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, December 7, 2009

New Stories: The King Is Captured by Bandits (Happened with lots of changes)

This is one of the two stories I had to cut from the novel, both for artisitic and practical reasons... the first manuscript was over 900 pages. I did not want to cut either, but there it is. I am glad to have the opportunity to share it here. My battle consultant Jack Graham and I are both quite fond of little Godgifu, our "Cinfy Lou Who who was no more than two."

The rank odor of horse sweat was in his nostrils and the same taste was on his lips. He would have gasped for air but for the stench. His head throbbed with pain. He tried to open his eyes but what he could see was clouded and his head reeled. He concentrated on taking inventory of his other senses and his body.

All right, he smelled horse, tasted horse sweat, and could see little. His most immediate impression was of being slumped over a saddle face down with his head down on one side and his legs hanging over the other. They weren’t exactly dangling.. why? His ankles were bound. So were his wrists. How did he come to be bound and thrown over the animal? He searched his memory. Lagu. In the muddy pool. The branch swung at the back of his head. A sharp pain there confirmed the recall.

So Lagu had abducted him. He was on a horse and Lagu and probably his men accompanied him. What could he hear? Was that Lagu riding this horse? More likely an underling of the lieutenant’s. Voices, laughter, horses snorting. Voices.. but not Brezhoneg words. They were speaking Saxon! These were men on horse and some on foot. They seemed to be arguing and taunting each other. About.. about him! Or rather his garb. Who would take his leather armor. Who would take his mail jerkin. Who would get his braes. What about his boots? Someone already had them. He could tell his feet were bare. Had they already apportioned his sword? His rich cloak? Bandits then. Did they know…?

He next heard the answer to the very question he was formulating in his aching brain. “I don’t know who this lordling is, but he should fetch a goodly sum whether he be Mercian or Crísliclander.”

They did not know he was the king! That was well. They would be on guard, but not as careful as if they knew what sort of effort would be made to find him. He decided to feign unconsciousness and listen for as long as he could. But he had to pee, urgently. Do unconscious men pee? He would hold back as long as he could stand it.

It turned out that bouncing on your belly on the back of a horse did not make it easy to hold it. He finally said to the horse's upright rider, “Look, man, I have to piss… would you let me down? If you don’t I will have to piss where I am.”

“God’s bollocks!” The man on whose horse he was draped called out. He had not realized Lawrence was anything but senseless. “The man’s awake.” He struck Lawrence on the back making him expel his breath and moan. “You filthy bastard. So you are awake.. you could have told me you needed to take a piss.” The man roughly tugged at his brigandine and shoved him off the horse backwards . He hit the ground on his side, crying out with the force of it but having the sense to roll away before the startled horse shied and took a couple skittish steps towards him.

“You idiot,” another man shouted. He won’t be of much use if he’s dead.”

“Aw, he’s all right. Didn’t you see him roll away? He was probably already conscious. He was going to pissed on me on purpose.”

The laughter was coming into his throbbing brain from all around him. One particularly shrill voice stabbed in sharper. He heard men dismounting.

A booted toe prodded at him. It roughly shoved him onto his back. He opened his eyes to see his own boot attached to a man with greasy dark hair, torn and filthy garb, and a smile with numerous gaps. He screwed his eyes shut again.

“Wake up, my very blue-eyed lord. Or do you want a kick in the balls?”

Lawrence preferred to avoid that so he opened his eyes again. “Who are you?”

The man kicked hard, but in the shoulder. “That is my question, not yours. Who are you?” Mercifully he waited for the King to catch his breath.

“Aldwin.. Aldwin of Sleaford.. a thane to Earl Botopher,” Lawrence gasped, quickly picking someone credible and not likely to be known by these ruffians. “Who are you?”

The leader crouched by him and smiled into his face. “Let me introduce myself. I am King Lawrence of Críslicland and that fellow there whose horse you fell from is Lord Jehan of Grantham. The fellow over there with only one hand is His Holiness Pope Adrian. And.. well unfortunately Jænbert, the Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t with us any more. He was hanged.” He sighed deeply and with more than enough drama. “So, who will pay your ransom, my lord? The Earl? Your family? The King? No wait, that’s me. I won’t be paying your ransom… but maybe my cousin will…”

Lawrence set his jaw and refused to answer.

“Ah, well, you will tell us soon enough. You won’t eat until you do. Now weren’t you saying something about needing a piss?” He gestured to the one-handed man. “Your Holiness, will you escort our comrade to where he can piss?”

Lawrence was roughly dragged to his feet by two rank smelling bandits. “I can hardly piss with my hands tied behind my back. Or do you plan to hold it for me, sire?” He grinned at the leader.

The man eyed him. “Very funny.” To one of the men holding him he directed, “Tie his wrists in front but tie them to the ankle ropes so he cannot lift them higher than his needs require. And keep a weapon on him. I think this one might be tricky.”

Lawrence looked for any opportunity he could to escape the bandits over the long ride to wherever they were bound, but his head still throbbed, and he still could not see straight. He bided his time until he had his wits and senses again. The bandits sat at their fire each night eating whatever game they caught and roasted. He was tied to a tree, and the men brought over bits of meat and waved it under his nose. He managed to give one fellow a good kick in the shin despite his ankles being bound.

At last they reached a small encampment where a number of dirty children and ragged women ran out as the leader gave a three note whistle. The leader’s woman ran to his stirrup. “Well, now who have you got there?”

“Lord Aldwin, may I present my lady, Queen Josephine, the most beautiful lady in the land?” He leaned down and kissed the woman noisily on the lips and reached out a hand to grab her.

Lawrence gave a slight nod to the woman, and he managed to keep the fury he felt at the insult to his queen from showing.

The woman took on an imperious stance. “Off with his head!”

“Nay, my love. He won’t fetch much of a price if he is dismembered.” The leader directed one of his men to take Lawrence to a hut on the far edge of the encampment that had a stout timber door with a heavy latch. He was dragged off his place behind one of the mounted men and dragged to the door. It was opened and he was thrown in. The door was slammed shut and the latch put in place. The hut was small and dark and none too sweet smelling.

The door was solid, but the walls, though stout, had lots of chinks in the wattle and mud. Lawrence could tell when it was day or night and could see much of what went on in the camp. It was little different from the daily activities of any small village. The women bustled about after children, the cooking fire, bringing water from some unseen creek or river. He listened for any information he could. He was rewarded for having an eye or ear to the chinks with whatever insect or mouse or worse the children found to shove through the holes with shrieks of laughter and taunts of a surprising variety of filthy words.

He grew increasingly hungry though he used all the skill he had as a warrior to submerge the nagging pangs. He had been without food for six days he gauged, but thankfully not without water. They did not want him dead after all. He knew if he had to he could start eating the mice and other creatures forced to share his captivity with him.

On the third and fourth days of his imprisonment he watched as the main raiding party left early in the morning and returned late the following day. He listened for any hint of where they were. He heard one man comment that the lack of rain for the past fortnight had not made a dint on the boggy land near the border. Lawrence put his mind to work mapping all the possibilities.

All the while he was loosening his bonds. He had tightened the muscles in his wrists when the bandits moved his hands to his front so that when he relaxed the ponds were slightly looser. He contrived to make them look taut again every time water was brought in to him, though it was dark enough in the now quite malodorous hut that he need not have bothered.

He managed to get the attention of a small girl with huge dark eyes. She was the only child who had held back when the others had played their tricks on him. He noticed how the other children tormented her and decided to make use of her likely desire for revenge.

“Lass,” he called to her quietly as she stood alone watching the hut. “Come here, I won’t hurt you. I just want to say hello.”

The girl stared at him, glanced about to see who was looking, then pointed around the hut and slowly walked as if she was heading for the woods. Lawrence went over to the other side of the hut, thankful he had not chosen that corner as his latrine. When he peered out he saw a brown eye peering in.

“What beautiful eyes you have, lass. What is your name?”

The girl hesitated a moment, looked away and then back. “Godgifu,” ”she whispered. “Your name is Aldwin.”

“That’s right. Do you know what that means?” His voice was soft and sweet.

She nodded, her mouth hanging open a little. “Old friend,” she whispered.

“That’s right. We are old friends, aren’t we, God’s gift? You know that is what your name means, don’t you?”

The girl smiled for the first time since he first saw her. “Aye. I am a gift from God.”

“You certainly are to me. Your name is true. So is mine. I am your old friend. “

“The others tease me about my name,” the little girl said sadly, casting down her eyes.

“The others are very bad and cruel. They are mean to you by teasing you and hitting you. I saw that.”

Godgifu looked up surprised,. “You did?!”

“I did. They are mean to me too when they put those things through the holes. And they are mean to the mice and the insects too.” He gambled on the girl’s sense of camaraderie with others who were tortured.

“Why are they so mean, Aldwin?” she asked plaintively.

Lawrence held his breath a moment. “Because they don’t know what you and I and those little helpless creatures know.”

“They don’t? What is that?” The child’s curiosity was piqued.

“That we are not helpless at all. Not if we stick together.” Lawrence watched the girl nod slowly. “Not if we help each other?”

He paused. She was thinking this over.

“You and me and the bugs and the mice?” Godgifu asked with more hope than doubt.

“Aye. Have you ever rescued a mouse from the bad children?”

She nodded, then added, “And I rescued a robin they caught.”

“Exactly. And has a mouse or a bee ever hurt one of the bad children to punish them for teasing or hitting you?” The voice through the wattle came smooth and inviting.

She nodded with recognition. “Aye, when Theo pushed me in the mud and got my dress all filthy he got bit by a snake. He screamed and screamed, louder than me.”

The king put out his wager. “That’s what we do, we are all friends. Will you help me, Godgifu? You know I prayed for help and God gave me you, a gift from God. Would you bring me some bread?”

The child’s face lit up. “I will!”

“Wait!” Lawrence rasped as the girl turned to run away. “We have to be really sneaky. No one should know that we are sticking together and helping each other. Do you understand?“

The girl smiled and nodded. “I will make it look like one of the bad children stole the bread.”

“That’s right. You do that.” As she dashed away Lawrence sat back against the wall and sighed.

Next: Godgifu helps the king escape

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About the author

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