awrence wasted no time once he had placed the disposition of the Crísliclandian armies in Horsa’s capable hands. With a stout force of mounted companions on whatever horses they could gather he set out for the bridge at Cromwell to take up residence at Lincoln and gain what tidings he could about what was happening in Lawrencium.
Earl Sagar of Lincoln was beside him, looking sour. The King could understand his anxiety about the status of his holdings under a usurper. Sagar however was irked about much more. Soon after the ceremony in Ratherwood’s hall he had come to Lawrence to object to his decision to make the Queen’s cousin the effective ruler of Affynshire.
“Sire,” he had complained, “this puts someone other than yourself on my western border. You have compromised my security. I will have to levy more of my fyrd now year round to watch my western frontier…”
Lawrence had been angry that his earl would question his decision. “Sir, you forget that you are my man and your holdings are mine to govern. You serve me, not the other way around.”
Sagar did not flinch under the steely glare. “My lord, you know that should Ruallauh fall or his heir be less inclined to family feeling that it will be my warriors who will be caused to go against an assault over the Trenta. Not your own men.”
The King’s rage simmered just under the surface and he all but shook as he replied through clenched teeth, “My lord, you and your warriors are my men.” He considered Sagar, who stood straight, his eyes not dropping from Lawrence’s gaze. “I will not have you questioning my decisions. Go and make ready whom you will take with you. We are leaving at first light for Lincoln.”
The tall gaunt man hesitated, but then made a short abrupt bow and took his leave. He now sat beside the King as they rode to the bridge over the Trenta, no less rigid and disapproving.
Nor was the conversation the King had had with the new leader of Affynshire much better. Josephine’s eldest cousin stood looking uncertain as Lawrence laid out his plan to respond should Malcolm’s revelation that the King’s own cousin had taken the throne proved truthful.
“Sire… my brother.. I of course want to help…” He had turned and walked a few paces away to avoid the consternation that appeared on the King’s face. “I.. we.. owe you everything. But if I leave now…” He turned back. “Lawrence, you know I have to prove myself here…”
A flash of anger flew across Lawrence’s expression, but he quelled it quickly. “Aye, it will do Críslicland no good if while you are at war while your doubting chieftains and lords grumble about the cost.” Acerbically, he commented, “Out of the pot and into the fire..”
The irony hit the new King of Affynshire. “No sense having both Kingdoms usurped.” He saw Lawrence’s surprise. “Forgive me, brother. That was not..”
“Nay, say no more. You are right. But will you not give me horses? It will take weeks for the army to engage the man if he truly has usurped the throne, but if we had horses we could send an elite force to Lawrencium.”
Again Ruallauh hesitated.
“God’s breath, man!” Lawrence’s ire was up again. “Can you not give back at least a shadow of the boon I gave to you?!”
Ruallauh straightened and took a strong stance, looking the angry King in the eye. “You know that Keito Uxello did and does not have a cavalry. To outfit your men I would have to ask the lords and chieftains to give you theirs. You know they resent Críslicland and doubt that I am anything but your pawn. I just cannot afford to look like that is true.” He watched Lawrence’s face. “It is not and cannot be true, not and hold Affynshire.” His own gaze was challenging.
Lawrence glared back, but then his face fell. “You are right. But think, man. That is your cousin captive.” The pain was clear now in Lawrence’s demeanor.
Ruallauh softened. “Brother, you do not know that for certain. “ He saw that his reassurance had no effect. He turned and started to pace. He stopped and turned back to Lawrence. “Did not Malcolm have a sizable stable at Horsfort?”
Lawrence looked up, his eyes brighter. “Aye, when I was there he showed me with pride, and even then I thought he was holding back the full force. But would he not have used them? Here in the rebellion?”
Ruallauh spread his hands. “Do you see them in the fortress?”
Lawrence put his knuckle to his chin and considered. Looking up at Ruallauh with a slight mocking smile he asked, “Will you not be giving Horsfort to someone as a reward?” The smile dropped as he saw Ruallauh’s expression.
“Had Ioruert lived, it should have been his.”
Lawrence nodded sadly. “But you can keep it in your family’s hands.. Cingen?”
“Cingen does not want it. He is content to steward Keito Uxello.” Ruallauh said consideringly “But family hands.. aye.. that we can do.. I can do. He looked at Lawrence. “Lorin?”
The King’s eyebrows went up at the idea. “Will your people accept Lorin? Do they not blame him for allowing Affynshire to slip out of his own hands? He is the true king.. begging your leave, sire,” Lawrence said with a twinkle in his eye.
Ruallauh sighed. “I cannot explain it, but they seem to honor his choice to step aside in favor of his sister’s husband.”
“Her Saxon husband?” Lawrence laughed incredulously.
Ruallauh smiled. “Aye. I think it is that they respect his knowing he could not be the strong King that you are.”
Lawrence’s ironic chuckle came as a surprise. “At least they would understand your loyalty to blood.” He started to pace. “Ruallauh, I k now not that I am one to offer advice. Nay,” he admonished as Ruallauh started to protest. “Let me finish. You are right that you must show your strength now, when your people are uncertain of you. But,” he added looking at Ruallauh again, “you can do that more effectively if you do not just show your independence from me.. but also your willingness to make choices that are not popular.” He was thinking of Sagar’s complaint.
“Let us hope they see it that way as well, brother,” the archer replied sardonically. “At any rate, if there are horses at Horsfort, they are yours. I shall leave to you how to work that out with your lady’s brother.”
Lawrence sent to Horsfort to learn whether there were mounts available there but would not wait to learn the facts. He instructed that the horses be brought to Lincoln as soon as possible and made plans to leave with a force of Sagar’s, Botopher’s and Jehan’s soldiers as well as his own. All were a-horse to make the best speed.
Lawrence was in the saddle on Gúthgelthca’s back when the general Horsa came to hold his stirrup. “Sire, may I have a word?”
“Of course, but make it quick. I am anxious to learn what has passed in my absence.” Lawrence knew that Horsa would not delay him for aught but the most sobering thought.
“You know, sire, that Mercia will not let this opportunity go to waste. If ‘tis true and your cousin the Duke has seized power, they will march on our southern frontier.”
Lawrence nodded firmly. “No doubt why Earl Jehan is staring darts at us as we speak…”
“It is his frontier as well.” The old man’s face was solemn.
Lawrence thought a moment, then replied, “Aye, well I will get you the news of what we find at the Trenta. You get the army ready to move back across the river. At the very least, let us get the fyrdmen back to their farms by harvest.”
The old woman Ethelberga had come to Horsa’s side to take leave of the King. With affection and respect she said as she patted Gúthgelthca, “Lord, your lady is stronger than most men I know, and I know many strong men.”
“That is the only thing keeping me from riding straight to Lawrencium by myself, my old friend.”
Passing the point on the road where the King’s soldiers had engaged the enemy only to have most of their horses stolen, Lawrence thought sadly of his aide de camp, Edred, and of Ioruert, both of whom had been there and now were gone forever. With the chilly presence of Sagar beside him and the bridge soon to come into view, Lawrence reminded himself over and over that if the worst had happened, he could trust Josephine to hold her own in the face of it.
Next: Caithness Falls Ill
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 http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com