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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Stories: Something is Rotten in Lawrencium

hannon awoke with a splitting headache the next morning surprised at first that he was in the Great Hall. He painfully sat up to see that others were still around him on the floor. He remembered suddenly his talk with the Queen and wondered why she had felt so sanguine as to talk with others around them.. then realized these men must not have been there when they spoke.. He would ask her. He tried to get up, felt his head reel and a sharp nauseating pain stab right behind his eyes. He muttered something about the trick to avoiding hangovers being not to sober up, then managed to struggle to his feet.

He went outside to relieve himself and to wash his face with cold water. He noticed the serving woman Rowena coming towards the well with her bucket. She glanced up and saw him and smiled. "Shannon, you look awful!"

Shannon laughed and shook his head. "Now then, that be just what I need to hear this fine morning."

She laughed and patted his cheek. Seeing him wince, she said, "Oh, I am so sorry, you must have a terrible head this morning.. drank too much in the hall last night? Odd, I did not see you there."

Shannon put one arm around her waist. She deftly danced out of his embrace. "Nay," he said without a change of expression at her rebuke. "I drank too much in the tavern.. so much I somehow transported meself here. How have ye been, Rowena lass?"

She looked at him a while. "I am so sorry… Shannon.. about everything. Rory. Heather." He just shook his head, wincing from the glare of the sun in his eyes. She went on, "'Twas not the same with the royals away, and so many of the men, e'en my young man, Stepan. I pray he is all right. And with all the young men gone, the Duke.. the new one I mean.. has brought many of his own household here to take their place." She looked around then leant to him. "And they lack some of the courtesy of our usual lot, if you can credit that."

Shannon thought about the Queen's concerns expressed the night before, but kept his face and tone neutral. "Aye, and how be that, me lovely lass?"

Rowena put her bucket down and leaned her back against the well to think. "They are rougher.. in language, in behavior. Even in their pursuits. Our King's house carls had a fine time, no mistake, but there is an edge with these men… they must have some mean end in their fun. I worried all the time about the princes and princesses. I know the good Duke protected them, but…"

Shannon nodded. "I can be imaginin', for certain. I am after thinkin' of coming back to sleep and live here. I shall try to make you feel safer."

Rowena laughed, causing Shannon to mock hurt feelings. "Ah, you wore out your welcome at the Blue Lady then?"

He shrugged, smiled crookedly and said, "Well, aye, 'tis true. I have to sleep somewhere, don't I now?" He moved to Rowena again as if to take her in his arms. "Can ye spare a place on your own sweet pallet then, lass? Ye must be lonesome with Stepan away," he purred.

She pushed him back with the flat of her hand. "Now why do you not help me draw this water, you shameless man?"

Shannon gave her a quick bow and picked up the bucket. "Why is it shameless and shameful mean the same thing, then? 'Tis your language. "Explain it to me."

Rowena took the bucket again after he had filled it. "Well I suppose it is because just one word meaning that was not sufficient once you, my friend, were in the world.. " She sent him a saucy glance and hurried away.

"Good answer," Shannon saluted. He cast about for what to do next and decided an audience with Josephine might be wise.

Shannon did his best after that to ingratiate himself with Duke Gaylorde's guard, singing bawdy songs and drinking with them. Yet he had little more to report in an audience with the Queen than that they silenced abruptly when he entered their collective presence and made odd remarks he could not divine about changes to be made around the fortress. Nevertheless the totality of hints and silences was eloquent. Something was amiss. Was it arrogance or a plot? He did not know.

"I am wonderin' if we should talk about this with your brother, me lady?" Shannon once posed to the Queen.

"Oh, Shannon, I wish we could. But I am sorry to say I do not think he would believe either of us. My brother is a learned man; he believes what he himself can see. And right now he sees only one thing." Josephine smiled tensely.

Shannon arched an eyebrow. "And that thing be a certain merchant's daughter's smile?"

"Aye, and I am glad of it for his sake, but he is peculiarly disinterested in anything but promise and hope. He even took the news of the raids on the Roman road with a calm demeanor, I have heard."

"And I am supposin' since that all turned out less than tragic, he feels justified in his optimism?" Shannon queried.

"If he thinks that far at all." Josephine walked from where she had been sitting in her own council room to a window and looked out. "Methinks he is mostly glad to have someone take the military role here. He has ne'er been much willing to take it himself."

She turned and looked back at Shannon where he had stayed, standing. She saw his reddened eyes and sagging features. "My friend, how do you fare?" she asked with genuine concern.

He shrugged. "Well enough, me lady, and be thanked for askin'."

She went to him and laid a soft cool palm on his cheek. "I know. 'Tis all I can ask, for me and for you."

The sound of a man clearing his voice came from the entry room to the Queen's chamber. Josephine dropped her hand and she and Shannon stared where Duke Gaylorde stood eying them with suspicion tinged with satisfaction. The Queen offered her hand stiffly to Shannon. "You may go, O'Neill. Thank you for the song."

Shannon took the hand and, bowing, kissed it. Adopting an obsequious voice he said formally, "Me lady." He turned and waited for the Duke to step from the doorway so he could pass though it. "Your grace, my pardon, but mind the lute, if ye will."

The Duke glared at him. He looked up at the Queen when the minstrel was no longer nearby and said, "I have never cared for that man, your majesty."

"He is my friend, my lord," Josephine stated coolly, her demeanor saying more about how she felt about the man in whose presence she stood now than the man she had called friend.

"Friends like that can get a person into much trouble. My lady, forgive me, but discretion will serve you better." The Duke had come forward and now stood before her, looking down at her face with veiled eyes.

Josephine started to snap back at him but thought better of it. "He is harmless, my lord. But I shall bear your advice in mind." She shot him a cool look, then turned her back. "Was there something you wished to discuss with me, sir?"

With her back to him she did not see his thin smile. "Nay, my lady, save to learn if you have news of the King and his army."

Josephine knew that any message thus received would be taken to her brother, Duke Lorin, first, and that he would share any pertinent military news with Gaylorde immediately as befitted the military commander in the palace.

"My lord, you know perfectly well I have not," she responded with cool indifference. "Anything else?"

The Duke eyed the back of her head irritably, but just bowed and said, "Nay, my lady. Thank you, my lady."

"Then you may leave me."

Gaylorde backed out of the chamber. In the corridor he leaned to one of his officers. "I so look forward to slapping the superior look off that woman's face."

Next: Affynshire Rallies Again to their Queen

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About the author

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