Elerde looked deeply into the queen’s eyes. “Josephina,” he said, taking liberties, “you must listen to me. Your children’s only hope is for you to let me get you out of here and away.” He had his hands on her arms below her shoulders. She looked back at him with reluctance.
“My lord, please. I know I am in your power. But if you care for me as I think you do, please do not press.”
Elerde’s eyes clouded. “Why? Can you tell me? Why will you not leave for your children’s sake?”
They stood in the gloom of the nursery, alone with the sleeping children. Caithness was back in her bed, much recovered. She was still pale and quiet, but she was alert and eating proper food again. Still the children were all out of sorts continuously, cooped up as they were, with only their mother to look after all their needs. Their slumber gave Josephine the only respite she had.
She pulled away from him and turned, taking several steps into the center of the chamber. She turned with a tired but determined look. “This is my place, do you not see that? As long as Lawrence is away… I cannot leave. It is my duty to stay. The people expect it.”
“Damn the people!” Elerde’s temper was frayed. Both adults turned to look at Tavish who had stirred and whimpered in his sleep when the harsh words had been uttered. Elerde regained his composure and was ready to speak more calmly when the queen turned to regard him again. “Your grace, the people love you and your children and would want you safe.”
Josephine’s downcast eyes told him she knew he was telling the truth. “I don’t expect you to understand or like this,” she added quietly, “but I must stay here for my lord’s return. He will overcome this treachery. And when he does, I will be here, with his children, waiting. I love him with all my heart and will not break that faith.” Her last words were spoken through clenched teeth, firmly.
Elerde’s spirit sagged. He knew all this was true. But he also knew that Gaylorde was a hair’s breadth away from killing them all, the queen and her children. The man was angry about her brother’s escape and the fact that his men had found no trace of the man or his companions. He still held to the conviction that he could use the queen as a shield if all went awry, but his sanity, what tenuous little he had, was beginning to crack.
Elerde ventured, almost in a whisper, “But what if he is dead?”
Josephine shot a fiery glance at him. “He is not! I would know if he was!”
Elerde nodded and turned away. Without asking her leave, he went out the door.
The queen stared after him even when the door was shut between them. She was terrified. She held herself tight, chewing on her thumbnail, wondering. What if he was right? No, not about Lawrence. She could not entertain that thought. But what if Gaylorde did want to kill her? The two thoughts were inextricably conjoined, and it forced her to think about Lawrence’s death. If he was gone, oh God and St. Mary forefend, Gaylorde would not have any further reason to keep them alive. Worse, he would have every reason to kill Peter, the ætheling.
What if by staying she was putting not only her children’s future in peril but also robbing the people of the kingdom from their king’s rightful heir? Was she cheating all of them just because she was unsure of the mercenary’s motives? She suspected he was sincere in his desire to help her. It was not just a trick to put her fate into even more danger for the usurper’s favor? Why did it matter if Elerde wanted only to spirit her away and make her his? If the children were safe why would it matter, even if he succeeded?
A wave of exhaustion broke over her. Her eyes started to stream with tears. “Oh, Lawrence, my dear love, how much worse can this get? Where are you? When will you come to take back your crown.. and your queen?” She lowered herself to her own pallet, lay on her side with her pillow in her arms, and cried into it so the children would not hear her.
Elerde stood in the guard house and stared at what Lagu had placed on the small table between them. “He is really dead then?” he asked.
“My lord, I can’t say for sure. He was taken away by bandits. he might be alive and they holding him for ransom, though from whom I know not, or he could have died from the blow I gave him.” He watched Elerde for sign of displeasure and saw none.
Heraral inserted, “The important thing is that everyone thinks he is dead. And these things will confirm that.”
Elerde nodded slowly. He fingered the cloth of the mantle. “Is this his blood?” he looked up at his lieutenant. “Nay, I see it is not. But who could tell?"
Lagu observed simply, "Sheep and men both bleed red.
His commander was thoughtful. "And you went to Jehan?”
Lagu bowed in deference. “Aye, my lord. And he bit as quick as a dog with a flea. He has sent to Gaylorde to pledge his allegiance to him.”
Elerde hefted the king’s sword and examined it. “Is that what you have there, the parchment?” He glanced at the rolled up message that stuck out of the top of his lieutenant’s saddle bag draped over one shoulder.
“Aye, my lord. I watched him write it. You know how well I see. I could read every word. He has turned his coat.”
“Then you had better hasten to the 'king' and tell him he really is king now..” Elerde remarked acidly. He was already thinking of showing these things to the queen, both glad to have something to convince her to leave and miserable at how the sight of the things would pain her.
Next: Elerde Persuades Josephine to Flee
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