The knight looked at the woman in bed with him and thought, "Josephina is here.. with me.. in mine own bed. I have longed for this for so long." He reached over gently and pulled a strand of long hair away from her face and pulled it back. She stirred and sleepily turned towards him. He had been willing her to do that so he could look into her face, the face of the love of his life, to paraphrase a tragic teenager in a future Verona, "the Goddess of my idolatry".
Elerde's thoughts went back over the past several days and nights. He had found it difficult to drag his eyes from her throughout. He feared if he stopped looking at her she would vanish and it should have been a dream. But mirabile dictu when his eyes opened in early morn there she was! And he could reach to her and touch her and love her just as he had longed to do all the years in Christenlande and throughout their separation.
As it happened, keeping his gaze on her was not a challenge, since she did not seem to want to be away from him for even a moment. She insisted on being wherever he was all the time, save for a few occasions when she had something else that could adequately occupy her mind, such as when he had sent for seamstresses to fit her for riding clothes for their journey to Brittany. He knew she was afraid to be left to her thoughts which came through in her dreams, he knew, because he had had to hold and calm her when she woke him with her cries and sobs. She would not discuss the dreams. He did not press.
He had taken advantage of some time he knew she could spend distracted to send for men from Malcolm's guard to go for news in the countryside. With swift mounts they would be able to get far enough south to get tidings of Lawrence's court. He would use that intelligence to plot their escape to the sea.
One time Josephine had surprised him as he left the room he had used to talk to his scouts. She kept silent as he dismissed the man and only when he had left her and Elerde alone had she spoken. She did not ask what they were sent to do or if Elerde had news. She simply turned teary eyes to him and asked him, "My love, wilt thou send to my brother Lorin and tell him I am all right?" He had held her close and agreed.
When they were together, they made love or simply talked, laughed and gazed at each other. Elerde walked about feeling as though reality had been suspended. He felt like his feet glided along just above the stone flags of the floor and that if he took a misstep he would fall.
When after more than a week one of the scouts returned he took care to have Josephine entertained and watched. The man, sweating and breathing heavily from his hard ride, passed on what news he heard of Lawrence and his court. Elerde rewarded and dismissed the man with a stern warning not to share anything he had learned with anyone else. After the man left, Elerde sat and stared into the hearth fire in the chamber. The courtesan was with child. But the King had distanced himself from her and appeared no longer to bed her. Then the news he had had in Calais and had most feared to find confirmed. One of the minstrels had left against the King's wishes and gone to look for the Queen. Rory. He would need to watch for the man and kill him if they met on the road to the sea.
Elerde had had concerns about a missive to Lorin, but did as Josephine asked. He sent a young page instead of men at arms so that the journey would be long and he would have spirited her across the Channel by the time Lorin knew. He also carefully instructed the boy as to what to tell Lorin. He knew the man would not harm the boy, so giving him a cryptic message would not instigate torture to learn more. Some times it seemed as though the Good insured their own defeats.
As the second week of their short respite together was well underway, Josephine asked Elerde at last whether he had any news.
"About…" she breathed, hesitatingly, looking away from his face with a troubled frown. "About whether Juliana is with child."
He wrapped his arms around her, put his chin on her hair and nodded. He did not share the other news. He would do all he could to keep her from hearing that the King had thought better of his trysts. Nor did he want her to know that other rival for her love, McGuinness, had done what the King cared not to do.. search for her.
"When will we leave, Elerde? When shalt we go to Brittany?"
His heart swelled. Josephine had not said nay as he made plans for their journey, but then she had said nothing at all. He longed for her to respond excitedly, like a young bride traveling to her new home with her beloved bridegroom. But she did not. She seemed braced for it, awaiting something inevitable. He sighed and thought, "She will come to want it as much as I. She will get whate'er she needs from me to make it a life of constant joy, or I shall die trying."
For herself, Josephine was carefully orchestrating her own mind. She had kept her moods on short reins so the despair could not set in and take over. If she let herself, she would think what she could not prevent visiting her in her dreams. "The children's faces, weeping and alone. Lawrence pulling her to him and kissing her. Moments of happiness she had left behind her with her rash flight. Even sharing a roof with Juliana would yet have allowed her the small joys of her children and her friends. But it was too late now. The King was going to have a child with Juliana. She knew Lawrence better than anyone else in the world. He would do what he could to protect the lady and her child. That is, she thought she knew Lawrence. The fact that the lady was as far as she knew sleeping in her own bed made her begin to doubt that knowledge.
She looked at her Breton knight. Ah, there stood, strong and protecting, the very reason for the woman who now slept in her bed. The love between the knight and her had broken Lawrence, made him hard and cruel. She had despaired that he would dishonor himself with his actions, but she knew she had brought herself to this point with her own faithlessness.
She thought as she looked at him, "Elerde, my dearest one, at least mayhap I canst make thee happy… Thy eyes are wistful but thy manner is calm. I will go with thee to Brittany and be as thy wife. At least thou will have peace and happiness."
She went to him and lay her head on his chest as he stood in the room looking at her. He cradled her head in his hand and kissed her hair. She stopped a little sob as it tried to escape.
""Josephina, wilt thou be ready to ride two days hence?"
She turned a smiling face at him. "Oh aye, my lord. Let us leave our little oasis and start our life together in Brittany."
Next: Back to what Lawrence has been doign.
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