This series started as posts on the Ghostletters Yahoogroup, therefore some of the action is missing. Apparently at the point of this story Lawrence is already having an affair with Juliana and inexplicably has installed her at lawrencium. I will have to look around on the group to find how this all came about.. there must be some explanation in the posts. In the meantime, let's get started. I will report back later.
The old man with one eye turned it from his millwork to spy at the trio that rode along in the pouring rain. He squinted his remaining eye suspiciously. In spite of their bedraggled appearance, these three were too richly garbed to be mere itenrants on their way to some market or abbey or village up north. Since the old man saw the murder of the ruling family a dozen years ago or more he had seen no one more richly arrayed than another miller like himself. These folk were a bad omen, then. He slipped quickly out of site so the party would not see him and make trouble for him, as they were no doubt bound to do.
So the small party rode on in the rain, until the slim one in the lead stopped her companions near a tiny harbor where a rough-made boat lay next to a crude dock.
The rider slipped off her hood to reveal what when dry must have been gloriously golden hair. "Matilda, Thomas, I must ask you to take your leave here. You must return to your families in Christenlande. I am on to Normandy form here. You cannot come with me." As the man who accompanied her began to protest, the woman in rich raiment interrupted him. "Thomas, nay, I shall be all right."
The old woman called Matilda replied, "But your majesty, it is not that. Thomas and I cannot return to Lawrencium. The King would arrest us and force us to tell him where thou hast gone." Thomas beside her nodded.
The Queen cast a sorrowful eye to the ground. " Oh good people, I am so sorry. I had not thought about that. Surely my lord would not be so cruel." She lifted her eyes to Thomas's face where she read hesitation. "You are right, Thomas. My lord would not but I know not what this man who hath taken his place should do."
Thomas dismounted and helped the Queen to her feet from her own horse. "Nay, my lady, the King loves thee mightily. He would do anything to discover where thou hast gone."
The Queen shook her head. "No, not any more. You must leave me now e'en so." She reach a tiny white hand into her girdle and pulled forth a few copper coins. "Take these and make new lives for thyself somewhere in Britain. And forgive me for taking thee from thy homes without thinking." She paused. "It seems that I do not think at all oftimes."
She went on, "Should the King find you, I want you to promise to tell him where I have gone, without hesitation. I do not wish that thou shouldst be harmed for hiding my secret." And she thought to herself, "It will hurt Lawrence to know I have gone to France, where I might again meet my lover."
Amid their loyal protests and fussing over her safety and the wisdom of trusting her fate to some unknown seaman the Queen held firm, and reluctantly the servants drew away and headed south again, not knowing where they could find rest.
The Queen stood and watched them go, then waiting some time more to be sure they did not return, she finally mounted her horse and turned its head away from the dock and onto the north road again. "Let them think I have taken the boat. And let them wonder if I was robbed, raped and killed by the sailors. I do not want the King to look for me, or if not he, then my dear friends back in Lawrencium." Rory had found and rescued her before. She did not want that to happen again.
Her journey took her at long last to a little town in a northern valley. The Queen of Christenlande sighed as she looked about her at the familiar scenes from her childhood. Those murdered royals the one-eyed man had thought of were the Queen's own parents. A tear came to her eyes as she recognized where she and Lorin and their sister Marguerite had played at being Roman travelers in Britain. She heard her sister's laugh and Lorin's stern admonitions not to stray too close to danger.
The old couple she remembered from her time in this valley were working outside their cottage when she approached. At first they drew back, afraid of this stranger, until they saw the golden hair and the deep blue eyes. Both rushed to meet her.
"Your majesty, it is so good to see you! The Lord be praised!" The old man looked beyond her down the road to see the rest of her party. He looked back at her with anticipation. "Where is the King, my lady? Hast thou come to hunt in the forest? We have waited these long years hoping that thou shouldst come."
He helped the Queen down from her horse as his wife clucked solicitously over the Queen's dirty riding boots and wet cloak.
"Aelfstan, the King is not with me. I am alone." Aelfstan's wife stopped fussing over the Queen's clothing and stared, her mouth open to reveal bare gums save a few remaining teeth.
The man stammered, "A-a-lone? I cannot take your meaning? How couldst thou travel alone, my mite," he said, using his old pet name for her.
Josephine pulled herself erect and nodded her head. "Aelfstan and Ceolwin, my good old friends. I am Queen no more. The King hath set me aside and I am here to ask for refuge with you, whom the King dost not know."
The old couple were struck dumb. As tumultuous as their lady's marriage had been the love between Josephine and her husband bordered on the fabulous. All anticipated that it would become one of the great tales of love for all time. Ceolwin finally blurted out, "Oh my lady, that cannot be!"" Then she looked more worried than ever,. "But my lady, your children!'
Aelfstan shot his wife a cautioning look. Then he inquired of Josephine, "Hast the King refused to let thy children come with thee?"
Josephine's look was distracted. She started to turn away and then collapsed. Aelfstan caught her and together with Ceolwin led her into the cottage. They lay her on their bed. Ceolwin fetched water while the old man found some blankets to cover the slender form.
Josephine looked sadly from one to the other. "I do not wish to speak of this again. I am alone. I pray thee not to press me further." With that she turned away from them and slept.
In the coming days Josephine instructed the old man to take her horse to market and sell it to pay for her keep. She begged the old couple to treat her as am unmarried niece come to live with them and work to earn her keep. She told them to call her Jo and nothing else, and to treat her as they would any other of their class. Sorrowing in their hearts for the little girl they had cared for who had come to such tragedy, they agreed.
Jo walked in the twilight as the chill and damp came down into the valet and she wept. She looked south to the horizon and thought of her children, her friends, and.. her love. How she could have left them all she did not know. Her moods had always led her, often quite astray. One minute dancing with joy, the next barely able to stand with the pain of sorrow. In one of those latter moments she had made a decision, like many others she had made, that threatened to destroy everything. Nay, not threatened. It had destroyed everything. She could not go back. Lawrence would never accept her now. He was bound to believe that she had gone to Elerde.
"Mayhap," she breathed, her breath a fine cloud in front of her. "Mayhap it is for the best. "
But as she pulled her shawl about her and turned to go back to the simple cottage that was now her home, she could not stifle a sob of sheer agony.
"Oh Lawrence, my love," came forth broken and despairing.
Next: Lawrencium Discovers the Queen's Disappearance
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