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

Monday, November 30, 2009

New Stories: Retaking the Bridge at Lincoln (Happened)

There is a fair amount of divergence from now on between these stories and the novel. I had to cut the best part of the bandits story and the end of the usurping has changes. Just know that when you read the novel, if you haven't yet, that you will be reading the final cut.

he king brought his horse to a halt at the top of the ridge over looking the Trenta and the bridge his own and the queen’s fathers had caused to be built to connect their two kingdoms.

Earl Jehan at his side remarked, “Sire, were we not just here?”

“Only we were on that side wanting to cross to this one,” Lawrence replied with a weary grin.

Earl Sagar looked as sour as ever, but now he was craning his neck trying to see into his own territory and Lincoln. “And this time, my Lord Jehan, we do not have you coming from the south to surprise them.”

“You forget another significant difference,” the king said sardonically. The two earls looked at him. “This time we are fighting the soldiers of a man who owes me fealty.” He spurred his mount forward down the slope to the bridge. The others and the forces behind them advanced to join him.

This time the king observed the bridge and its defense from the west. He and his own soldiers were in the sloping field where the old Roman road led to the riverside. Unlike before, the bridge itself was empty of defenders. Perhaps, the king thought, there are some of Malcolm’s remaining men in their company who remember how disastrous it had been when the king’s archers had picked them off one by one.

On the far side of the bridge were the lines of shields ready to resist and decimate any who crossed to the east. “Críslicland,” Lawrence thought. The entire eastern bank is Críslicland.”

Before any of his companions could stop him, the king rode forward to what he judged was out of bowshot of any of the archers he could spy. Some of his household carls spurred after him and took position on his sides. Lawrence removed his own helm and tucked it under one arm. He waved the other arm over his head to signal that he wished to parley with the commander of the bridge’s defenders.

The soldiers he could see on the far side of the bridge appeared to be looking about, uncertain what should happen now. They did not break formation however. Lawrence waited but could not discern any movement.

Sagar rode up to him. “Let me get my men into a shield wall. They are not going to negotiate.”

Just then Lawrence could see that the shield wall was parting like waves cloven with the prow of a ship, back to front. A gaudily dressed man came to the fore on foot. He was in what appeared to be expensive mail and other armor. “Just like Gaylorde to give commands to his popinjays,” the king breathed.

The man waved forward what looked to be an emissary who carried a leafy branch that signified peaceful intent and stepped onto the bridge at the far end. Lawrence gestured to Sagar. “Go ahead and form your shield wall. Make it as wide and deep as you can to show them our strength. “ He put a bent knuckle to his lower lip, considering. “Do you recognize many of the men over there? Are any from your own guard or fyrd?”

Sagar stood in his stirrups to see as best he could. “I know not, sire, but methinks.. aye, there may be.”

Lawrence nodded. men in the front line of the wall. Tell them to look for men they know. Tell them to do all they may to be recognized. Out of bowshot of course. And bring me an emissary with a leafy branch.”

Sagar saluted and spun his mount to canter back to the lines. A young man was already coming forward, equipped with the leafy branch. He ran up to the king and bowed.

“See what they want,” Lawrence directed him. The man ran forward, dropping his sword belt on the grass as he went.

Behind the king Sagar and the other earls were quickly forming a wedge shaped shield wall. The blunt front of the triangle was narrower than those that formed behind it, for crossing the bridge meant the narrowest possible wall of shields. Lawrence saw that every man in that line held a shield with Sagar’s device, a hawk’s head, as did the men at the ends of each succeeding row, wider than the one before, making the whole force look like Lincoln men and the entire force inexhaustible.

Lawrence and his carls watched as the two emissarys spoke, the one sent forth by the gaudy commander gesticulating more broadly. Then only the king’s emissary turned and ran back to him, the other staying in the middle of the bridge where they had met.

“My liege, their commander, Lord Edric, wishes to parley with you. Only you, not a representative. He calls for any archers to move back to beyond a bowshot of the center of the bridge. That is where he would meet with you, lord.”

Lawrence looked over at the bridge. He nodded slowly and swung his leg over the back of his horse to dismount. On foot, he gave his helm to the emissary to hold, then dropped his sword belt. He took the knife from his boot and dropped it too, making sure all actions were visible to the other side. "And his archers? Will they move back?"

"Aye, sire." The emissary gestured to the retreating archers on the far side of the river.

He gave the leafy branch to the king who told him to tell the earls to keep their archers back, then started to walk forward.

He kept his eye on the opposing shield wall where Edric the Gaudy, as he found himself thinking, hesitated, then dropped his own weapons and came forth slowly. Lawrence gestured for the emissary who had remained on the bridge to retreat. Edric too gestured that the man go behind him.

As he advanced to the near end of the stone bridge, Lawrence could here some of Sagar’s men calling out to soldiers on the far bank. The voices varied between taunts and entreaties.

“So you thought you were safe out of the war! Now you will taste the sharp end of my spear!”

“Aethelwy, ‘tis I, your cousin! Do not do this! Do not turn against your countrymen!”

Lawrence could sense unease in the lines of men across from his own. As he approached the center of the bridge, he could tell which of the men were Edric’s own and which were ones pressed into service to augment them from the environs of Lincoln. The better armed men shot glares at the local men who were letting their guards down as they recognized neighbors and friends and kin in Sagar’s forces.

Nervously he found his way to the middle of the bridge and waited moments before Edric came to stand before him.

They made a distinct contrast. Edric stood in shining mail over brightly embroidered clothing and boots that were so new they made his walk look clumsy and painful. He was very clean, his hai coiffed and oiled, clearly having no impression of a helm. He wore soft leather gloves with more of the elaborate embroidery. lawrence on the other hand was in mail that was much the worse for wear, though it was clean and in good repair considering the beating it had taken in the battles. His hair and beard were unkempt. His clothing was simple and practical. His boots were well broken in and muddy. The only finery he had had was the brooch on his shoulder which bore his royal arms. Even the sword he had given the emissary to hold was a stout one, intended to impress by its power not its beauty.

“By order of the king of Críslicland I will let no one cross this bridge into his kingdom, be they backed with an army or no.” Edric’s look was haughty and defiant.

“Sirrah,” Lawrence replied casually, “I am the king of Críslicland. I have given no such order, at least not to the likes of you.” He inventoried the man’s finery. “Edric, aye, I remember you now. One of Gaylorde’s hangers on. Not much of a swordsman if I recall.”

The man smiled languidly. “That Gaylorde is the very king of which you speak. He prefers sharp wits to sharp blades.”

Lawrence laughed aloud. “I prefer a good measure of both myself, but it seems to me this king you speak of has a paucity of either about him. Clearly his own wits are wanting if he believes he is king.”

“He is wit enough to hold your fortress, your kingdom, your lady and your spawn..”

Lawrence glared at him. He made a show of looking from one end of the shield wall to the other, then glanced back over his shoulder at his own. “You do not seem to have much to bargain with, but even should you offer to surrender to me, I would not have you. ‘Tis time the slime was cleaned from Crísliclandian soil.”

Edric’s forces were in fact a match for the king’s in number. Further they were not sore and tired from the march and the months of siege and war before. Lawrence knew the one thing he could count on was his soldiers’ desire to be home and anger at their progress being impeded by their own countrymen.

Edric smiled indolently. “I will prevail, sir, and you will die. Our new king will reward me well.” He lifted his hand in some sort of a signal and stepped well away from Lawrence, exposing him to the men on the east end of the bridge.

As the king reacted to the sudden threat, a man with a bow stepped out from the shield wall behind Edric and lifted his bow, an arrow notched to fly. The king’s housecarls rushed forward to put their own bodies between the arrow and the king. Another grasped War-Brother's reins and rushed to the bridge leading him. But it was too late. The arrow had flown.

Edric jerked and looked startled, then fell, the arrow stuck square in the middle of his back. The king’s guards surrounded him, one man leaning to help him as the king swung up onto his horse. As they turned to race back to their forces, a clamor of shouts and hammering of swords and spears on shields grew on both sides of the river.

The king took his sword belt, knife and helm from the emissary, then looked back at Edric. No one was rushing onto the bridge from the east bank. Instead the men seemed to roil about within their ranks, fighting each other. “What the hell?” the king breathed.

His own forces went quiet, as perplexed as he. Then the ranks of soldiers across the river started to drop their weapons and come across the bridge. Some of his own men started to go towards them with swords raised, but Lawrence called, “Halt!”

The archer had reached Edric. He leaned to take the leafy branch, then used his booted foot to push the man’s body over the side of the bridge into the river. The other soldiers came to help him the last several feet. He took his position at their head, holding the leafy branch high.

Earl Botopher was beside the king. “God’s eyes, they are surrendering.” He glanced over to the bank of the river and indicated what he spotted with a wave of his hand.

The soldiers had spread out and numerous bodies could be seen on the ground. “The officers?” Lawrence wondered.

Men from his own force had started towards the surrendering men, but their shouts were now of greeting and jibing. Men threw comradely arms around each other.

Botopher said, “I hope all our battles are this easy.”

“From your mouth to God’s ear,” Lawrence responded.

Before the king's forces had crossed the river into Críslicland, several men stole the officers’ horses and rode away. "Cowards," Earl Sagar spat. But unbeknownst to him or the others of the victorious force these men were not fleeing the battle or the wrath of the king but rushing the good news back to Lincoln. When the king, Earl Sagar and the ranks of soldiers, now swelled with the addition of the deserters from Gaylorde’s local force approached the town they found the gate wide open and the town turned out and cheering.

Lawrence smiled over at Botopher. “My lord, it appears God heard you.” He glanced over at Earl Sagar as well. The man was relaxed for the first time in many days. He was almost smiling, scanning the people who greeted them for his wife and family.

Jehan of Grantham earned a grimace from the king when he commented dryly, “I do not think it will be so easy in the rest of the country.” He was still far away from his own holdings where the threat was twofold. Gaylorde.. and Offa of Mercia.

As if on cue Jehan and Botopher fell back as the entourage entered the town. Sagar, anxious, yet held back and let the king make a triumphant entrance. The earl found his lady awaiting him at the gate to his fortress. She was a strongly built, dignified woman with wisps of gray among the dark hairs that showed around the edges of her head covering. Their two daughters stood behind her, alternately smiling at their father and shyly glancing about at the king and his housecarls and companions.

Once dismounted before her Sagar took his lady’s hands and brought them to his lips. “I thought we should have to lay siege to the fortress,” he said, then turned to the king.

Lawrence dismounted and joined him, lifting the woman from a curtsy and saying, “Lady Gunnilde, how happy I am to see you again.”

“Sire, you are more than ever welcome in our home. Do you remember our daughters, Livia and Juliana?”

The young women rose from their own curtsies. Their father and mother looking on, the king kissed each woman’s hand smiling. “This is Livia, if I recall rightly.” The young woman cast shy but grateful mellow brown eyes at the king and nodded. He turned to the other. “And this is…” His throat caught as he looked at her. “Juliana… is it but two years hence since you were but a child?”

The dark-haired, dark-eyed young woman blushed crimson. Lawrence caught Gunnilde’s worried look at her husband and the man’s almost imperceptible nod. The lady’s face fell but she hid it from her daughters. As Juliana looked anxiously passed him, Lawrence understood. He hid his own regret that this beautiful young woman’s betrothed was not coming back to her.

Botopher and Jehan had dismounted as well and, once ceremony was out of the way, followed the king and the earl’s family into the stronghold and the hall. A feast was being laid out as they entered, and Lawrence and his earls were grateful for the ale they were poured and the honored seats they were ushered to.

Lawrence watched as Sagar took his leave to go with his lady and their daughters to a corner of the hall. Though the smoke from the fire trench obscured his vision, he knew when the girl had been given the news, for she cried out and fled the hall, followed closely by her mother and sister. He thought of his own lady, the queen, and their children, and felt the stab of pain in his heart.

Somber, Sagar joined the king at the head of the long trestle table. “Sire, I hope you will excuse my wife and daughters. You know, I think, that my daughter’s betrothed, , died in the battle at Ratherwood.”

The king put a comforting hand on the earl’s arm. “I am most grieved to hear of it.”

Servants and slaves had brought out meat and fowl when Gunnilde returned to take her own seat by her husband.

“Seaxwulf has told us how Lincoln learned of the taking of the bridge,” Sagar said to her.

Seaxwulf sat to her left, a former aide to the steward and now the steward himself. “Aye, lady. But you can tell your lord and his majesty of what transpired before.”

Gunnilde nodded soberly. “Cendric the steward was one of the first to die. Edric arrived with his men on pretense of joining the king’s armies at Ratherwood. In the dark of night, they rose up and slew Cendric and many of our other loyal men. They held our daughters and me as hostage to ensure that there would be no resistance beyond those first moments. Seaxwulf came into my chamber to warn me, but I was awake from the noise. I told him to lie low and go along with all so we could at least have him as a protector. “ She put her hand on his arm. “’Twas very hard for him to pretend to betray you, my husband.”

“How many of your people died?” the king asked.

With lowered eyes, the steward replied, “All of the guard that remained at Lincoln or came back to be replaced during the war. Several of the skilled men, the smith, the stableman, many others. “

Sitting near them the two other earls, Jehan and Botopher looked grim.

“Any news of Skirbeck?” the latter inquired. Jehan nodded in hopes of news of Grantham. The king listened intently.

“Nay, not much, save that all the earldoms are Gaylorde’s. What Edric had to say within these walls seemed braggadocio, so we knew not what to believe. “ He looked at Jehan. “But we do know of Grantham.”

“Aye?” Jehan urged.

“Just late last night a messenger arrived from there. I am afraid it is not good news. He was sent to inform Edric that Mercia had crossed the border and was advancing on Grantham. He was to beg for warriors to break the inevitable siege. He was cooling his heels for the morn and a chance to ride to the bridge to give his message direct to the commander. When we heard from our comrades that Edric was dead, we slew the messenger. But not ere he gave us the message.”

Lawrence put down his ale bowl and sat up straight. “Aye? Then we must get a messenger out immediately to acknowledge the request in Edric’s name before anyone conveys the news of his defeat.” He turned to Sagar. “See to it, my lord. Then we shall talk about how to put this happenstance to good use.”

“But my liege,” Botopher inserted. “Will you not press forth to Lawrencium?”

Lawrence’s eyes were steely. “Nay, though I feel as though I am drawn in that direction with iron chains. Mercia is a great threat. They have played all that has passed during this war for their own advantage. We must stop them, or they shall be in Lawrencium long ere we can get there.”

When all were bedded down in the Hall, the king having refused Gunnilde’s invitation to take her and her husband’s chamber, Lawrence made the most of the chance to be alone. He could not bear the thought of spending the night in the chamber where he had first made love to his young bride. He left the hall and went to the palisades of the timber wall around the stronghold. He stood looking east, thinking of his love, and said a silent prayer for their safety. Here in Lincoln, his old home, the fortress where he grew up, was crowned, married Josephine and spent their first few years together wrenched at his heart, with so many memories, bittersweet, making it difficult not to fear the worst.

He heard a stifled sob and turned to see, was it the younger daughter, Juliana? some distance away on the palisade. He had not seen her when he climbed the ladder to the ramp. He went to her.

Juliana looked up and gasped. “Oh, my lord, I beg pardon. I did not see you.” She lowered herself in a curtsy.

“Nay, nay, no pardon needed.” As Lawrence took her elbows to raise her from her curtsy, Juliana broke down and leaned into his broad chest. Her tears wetted his tunic and he put his arms around her and held her. “There, there,” he soothed.

Juliana continued to weep into his chest. Lawrence began uncomfortably to realize that her warmth, her softness, and her yielding body were causing him to respond to her as a woman. To prevent her from detecting his arousal he thrust her away from him and turned his back to her. It had been such a long time since he had been with Josephine. It was not surprising that he should become aroused, but he was ashamed nonetheless.

He turned his head back to her. “Your forgiveness, my lady," he said in a tight voice. "And my sorrow on your behalf. We have all… lost.. so much.” He hurried away.

Next: A Healer Visits Caithness

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About the author

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