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 3, 2009

New Stories: No Sign of Her (Happened)

This is the first story I wrote in 2007.

ing Lawrence, riding at the lead of his soldiers, was primed for the sound of hoofbeats and becoming tired and irritable with the strain of it. Once when Edred spoke to him, he started, nearly drew his sword, then spoke roughly to the man. He had a sense of impending danger and loss. He could not let go of self-recrimination, no matter how he replayed Horsa's and the priest's reassurances. Had he planned better, had he not sent her down this road, had he strengthened the force... damn it, he was the King. He was the one who should think of these things, and damn her if she did not like it.

He had almost stopped reacting to every little sound from sheer exhaustion when he realized that the staccato beat coming from ahead of the company was real. He had to shake his head to clear it. Edred coming up alongside him served to confirm that Lawrence was not imagining anything.

"A scout," he stated.

Edred nodded. "Aye, sire. We shall have some sort of news now." He glanced at the King's face and saw nothing but dread on it.

Indeed one of the scouts sent ahead was returning at a rapid pace. He came around a slight curve that was obscured by a thicket. Seeing the King directly ahead, his sword drawn as were the weapons of everyone in the forward party, he reined in his horse and trotted to his King's side. "My lord, we have found what is left of the escort.."

"What is left?" the King cried, his voice coming out strangled.

"Aye, my lord. There are dead guards and the carts overturned. That is all. No sign of the enemy.. or of the Queen, my lord."

Edred spoke for Lawrence. "How far ahead?"

"A league, mayhap. Where we are now is where the guard posts are suddenly unmanned. There are two between here and the site of the attack."

"How many guards are dead?" the King cut in.

"Four, sire."

Lawrence frowned more deeply. "And the Irishman, the bard?"

"No sign of him at all, sire. Not with the dead and not near the carts." The man longed to be away from the grief that was pouring off the King.

Lawrence spurred his mount to a quicker pace, and Edred and all that accompanied him followed suit.

"Majesty, take care. We know not whether the enemy is watching the road," Edred called. The King ignored him.

It was not long before they reached the site where the carts had been stopped so the greater part of the escort could go ahead to determine if danger lay there. Lawrence leaped off his horse to examine the dead. He could tell from one of the corpses and the pool of dried blood beside him that he was no longer in the place where he was killed, but the King could not say whether an enemy moved him to search him or someone tried to pull him off the road.

The animals were all gone, horses, oxen and mules. Lawrence dashed to where the carts lay on their sides down the slope down to a book from the road. He stooped to look into and under them, trying to find any sign of the Queen, her sword, her saddle bags, her bow. He could find nothing either in the carts nor anywhere on the ground nearby. He stood and stretched as tall as he could to look about between the trees that grew above the brook. He could see nothing that told him where the Queen might have gone.

"Edred!" he shouted up the hill.

His aide turned from where he was helping to lift one of the dead men's bodies onto the back of a horse. He let another man take his burden and jumped deftly over and around underbrush as he joined Lawrence by the carts. "My lord?"

"Nothing. No sign of her or the Irishman." The King's voice was carefully contained.

"That is good news, is it not, sire?" Edred offered. When Lawrence looked at him doubtfully he went on. "If the Queen was taken, the Irishman would be lying dead with the guards. That he is not suggests that they two fled and may be nearby hiding."

Lawrence's face relaxed. "You are right! Good man! Put together some search parties. I will also look for her."

"Lord, should we not first secure the road?"

Lawrence started to protest, but then he sighed and nodded. "You are right."

With a last look around the carts the King glanced down to the brook. "I shall just look there, then I will come up to the road again." He left Edred and went down to the quietly trickling brook and looked for evidence that Josephine and Shannon had been there. He knew if they had been there three days before, any animals or rain would have taken away signs they had sat there. There had been no rain as far as he knew, but still… unless.. that bowl-like impression in the dirt was sign a lute had been set there, and those stones just short of it was.. yes, it was. Someone had traced an "L" with small stones on the sand of the edge of the brook. Something that regular with so clear an angle could not be anything but the sign of a person sitting there. And who would inscribe his initial but Josephine.

He came up the slope quickly and called to Edred who was talking to a small group of men. "Edred,. She was here. She sat by the brook. She may have gotten away!"

"Where would she go. Sire?" Edred asked, smiling his encouragement.

Lawrence stopped and pondered. Uncertainly he replied, "I do not know.. south I suppose Away from the road. She cannot be too far. Unless the path is straighter and smoother once down the hill…"

Edred assured, "We will get most of the searchers out in that direction."

Lawrence nodded. "Can we spare the men to search? As there is no sign of them, we must suppose they are well and fleeing. The Irishman may be useless as protection but my lady is intelligent and resourceful. I hope she has her weapons with her."

"If I may, my lord," Edred offered, "I have found Shannon far from useless. He has survived much danger and adversity. I think between them, my lady and her bard will make a resourceful pair."

"Do you?" the King replied with no sign of irritation. He thought about it a moment and then said, "He is not a fighting man, so I suppose the fact that he is still alive must mean that he is smart."

Edred nodded. "Aye, my lord, and I think the word is foxy."

Lawrence surprised even himself by laughing. "A good word for it. I thank you."

A shout drew their attention suddenly. The forward sentries were signaling that armed men were approaching.

Lawrence swore, "God damn. Well I suppose it is good the searchers have not left. We need all the force we can muster. Send an envoy to meet them.. I want to know who they are and what they mean to accomplish here."

Alric, one of the King's stout captains, turned and deployed several riders to accompany the King's envoy.

As the captains jumped to form the shield wall to meet the enemy, the King waited.

Next: Continuing Flight South

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About the author

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