Jehan is now Harold.
eaving Lincoln in its earl’s jealously capable hands Lawrence headed to Grantham in the southwest of Críslicland as quickly as an army could. It was a reduced force. Almost as soon as Lincoln had opened its gates to the king, many of the local men drifted away. Securing Sagar’s promise to gather them up again and bring them south as soon as possible Lawrence addressed the army. He called for unity, for sacrifice, and he told the men that failure to safeguard the sovereignty of the kingdom would be a disaster for them as well as for him. Not a man did not respond to his appeal.
Now the man riding anxiously at his side was Grantham’s Earl Jehan. The message intercepted from Thryduulf, Gaylorde’s crony there, a dull fellow who nevertheless was a fine fighter as Lawrence recalled, made it clear that there was imminent threat of an attack by the kingdom of Mercia. Where the threat from the Affynshire conspirators had been dangerous, and the usurping of Lawrence’s throne was likewise, any threat from Offa, king of the Mercians, could mean the end of Críslicland incontrovertibly. Lawrence knew this as well as the older Earl riding by him did.
With Lincoln’s Sagar in attendance, the king had met with Jehan and the Earl of Skirbeck Botopher.
“I have sent Seaxwulf to tell the man holding Grantham, some fellow named Thryduulf, that his own messenger fell from his horse as he rode back to Grantham,” the king informed them. “Frightened by a snake or whatever Seaxwulf thinks most credible. AS Seaxwulf was by all accounts cooperating with Edric here, he will be believed.” Lawrence had noticed that Earl Jehan’s face had further clouded at the mention of Thryduulf’s name. “What is it, Jehan? Some information we can use?” he asked him.
“A man I know well, my liege, though mayhap more rightly deemed a snake himself. He is a thane within my holdings. A slippery fellow who drips honey one moment, then finds a way to avoid or disrupt much that I try to control. I am not surprised he is Gaylorde’s man, though it means he knows the area well and has local men commanding any traitorous fighters the Duke has sent him.” Jehan shook his head in disgust.
“My lord,” asked Sagar, markedly more respectful of the king now that he had his own fortress secure, “what message have you sent with Seaxwulf?”
Lawrence’s grim smile revealed some satisfaction with his answer. “That Edric of Lincoln is on his way to help and shall arrive and surprise the Mercians from behind in five days.” He paused, nodded seemingly to himself, then went on. “I had ‘Edric’ instruct him to spend whatever time he has ere the Mercians supplying his fortress for a siege... and to deny the Mercians forage.”
Jehan smiled, “That should keep him busy.”
“And distracted from questioning the plan and its source,” the king agreed.
Jehan’s smile broadened. “That will not be difficult. Thryduulf ere believes he is two steps ahead of the game. He will be too busy congratulating himself on his likely success to think of much else.”
Botopher put in, “What if the Mercians are a great force?”
Sagar answered for Lawrence, “We have sent our fastest messenger to Ratherwood to instruct the venerable Horsa, at the king’s command, to meet us on this side of the Trenta from Hucknall. He should be able to travel quickly and be there ere we arrive.”
“Horsa predicted Mercia would attack. He will already be waiting for orders,” the king added.
Earl Jehan's unctuous gratitude irritated the king. "My liege, to pass up the chance to save Lawrencium for Grantham's sake…"
The king’s somber look included a strong set jaw. “If Mercia gains a foothold, they may reach Lawrencium before we could have. Best to stop them before they can.”
Lawrence did not disclose his belief that should he come riding boldly and directly to Lawrencium Gaylorde, his cousin, would simply use Josephine and the children as shields and bargaining pieces. Ironically, knowing Elerde was somehow involved in Gaylorde’s perfidious plans reassured Lawrence. He knew that Elerde would do whatever it took to safeguard the queen and the royal children. The longer he could appear to be held by battle with Mercia the longer Elerde and he would have to separately find a way ro rescue the love of both men's lives .
The king’s army moved southwest from Lincoln towards the River Trenta crossing opposite the Affynshire town of Gunthorpe. There they found Horsa’s own soldiers camped and waiting not far from an abbey. When the king dismounted to clasp hands with the old warlord, he had a gratifying surpriose. There standing in a rough semicircle behind Horsa was a troop of archers dressed in the colors of King Ruallauh's own.
“What is this?” Lawrence asked the captain of the group, a dark skinnedl man with massive shoulders and arms.
The man made a deep bow. “We are sent from our lord king Ruallauh. I am Gethin, the leader of this party. We are commanded to help you scout and..” He paused to grin knowingly, ”To take care of bothersome scouts and small bands of foragers.”
With one eyebrow raised, the king nodded. “Indeed? Then Ruallauh has indeed brought me luck, as I suspected he should.”
Next: The Plot to Rescue Lrroin
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