Lawrence stood in the queen’s bedchamber as the servants put it to rights. He stood hangdog, staring at the bed, His eyes were haunted. His spirit was down about his heels.
He felt a gentle hand on his sleeve. “My lord, they will find her.”
It was Larisa, the betrothed of Duke Lorin. He cast a look sideways at her. “But can they? And will she come?”
With eyes brimming with compassion, she dropped her formality. “Oh, aye, Lawrence, darling. She loves you above all things. Never in all the time she was apart from you did her thoughts stray far. We had hours and hours with nothing to do but talk. She talked about you constantly, told me wonderful stories, sweet stories.”
The king’s face lost some of its dourness. He smiled thinly. “I do know that. I do.” He looked at Larisa hopefully. “And she knows how I love her?”
Larisa smiled, nodded and went on tiptoe to plant a warm kiss on his cheek. he put his arm around her and gave her an affectionate squeeze.
Behind them Lorin came in, limping, supported by a staff. He caught Larisa’s eye. His own look asked the question, “Is he all right?” She shook her head but smiled. With a tilt of her head she communicated to him that he must talk to the king.
“My liege, might you have a moment to speak with me?” Lorin said, with a look of thanks at his beloved.
Lawrence turned and looked at him. “Aye, if you need me. I am of little use here.” he cast another look around the chamber, then followed Lorin out into the antechamber and further into the corridor. There he stopped and waited for Lorin to lead him somewhere. For days the king had struggled to stay on as even a keel as he could, but in moments like this his volition was nonexistent. He could have been told to stand on his head in the middens and he most likely would have obeyed without a second thought.
“Shall we go into your work chamber?” Lorin prompted.
Lawrence nodded. His wife’s brother saw him glance up at the door of the children’s chamber.
“Right in here, my brother,” Lorin urged gently.
Mercifully as they entered the king’s own antechamber the door to his bedchamber was closed. It was taking much scrubbing to remove the bloodstains from the clay floor. The rushes had been taken out, one carpet was challenging the laundrywomen, and the king had not slept in the room since he had butchered his traitorous cousin in it. The morning after conquest of the fortress Lorin had started to direct the reestablishment of order and then gone looking for the king. He had found the man sitting on one of the children’s pallets, clearly having slept there. He had a lost look. Lorin had taken charge of him.
In the work chamber all vestiges of Gaylorde had been removed. New rushes on the floor, a good cleaning and the room was Lawrence’s again. Where Larisa had found flowers in November to put in a bowl on the table confounded Lorin, but though they were not fragrant, the dried rosemary and calendula scattered among the rushes were.
Lawrence mechanically took his place at the work table, staring disinterestedly at the flowers. Lorin waited to be given leave to sit, saw it would not be forthcoming and with difficulty pulled over one of the Roman chairs with arms and sat down on it.
Lorin’s exertion with its resulting pain brought Lawrence to the here and now. “Your ribs… they still hurt?” he asked his chancellor.
Lorin grimaced, “Aye, my lord, they do that. They gave me a right good beating, they did. But I am just grateful to be here, with my lord king, with all semblance of sanity returning.”
Lawrence looked aggrieved. “Save for the fact that the queen, the atheling and the other royal children are God knows where.”
Lorin nodded sadly, looked with infinite sympathy at his dearest friend. He hesitated, searching for words, then said, leaning towards the man. “Lawrence, after all this time, it truly is just a short delay. We will find her and tell her it is safe to return, and that you are here alive waiting for her.”
Lawrence seemed to be searching his wife’s brother’s eyes for evidence that he truly believed what he said. “I suppose you are right. Then why do I feel so lost, so bereft?”
It was strange hearing these words, this plea for assurance from the man who sat across from Lorin. Lorin had never met a man so formidable, so strong, capable and confident. Yes, he had seen Lawrence’s emotions before. But they had been rich, hearty, as strong as the man was. He realized just how much the war and the struggle to regain his crown had been on him. Though a young man, still in his twenties, the king had thin streaks of gray in his beard. Then the long separation from his family, replete with periods of fear and uncertainty. When men went to war they usually did not have to worry about their family back at home. They would be safe, even his own life was constantly threatened. But Lawrence had had to cope with Josephine’s being caught behind the lines when Affynshire fell to the traitors and then again in greater peril under the dangerous control of the half mad Gaylorde.
If what Horsa told him was true, Lorin knew Lawrence had stayed completely faithful to his wife in body as well s heart. None would have seen the least fault in his taking women to his bed. It was likely if he had he would have been able to bear up better under the many other strains he was subject to. But he had not, seeing his promise to be true in body to his beloved as a sacred oath. Understanding this made Lorin more in awe of the man’s strength than ever.
“Lawrence, ‘tis the disappointment. At long last all the obstacles were cleared. You at last were back in control, able to reclaim your life and go on with all the plans and dreams shattered when you had to go to war. But it was an empty victory. You are the king, my dear friend, but first and foremost you are a husband and a father.” He looked with compassion at the pleading look in the piercing blue eyes. “My lord, you must never let the mystique of kingship, of blood and of nobility allow you to undervalue what is truly of meaning. You love my sister, she loves you, and your children are the fruit of that bond.”
Lawrence considered him for a time, then said in an admiring voice, “You know that better than anyone, do you not? That you put aside your own kingship to pursue a life more fit for you… In so many ways you are my better by far. I think sometimes I wish I had your courage and strength, to choose to follow what you see as your real duty, not just the arbitrary duty others would impose on you.”
Lorin was frankly amazed. “Your better? Never, my lord. Never your better.” He reached across the table to put his hand on the big man’s arm. “I serve you, my lord, because I believe in you with every part of me. My greatest joy is having the chance to help you make real all you seek to do for justice and good.”
The two men looked into each others face for sometime, an unseen communication, a reaffirmation of vows made years before. Finally Lawrence’s face took on a grin that was actually irreverent. “Your greatest joy? That good woman cleaning the queen’s chamber is not?”
Lorin opened his mouth to say something, realized he had no idea what it would have been, and his eyes filled with happily satisfaction, and not a little wonder. “Larisa,” he said, the word almost sung like a prayer. “I always envied you and my sister that pairing of souls. Now I know just what it feels like.”
Lawrence smiled at him. “She has stuck with you throughout all this Hell. She is a rare one. Anyone who questions her worth for her modest blood is blind, deaf, and a fool.”
Lorin’s face was suffused with light. “I adored her before, but now.. I do not think there is a word that says the love and gratitude I feel for her.”
Lawrence’s face crinkled with the happy look it held. He stayed like that for some minutes, the took an audible breath, clamped his hands down hard on the wooden arms of his chair, and said, “Well!” He stood, pushing the chair back from the table. “Methinks ‘tis time to rejoin the living. I want a tour of the fortress and an inventory of what we need to do and get.”
At the door in to the antechamber he stopped and looked down at the darker, shorter man. “Just promise me this. Just promise that he has not taken her too far away for her to return.”
Lorin looked at him frankly. “Josephine would never permit it. You know what a bulwark she is when she will have none of it.”
Lawrence laughed, “So do I! The woman is as hard as a well trained battle horse.”
“I’ll be sure to pass the compliment on when she is here.”
Lawrence adopted a look of mock outrage Then he said, “That cannot be too soon.”
Next: Rory Finds the Queen
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