Lawrence sat on his camp bed as Clancy fussed about the room. One of the missing tapestries was back on the wall, a long one that consisted of six panels, five of which depicting a scene from the King and Queen's life together. The last panel was unfinished because, he had told Josephine when he presented her with the gift, "We know not what our future holds." Lawrence grinned ironically.
The castle had had much to buzz about in the months since the King had returned from Trent with the courtesan, Juliana. In the past few days the latest installment in the melodrama had provided extra suspense. It appeared, although few credited it as fact, that the King had ceased to sleep in the dark-eyed lady's chambers. He was back in his own bedchamber, ostensibly sleeping in the camp bed... alone. His page was reinstalled in his tiny anteroom. The King was still seen going to the courtesan's rooms, but never staying long. The lady herself was never seen, not since the day she had strutted about the castle bearing the Queen's medallion.
Lorin, as was his wont, did not ask Lawrence what was going on. He listened with some hope when the man asked him to make inquiries about low born knights who might be elevated if they did the King a favor. The King had said "unmarried knights". Lorin had nodded discreetly and gone on to other matters.
Lorin's wife, who had been spending time with Lady Jocelyn who was expected to bear her child soon, made a point of visiting Juliana to make sure the girl was all right. She had a double surprise when Juliana called "Enter!" at Larisa's quiet tap at the door and soft "Juliana?" The room was neat, but sparser than she remembered. The mirror was missing. The King's chest of clothing and other treasures was gone. Other things seemed askew or damaged. She tried not to let her imagination paint a picture of Lawrence in a violent rage.
Her second surprise came when Juliana came over to welcome her. Larisa had expected her to be in tears, morose, angry or melancholy. She was anything but. She was bright-eyed and smiling. The smile was somewhat askew, like many things in the room, but it did not appear to be forced.
Juliana hospitably invited the Duchess to sit with her. She made disappointed noises about her having not brought baby John with her. She called for cakes and watered down wine from a servant, and turned animated back to Larisa. "Isn't it a fine day?" she bubbled.
Larisa asked her, "Aye, passing fine. Hast thou been outside? It is still somewhat chilly."
Juliana replied, "Nay, I preferest to stay here for the King mayst visit me at any time."
Larisa noticed that the Queen's medallion lay on the now mirror-less dressing table. The chain was broken. She examined the woman across from her at the small table for any sign of bruises or other signs of hurt, but she was radiant. Larisa was relieved that Lawrence had not sunk lower than he already had before.
She ventured, "Ah, then he visits thee often? I shouldst love to see Lorin so much during the day."
Juliana sparkled. "Not so much of late.. we had a misunderstanding and thou knowest men, he is off licking his wounds. He will be back. I knowest it."
Larisa relaxed a little. She had started to worry that the girl had begun to go mad or was living in a dream world. It looked as if she was simply optimistic about the King's returning to her bed. Larisa could not disavow her of this hope as she did not herself know what was in the King's mind. Her husband was not sharing much about it with her. She was curious but respected his choices in these matters. Lorin always knew what was best.
Larisa was not a gossip either. She turned the conversation to the lightest of matters. Later all she told her husband was that the courtesan was unharmed and seemingly perfectly content with her situation.
Lawrence was not sleeping well, as it might be expected, but he had found a quite effective anti-aphrodisiac when his thoughts naturally strayed to the rich liquor that was Juliana. He simply called to his mind's eye the image of Peter's agonized little face. Any rising ardor plummeted.
One night Lawrence lay in his camp bed in his bedchamber and fought to clear his mind of every distracting thought. He had had a fair amount of wine that evening, which helped him doze and finally drop off to sleep.
Juliana had arisen very early the following morning and positioned herself where she could see the page Clancy leave to prepare food for the King upon his awakening. She slipped in as the O'Neill's young brother went around a corner in the corridor and out of sight.
In the King's bedchamber the light from the dawn was just filtering in. The room was heated by a small fire in the large hearth which added to the dim light in the room. She looked about and saw the tapestry.. and almost cried aloud. No wonder then that Lawrence had taken it down before. But what did it mean that it was back up? She smiled bitterly. "Mind not, Juliana. She may be on the wall, but thou shalt be in his arms."
She went over to the sleeping King and leaned over him. The thought that she could grab something and bash in his brains crossed her mind, but only for a moment. Her love and desire overcame that easily. She looked at his slack sleeping face and the lines yet visible in them. She slipped off the robe she wore over her naked body and carefully lifted the blankets and moved in beside Lawrence. There was little room, but she did not want room. She wanted him to wake up to her body pressed against his head to toe.
The King stirred. Still asleep he automatically put his arm around her and nuzzled his face into her neck and hair. She wriggled against him and her hands began to search his body for all the spots he loved her to stroke and fondle. The wine of the night before must have had its desired effect, because the man still did not wake.. but his body began to.
Lawrence was dreaming. He walked with the Queen in a misty meadow hand in hand. In his dream he turned and found the Queen was naked, standing like a sylph on a green and flowered hill. He realized he too was unclothed. He went to the Queen who lifted her eyes to his. Radiance shone from them and lighted his own face. They wrapped arms which seemed to glow as well around each other and sank to the grass. In his dream Lawrence made love to Josephine. To his surprise the dream lady stopped him with a soft palm to his mouth as he leaned to kiss her. The sylph began to slide down his body to his groin. The glimmering golden hair of the Queen's head obscure what that head was doing but it was unmistakable. The surprise woke Lawrence with a start.
He woke disoriented and highly aroused. There really was someone here, someone soft and warm and silky. And the head was at his groin. But the hair that cascaded over his thighs was not golden but the darkest auburn. His need started to make him reach for the head and guide it, but then he came to himself. He jerked up on his elbows and cried, "Juliana, stop!"
Juliana lifted her face and smiled up at him, her lips moist. He could see his straining manhood. The woman languidly cooed, "Love, thou hast ne'er had this pleasure, have ye? It is one of my many talents thou knowest not the half of." She started to go back to her task. The King pulled himself up and the camp bed being so narrow Juliana could not help but tumble off onto the floor.
The King was quickly up and leaning over her. "Juliana, are thou all right? I beg thee to forgive me. I didst not mean to push thee."
Juliana sat on the floor dazed and her pride, but nothing else, seriously hurt. She struggled mightily to keep her composure. She wanted beyond all things save one to strike out at the man. She briefly considered screaming and telling rescuers the King had tried to kill her. But she immediately knew that even if this worked to shame him, that shame would drive him even farther from her arms. She took a deep breath and looked up at him languidly. She stretched her legs and arched her back a little.
"Good my lord, I am not hurt. Just surprised. Thou wert enjoying my ministrations so. Mayst we not go back to t hem."
Lawrence could not resist watching her as she moved her body sensuously for his pleasure. He lifted her from the floor, which meant she could push her body into his. He struggled for his visual mantra.. and it came. Peter looked at him with his tear-stained face from the day in the garden. Juliana who had reached to stroke him was dismayed at his deflation.
"Lady, I hath told thee not to come to me." Lawrence was angry.
"But my lord, my love, thou comest not to me!" she protested.
The King reached for a cloak to wrap about his shirt and bare legs. "Juliana, it is over. I shall ne'er be but grateful to thee for thy love for me and for thy friendship... but it cannot go on."
Juliana sprung to her feet. "My love and friendship?~" she cried. "And not the searing passions we twain have shared?" She struck out at him. He easily avoided the blow. "Perhaps those who saith thou art not a man are right," she flung at him.
She instantly knew her anger had gotten the best of her. She subsided, stepped back and sat on the small bed. She bowed her head and began, quite sincerely, to weep. The King wavered, instinctually wanting to go to her and comfort her, but he resisted knowing it could well be his undoing.
He stood there uncertain. "My lady, I have hurt thee most sorely. I canst not forgive myself for that or for the many other hurts I have done to all who care for me." He began to move away, continuing, "Thou hast done nothing that thou mayst be blamed for. I have forgotten my responsibility to my children and my kingdom. "
Juliana looked at him and pleaded, "Nay, sire, many great men, princes and kings among them, take mistresses. As I hath said to thee, great men have powerful needs. Thou mayst not be criticized for taking me to thy bed."
He looked back at her sorrowfully. "That mayst or mayst not be, but it was wrong to bring thee here and rub my lady's nose in my faithlessness."
Juliana shot at him, "Thou didst use me! Thou thinkest not of thy kingdom and thy children, "she threw out in a mocking voice. She gestured to the tapestry. "Thou brought me here to hurt that lady and for that reason alone."
Lawrence followed her angry look to the tapestry. His face was full of self loathing. He turned back to Juliana. "Thou art right in part. But that damage is done, and now must I do right and attend to my kingdom. A King may not be merely a man. He must resist petty passions and revenge."
Juliana knew his story as well as anyone in the British Isles. "Resist petty passions and revenge?" She scoffed. "It appears to me, sirrah, thou art more ruled by them than by any sense of duty. Thou simply will not face it. Thou hidest what is plain to all others. That last tapestry panel is left undone.. what shouldst go on it, my liege?" She stood, still naked, and strode to the last panel. "Hmm, maybe it should show thee poisoning the knight she took to her bed. Or mayhap show her in embrace with the Breton while the tall minstrel looks on. Or mayhap it shouldst depict thee handing over thy little bastard Tavish to her arms..."
The mention of the child he had had with the aptly named Lachrimae stung him. But it also struck the one spot in him that Juliana must not aim for, his duty to his children. It also brought to his mind how gently and lovingly Josephine had taken infant Tavish into her own nursery, a most noble and generous gesture of love for him.
He spat, " Lady, cover thyself."
He left her and returned moments later with a guard. The man tried to keep his composure as he found himself in the King's chamber facing the naked woman. She looked terrified. The King commanded him to take the lady to her rooms. He advanced and she grabbed up her robe and wrapped it around herself. He reached out for her arm, but she slipped away and threw herself at the King's bare feet. "Lawrence, Lawrence, do this not! I am sorry, so sorry. I love thee, Lawrence, with every part of me. Dost thou not know it?" She clung to his legs as he tried to pull away.
The King said nothing, but he looked at the guard who knew what the look meant and reached down to pull the woman up and off the King. Juliana wailed and would not stand. The guard literally had to lift and carry her out through the fore room where Clancy stood dumbfounded with a tray in his hands. Juliana stopped struggling and fell limp against the guard's chest.
Lawrence looked at Clancy, who whirled and made himself busy setting out the King's breakfast.
Lawrence stood in front of the tapestry crushed by her protestations of love. He believed her.. he knew she was not lying. He was growing weary of broken hearts. He barked at Clancy, "Make an end to that. Get me the Duke."
In her bedchamber Juliana lay on her bed. She wept into the pillow. She must think of something she could do to save herself from being sent away. He clearly could resist her... how came that to be? But she knew so long as she was ensconced in Lawrencium's Castle of Sunshine the tongues would wag, the Queen would stay away, and she longed for that assurance.
Later that same morning Sir Percy watched the Duchess and her ladies making Jocelyn his wife more comfortable in bed. Her laying in was upon them any day now. He worried and hovered. Jocelyn finally laughed and said, "Oh my dear, please go out and do something, hunt, practice with thy sword, go riding, anything. Take thy weary mind away and let it rest."
Percy had started to protest but Larisa also shooed him out of the room. "Worry not, good sir. We shall find thee and tell thee if her time comes upon her."
Percy walked through the corridor not sure what to do when he caught sight of Peter coming towards him humming one of Rory's romantic ballads. A thought came to him.. "Highness," he called to Peter. "Wouldst thou grant me thy company on an errand in the city?"
Peter nodded happily. Percy was his sword master and he would soon be made his page and train to be his squire. Peter wanted out of the castle anyway, to get air and get away from the tension.
The two young nobleman walked spiritedly through the gates and onto the short road to the town. "Where are we going, Sir Percy?" Peter asked.
Percy looked at his young charge and smiled. "My lady Jocelyn is about to bear our child. I wisheth to ask Rory McGuinness to write a song about her as a present."
Peter thought this was a fine idea. "But where is he? I have not seen him or the O'Neill for many weeks. I thought they had left Lawrencium."
Percy responded, "Nay, thy father the King forbad that." He thought better of making any reference to the troubles of late but Peter's face betrayed no shock. He went on. "Shannon moved into rooms o'er a tavern and Rory moved with him." Peter accepted the news and skipped alongside the knight into the town.
At the Blue Lady Percy inquired as to whether the O'Neill and his friend were upstairs while Peter inspected the tavern with some curiosity. The buxom wench turned her face away from the young knight and stammered, "Ay, the Irishmen do live here... I know not if they are in their rooms."
"Never mind," Percy said. "Highness, come, we shall look for them in the town." Peter skipped out happily, looking forward to inspecting Lawrencium, a freedom he rarely had.
They strode the narrow winding and dirty streets, trying to avoid the more disgusting items thrown into it, Peter all the while delighted with the squalor of it all. Percy caught sight of Shannon. He was at the corner of a small cottage leaning a girl back against its wall. He said, "Peter, wait here a minute please." Peter looked up with interest, and reluctantly held back.
Percy approached where Shannon was toying with the young woman's bodice, letting a stray finger trace the cleavage of her breasts above. She was not resisting. He was singing lightly and she was listening. She squirmed a bit against him but it was not out of a desire to flee.
The minstrel turned when he heard his name called, "O'Neill!" He let the wench loose and turned to Percy.
"Sure and well met, Sir knight," he said.
As Percy explained his errand, Peter unable to restrain his curiosity, came up behind the knight. Shannon smiled fondly and nodded to the boy. "Ah, there he is, the young king," he said. Peter beamed. Then he shyly looked around the men to peek at the wench who stood with her hands on her hips and grinned knowingly at him.
Shannon smiled mischievously at the boy, but then his face changed. He shot his eyes back to Percy. The man had been saying something about needing to talk to Rory., His mind raced as he tried to think how he could keep the young knight from discovering that Rory had gone in search of the Queen.
Percy caught the look and pressed, "O'Neill, what is this? Where is Rory?"
Shannon had rehearsed various half truths and outright lies to hide his friend's flight, but none came to him now. Percy pressed and Shannon stammered. Peter dragged his attention from the girl and looked at the two men with surprise.
Percy simply stated, his brow dark and his glare darker. "He's gone, is he not? Thou knowest the King hath forbade it. "
Shannon retorted, "The King hath done many foolish things of late, don't ye know?"
Percy started to draw his sword but relaxed. He shot a look in Peter's direction, bringing Shannon back to himself. "How long has he been gone," the young knight demanded. Shannon just started to whistle a tune. He turned and walked away, with a quick wink at the prince, and the boy saw the wench looking after him disappointed.
Peter urged, "Sir Percy, we need to tell Father."
Percy nodded, and the two turned and headed for the castle.
Next: Back to Bo and Rory
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