Back to before Elerde found the queen.
Lawrence looked into the room. Juliana was propped up in bed, apparently dozing. He came in and went over to her side. "Juliana?" he said softly.
Her dark eyes fluttered open and pierced into his heart.. or perhaps a bit south of there. She looked delighted to see him. "My lord, my dear lord!" He sat and carefully took her hand.
""Juliana," he started, then closed his mouth and just looked at her. The look was concerned, tinged with regret.
Juliana took the cue and began to weep. "Oh. Lawrence, Lawrence, I be so grieved to give thee this trouble."
He stopped her with a gentle touch on her lips with his fingertips. "Do not thou be so silly. Thou hast nothing to be sorry for. It is thy trouble too."
Juliana relaxed a little but continued, "What will become of me? What will become of my child..." She paused. "Thy child.?"
Lawrence's eyes betrayed some warmth in his heart. "Worry not, lady. Thou shalt stay here and be cared for. Thou shalt want for nothing."
The woman held her face in her hands but took a peek at the King's own face between her fingers. "Then good my lord, when the child is born?"
Lawrence sighed. "We shall find some solution then, dear lady. Thou must rest and take care of thine own self now. "
Juliana's heart leapt at his use of the word "dear." "Lawrence?" she said softly?
The King looked down at her.
"Wilt thou but hold me a while?" She gazed up at him hopefully.
He replied with a dull, "Nay."
Her heart fell. She tried something else. "Wilt thou sit with me a while?"
He looked at her again. "Aye."
Juliana smiled and pretended to go to sleep. She occasionally sighed or moaned then peeked to see the effect her soft utterances had on the man. She saw that he continued to sit mournful and distant. Her own heart was uneasy. She wanted him to love her again, as she still loved him. She would do whatever it took.
She knew that at some point all in the castle would come to realize the lady was not in fact with child. She would think what to do about that later. In the meantime she sought the man's heart through what she had come to know was something he valued... his children. And she knew the news of her feigned pregnancy would travel.. straight to a pair of delicate ears that would not welcome the news.
Meanwhile Sir Elerde rode into a village on the border between Christenlande and Trent. He knew of the King's lofty effort at creating a place where princes and chieftains could work out disputes. When he had been told he smiled cynically. He knew that the only thing in these times that could settle such quarrels was what would happen in fact in only a few decades when Egbert of Wessex used military might to create the first true English kingdom.
He found a bed and provisions in the village and set out on foot to walk about and see if he could gather information. He was not hopeful. It was unlikely Josephine would have come west, particularly not through Trent, the home of her rival. But he had no better task to his hand so he strolled, attracting attention as he did.
Two old people were drawing water from the well at the villages common. The woman looked up and gasped. She tugged on the old man's sleeve. He looked up, "What is it, Matilda?" He saw the knight. "Elerde!" he cried.
Elerde instantly turned his considering eyes to the well and saw the pair. He instantly recognized them as servants of the Queen's./ In a flash he realized these must be the two who rode with her when she fled Lawrencium months before. He saw the couple drop their bucket and start to hurry away.
Elerde strode around the other side of the hut they ran behind and met them sword drawn. They stopped in their tracks, trembling. The Breton knight just said, "Well met, good man and woman. It has been... how long?"
Terrified, they said nothing. Elerde pressed on. "Unless that King of thine hath cast out the Queen's servants, the only reason that cometh to my mind that thou should both be here is if thou were the twain who fled with her.. and now must hide far from the King's eyes."
Thomas started to protest, but the knight just tilted his sword tip higher. "Where is she?" he asked, expressionless.
Matilda said in hushed but frightened voice, "Good sir, we know not. She bade us leave her at a harbor where a ship lay at anchor."
Elerde pursued, "Which harbor?"
Thomas broke in. "We know not, sir, believe us. We know not the name of the place."
Elerde's face betrayed impatience. "Well, then, you idiot, how long did it take thee and my lady to ride there? And didst thou ride straight or meander?"
Matilda tried to stop Thomas from replying but her gesture had no effect. "We didst ride straight, stopping only for shelter at night. My lady was keen to prevent discovery so she stayed as quiet and small as a little mouse. It took us more than a fortnight I'll warrant. Mayhap eighteen, nineteen days."
Elerde lowered his sword. "What was the land like, where thou left the Queen?"
Thomas described low hills and a rocky shore. "But, my lord, it mattered not. The lady was bound to France by ship. She went... to thee?" The old man looked uncertainly at the knight. "Did she not?"
Elerde did not answer. He leaned In and warned, "Do not think to tell anyone thou saw me. I thou dost I will find out and thou shalt pay. "
Thomas croaked, "We swear it!" A damp spot had appeared down the inside of one of the old man's leggings. Elerde let the couple go. They scampered away.
He turned to his lodging and had the innkeeper make up a parcel of food and drink. He informed the man that he would not after all spend the night but make for the north road immediately. He had his horse saddled and h e mounted. He knew that by triangulating he could get to Affynshire, where he knew the Queen was bound, before any others could. He smiled. "The Queen is not safe. I may take her with my knave. Then... checkmate."
In the dale in Affynshire Josephine, or Jo as she insisted she be called, carried the milk buckets from the barn. She appreciated the hard work. It kept her too tired to think, to remember. Her slender white hands were calloused and stained. Her skin had become tanned. Her hair was unkempt under its scarf and had hay sticking out of it.
As she turned the corner to take the milk to the little cottage she saw Athelstan and a strange man talking by the road. The trough where she was to pour the milk for cheese making was closer to them, behind the hedge. The men did not see her as she went to it. She started to pour it when she heard Athelstan affecting idle curiosity. "So what be the latest rumor from Lawrencium? Hath they found the Queen? Thou knowest she was from this land?"
Jo listened. "Aye," said the stranger. I knew. They hath not found her. They say she went to Brittany with that knight. I do not recall the man's name. I heard that the King forbade anyone to go to look for her." He winked at the old man. "Methinks he doth not care to find where she is bedded."
Athelstan repressed a rebuke. No sense making this fellow suspicious why he would defend the lady under such circumstances.
He inquired further. "And the bawd?"
Jo's heart froze as she waited to hear the answer. In the little time she had when not working or sleeping she had daydreamed of returning to Lawrencium. She feared the King would not accept her but would have to let her stay for their children's sake. She now hoped she would hear that Juliana was gone.
"Oh, she be there yet. The King has fought with many young knights to defend her.. honor. And there is more news. There is a rumor that the bawd is with child."
The men turned at Jo's cry. She quickly made some excuse about spilling the milk and rushed away.
There was no going back then. Jo ran to her quiet spot in the woods and wept and wept. It truly was all over. It mattered not now what she did. She would never see the children again, at least as long as Lawrence lived. Her eyes welled over anew as she thought of the long years growing old and waiting to hear the sad news of her love's passing. She was inconsolable.
Next: That Ship Has Sailed
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