave you again. I promise."

Caithness coughed and then asked, "Promise?"

"I promise."

Next: Shannon Falls Apart

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About the author

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