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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Stories: The Plan to Take the Fortress (happened with Changes)

It was important not to get cocky. The response of Gaylorde and his men was better than the king’s army could have hoped, but the war was long from won.

“I don’t know if I can stand another siege like Ratherwood, though I would very much like it to end the same way.” Lawrence stood by is tent in the encampment at the foot of his own stronghold and conferred with his military advisors.

Botopher lifted a bowl of ale in a toast. “You mean you would like to boost Gaylorde over the wall with a noose around his neck as you did Malcolm, my lord?”

“Precisely” was the King’s reply, said in a tight, bitter voice.

“At least we have better weather for our wait, sire,” Horsa put in. It was a late autumn day, crisp but bright and sunny. The last leaves on the trees were dry and crumpled and mostly brown. Colder nights made for uncomfortable sleeping, though the king did not sleep much and kept warm by the campfire while his men snored all around him.

“There might be a way to cut this waiting short,” Lawrence began.

His advisors’ heads shot up as if pulled by the same puppeteer. “Aye, sire?” one of the captains asked.

“I don’t know if it is still there. When I designed the fortress Duke Lorin suggested some secret passageways. They were quite ingenious, not that I remember them all. I most certainly remember the one between my own chamber and the Queen’s, a clever little trick of the eye with how the back walls looked… well, I’m not sure I want to reveal that one. And of course you know that Shannon found the one in the outer wall. We are fortunate my lady’s brother did not choose to become a mason or some such. He would probably be in Byzantium now.. though he may wish he was.”

Horsa was thinking hard about what the King said, but Botopher reassured, “Shannon will find him, my liege. I am sure of it.”

“If he is still with the healer, that means his injuries were serious. If not, he is probably somewhere between here and Grantham, God grant neither be so.” Lawrence came over to sit on the felled log that served as a bench.

Horsa spoke up now. “My lord, I think we should assume that fault in the wall is still there, or that it was poorly repaired. I could take a small contingent to it and try to get in that way.”

“You mean I could take a small contingent and try it,” Lawrence corrected.

“Is that wise, sire?” the older man asked. “Should you not avoid what could very well be a wild goose chase?”

Lawrence shook his head. “I will go mad if I have to sit around for another few months. My wife and children are in there. No, say nothing more. I will lead the infiltration force. We’ll go up at night. If when we get up there it is blocked we will just come back down and find another way. If we can break through, we will open the gates. So you and Botopher should prepare the men for a night attack.” He looked around him. “There will be need for complete quiet. I know you all know that.”

Botopher was so bold as to ask, “You are worried about the Queen’s welfare, are you not?”

“Well, of course I am. And the children’s. But it puzzles me that Gaylorde has not brought her out to taunt me. Or to use as a threat or a shield. I am afraid of what that means. Is she sick? Is she dead? Is there some other reason she cannot be taken up to the palisade to show me she is utterly in his power?” The king stood up and started to pace back and forth, his brow furrowed, his expression making him look like he was wincing with pain. He had balled one fist and was punching it into the palm of his other hand as if he was trying to punch through the fortress wall or to shatter Gaylorde’s jaw.

Horsa ventured, “Might we wait to launch this attack until tomorrow night? I would like to wait until Duke Lorin and Shannon are back. And the army could use another night’s rest.”

Lawrence, still pacing, shook his head violently. “Nay, they have had two days to rest. And it may be days, even weeks before the bard returns. We have overtaxed the devotion of the fyrd. . They have already missed hellping in the harvest. It's Blot Month and they will be wanting to get back to their villages for the cattle slaughter and preserving.”

Hearing no more comments, he commanded, “We go tonight.” He shot a look at them all that brooked no nay-saying. “Well, what are you waiting for?”

Next: Sneaking In

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About the author

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