It was sad to leave their brief oasis. Elerde would have liked to stay longer at Malcolm's stronghold but knew that any time he wasted in Britain was time that his enemies could take advantage of. The fortnight he and Josephine had stolen was risk enough. Should they encounter Rory or any other friend of the court of Lawrence on their way to the sea, he could be assured of overcoming him but not of the sight of her dear ones overcoming her conviction that the only life she had was with Elerde.
As they set off on horse alone Elerde looked at the Queen. In her riding clothes she was as beautiful as he had ever seen her, save in his arms in bed. She was animated, lively, chattering about the countryside they rode through. The knight hid his inner turmoil. The presentiment of failure and loss had crept in slowly. This hold he had on her seemed tenuous, reliant on keeping her from thinking of all that she had left behind in Christenlande. Aye, she seemed happy, but that happiness had a gossamer thread holding it to her heart.
They traveled alone to avoid as much curiosity as they could manage. He remained in his armor and held himself with a knightly bearing so none should think of molesting them. They would make their steady way to the sea where the smugglers were to meet them and take them across to Calais. Then home to Brittany. Home to start life with his beloved.
How long had it been since he first cast his eyes on her at Lawrence's side, first felt her capture his heart? Years. When he first caught the gaze from his dearest that told him she had come to love and want him too he had been unable to believe his good fortune. He waited patiently for her to declare herself so he could spirit her away. Then he had become aware of Duke Gaylorde's nefarious plans and positioned himself to appear to ally with the grim duke all the while keeping watch over the Queen and as best he could over the imprisoned Lawrence.
How he had ached to see the bitter hate Josephine had turned on him then, unaware of his real purpose. When Lawrence had been freed and Gaylorde had been defeated he had awaited his own punishment, knowing that none would credit his subterfuge, the least of whom would be his lady.... Mayhap it was time for death to free him of this hopeless dream of her. Then he had been exonerated and the King and Queen had come to him together grateful for his stalwart defense of them. Elerde remembered a bittersweet despair, having slipped his only release from the pain he felt.
The Queen then had let her love come out and be known to all, even her royal husband. It had baffled Elerde how the King could just sit and seethe with hurt and resentment as he watched his lady wife turn longing eyes to the Breton. He imagined that the man took what little strength he could from the fact that she might long for the knight, but he still had her in his bed. Elerde tried to live for the moment, taking long walks with his Josephina, occasionally trying to touch or kiss her. She had alluded him.
Then came the confrontation when the King's patience had reached its extremity. Elerde escaped to Brittany with his head still firmly attached to his shoulders, but with his heart torn and bleeding at the feet of a lady in Christenlande.
Elerde did not know how once the knight was away from Lawrencium matters between the King and his Josephina had worsened. The King grew more and more bitter as he realized his wife still bore a love for the Breton. Nothing Lawrence could do would salve the pain of her faithless heart. He had gone himself to the diplomatic city rather than sending an agent in order to get away from Josephine's dreamy sighs. Lawrence had hoped the time apart from him would bring her back but instead he himself had found another who could make him forget.
Since his exile to his own lands Elerde had dreamed of his beloved but had no hope of ever seeing her again. When he heard of her flight and then found her in that dale, he had felt that life was beginning again. When she had responded to his lovemaking with such hunger and passion he had been struck almost breathless. The moment he had taken her in his arms and entered her, he had known a disbelieving moment of sheer rapture.. here he was, in the most intimate act of love, with the woman whose body and sexuality had been a delicious but unattainable mystery to him.
Perhaps it was the long years of hopeless love that made him now think that some doom awaited their current happiness. He knew he could only ride, watchful and try to be prepared for whatever might come between them.
Josephine turned to her Breton knight and asked him, "My darling, wilt thou tell me tales of thy adventures?" Her mind constantly needed to be occupied to banish thoughts that would weaken her resolve and send her headlong into the despair she tenuously held at bay.
Elerde was more than content to oblige. He told her of mercenary service for the Franks, where the young Carolus sought to bring together the discordant tribes of Gaul. He told her of battles with marauding Northmen on the coasts of Brittany, Normandy and Flanders. He carefully left out place names as he told her of his service to Christenlande and the skirmishes with the armies of Avonshire and Mercia.
For herself Josephine showed a lively interest in everything he said. She pressed for details, made much of his skill and courage, and said little that related to herself at all.
All the while as they headed east by southeast Elerde kept his eyes on every traveler, paying particular attention to those dressed in clerical garb or in the colorful bands of a minstrels cloak.
The nights they spent in inns, where he gave out the story that he was an pilgrim knight traveling with his good lady wife to a holy shrine in Christenlande. The others whom he addressed cast speculative looks at the lady but kept their tongues.
In their rooms he held her tight and had he been a man who prayed would have pleaded with the Lord God to let him hold her just one more day, one more night.
One morning he told her, "We shall come to the crossroads late this day. There we shall be met by a boat to take us across to Calais." Josephine guessed the crossroads was the very one she had forced her servants to turn back from. This time she lowered her gaze so her knight could not see the trepidation in her eyes. As hard as she had fought to hold back her longing for her children and her lord the King, she knew now that she would make the final leap.. burn the bridge that would take them forever from her.
Elerde cast a sorrowful look at the turned head of the lady as they set out on horse for their journey's final leg on that fair and sceptred isle of Britain.
Next: Elerde books passage
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