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
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Juliana Series: Juliana's Plot, Part III (Outtakes)
The King stood at the tall window of his chamber. In only an hour he would face the courtesan Juliana and decide her guilt and fate. He sighed and crossed his arms, bowing his head in thought.
His earliest memory of the dark-haired dark-eyed girl had been not long before his uncle had tried to overthrow the throne of Christenlande. Lawrence smiled wistfully as he recalled that his mother and father were both still alive then, as were his brothers, Arneth and Roland, and his sister, Laurel, sometimes called Lorelei. In just a year and all were dead, either in battle or from illness and broken hearts. All save himself. He imagined the days when sword play and idle flirtation were the boys' recreation in a land that knew peace.. Juliana had been part of that. Shy and sweet, she was his sister's constant companion and had acquired an infatuation with the King's middle son. He himself had made light of it, flirting, making her cry once in a while, occasionally stealing an innocent kiss.
Them had come the war. His father had been killed first. Defending him his brother, the heir apparent , had also been struck down by his own uncle. Young Lawrence had taken revenge, his own uncle his first kill in battle. Lawrence, who had never thought of being king, now had to face his future. When he returned to the capital, later named for him "Lawrencium", he found that his mother had died and that his little sister was dying. Juliana had been there at her side, nursing her. The two of them held her hands when she took her last breath.
The coronation. A modest affair given all the grief and horror all about them. Lawrence, only 18, ascended to his father's throne, with a new bride by his side. Down from Affynshire had come a lovely girl, Josephine, the daughter of his father's closest and most loyal ally and his promised wife since they were both children. Love blossomed between them quickly. Almost forgotten was the girl Juliana. Lawrence made a good marriage for her and they did not see each other for almost ten years, ten years that were full of war and betrayal for both the kingdom and the royal couple.
Then that day in Derby. Lawrence, the author of the plan to use the diplomatic city to bring kingdoms, principalities and duchies together, had happened on his sister's friend, now a professional courtesan. She had explained how her husband's unwise political ambitions had made him flee the kingdom, leaving her few options. Lawrence befriended her again. Then the pain in his marriage and some intoxicating power of Juliana's dark and velvet sexuality had combined to pull him under and to take charge of him.
The stories that had made the rounds about Lawrence's decision to bring Juliana to Lawrencium were only true in the basics. He did bring her, he did seat her at the high table, and an incident between her and the Queen had caused the royal lady to flee first from the table and then from Lawrence's life. Looking back Lawrence could finally shed some light for himself on what prompted the mad impulse to present Josephine with a rival in her own home. First, he was mesmerized by the lovemaking Juliana and he shared. His time with Juliana had shown him a woman who could meet all his needs, physical yes, but also intellectual and as a trusted confidante and friend. The Queen so much a child in her ways, was his love, but he craved the companionship he found with the courtesan. That combined with a suppressed desire to strike back at the Queen for her own infidelities and a silly schoolboy notion that he could somehow "get away with it" conspired to make Lawrence do the most unwise and dangerous thing of his life.
Unbeknownst to Lawrence, the Queen had found out about Juliana before his return with the lady on his arm. She for her turn was stunned at both the cruelty and the sheer impropriety of what Lawrence had done. She was humiliated before her friends and the court. She drifted through the ceremonies of homecoming, numb and unable to act. At the infamous dinner, Juliana had not in fact thrown a cup of wine at the Queen. A tense moment had turned what started as a toast into a nearly comic slapstick wherein Juliana's cup flew from her hand and splashed the front of the Queen's gown. The Queen had naturally left to change, but decided to stay in her chamber and not return to the dinner. It was this choice that had angered Lawrence, who was suffering from an onrush of revelations about the colossal idiocy of his actions. When they fought about the incident, he had turned on his heels and gone to Juliana. And had never again seen the Queen who fled that night.
Now Lawrence looked back over what had happened to himself and Juliana in the months that had elapsed since that night. He had continued to sink himself into her, to suck out all the rich and heady passion he had with her until his very court began to think him mad or bewitched. A bitter confrontation between him and his oldest son Peter had brought the King to himself. The girl was cast off, bound to be married off to a poor but ambitious knight. When she revealed she carried the King's child, he had had to let her stay until her child was born. And now he faced the consequences of all the missteps that led to this moment.
He was shaken from his reverie by a rap at the door. "Come," he commanded. Lorin entered and made a sign that indicated it was time to go to the throne room and sit in judgment on that little girl who had played with Laurel. Lorin had some papers in his hand. "Are those the decisions of the advisory jury?" he asked.
"Aye, my lord." Lorin handed them to the king. Lawrence's eyes could not seem to focus. Lorin almost instinctively stepped in to ease the man's difficulty. The decision was quite divided. The Princes, who made up a large number of those who sat in judgment called for execution by beheading. An almost equal number were split between imprisonment and some other form of captivity. It shall have to be thy decision. It is just too close." Lorin paused. "I am sorry, Lawrence. "
The King noted grimly that no mention had been made of guilt or innocence.
He nodded and strode out of the room and down to the throne room to make his decision. He took his seat, with the Queen's empty throne beside him, and looked out over the company. Many grim faces met his own, as well as not a few grinning curiosity seekers from among the courtiers. And there, being led to stand before him, was Juliana. He ordered her hands unbound. He saw she was draped in Shannon's cloak. But Shannon was nowhere to be seen.
It was almost impossible to match the broken and despairing woman before him with the slight, dark and timid girl who had tried to hide behind his even smaller sister when he first caught site of her in the old castle. He suspected that if she was thinking much the same, she was having trouble seeing the boy, both earnest and playful, that she formed an infatuation for and stood together with each holding her friend's and his sister's hands as she died.
Lorin stepped forward to begin the proceedings. He pulled a scroll from the folds of his cloak and read, "Lady Juliana, late of Trent, thou art accused of conspiring to cause the death of Josephine our Queen by poison and for perpetrating a fraudulent claim of fatherhood upon the King for a child that was not in fact conceived. These both constitute a crime against the kingdom, the crown and the person of the King." He looked up at Juliana, then nodded.
Juliana's advocate, a scrawny cleric who looked as if he were the one about to be tried, responded to Lorin's call for a plea after the charges were read against the prisoner. "The Lady Juliana confesses her guilt and submits to the mercy of the King."
Lawrence looked at her lowered eyes and asked gently, "Is that thy plea, Juliana?"
She looked up into his own eyes and kept his gaze for a moment. "Aye," she breathed.
"Wilt thou make no defense?" he pursued, causing some stir among those in attendance.
"Nay," she simply replied.
Lawrence's face was grave. "Then I have no choice but to find thee guilty of these crimes." She dropped her eyes. Lawrence looked to Lorin to continue with the traditions.
The Duke recited, "Having been found guilty of high crimes which constitute treason, Juliana of Trent, wilt thou hear thy sentence?"
"Nay!" came a shout from one of the people who stood nearby. "The prisoner has a right to have those who love and cherish her speak for her!" Jocelyn pressed forward with little Jolie in her arms. Percy stood behind them both, tall and straight.
Lorin looked at the King. "Let them speak," Lawrence ordered.
Percy spoke. "Mine own dear lady and wife and our little child are here to see this sad day only because that lady didst step into save them." Jocelyn voiced her own conviction, all the while weeping. Little Jolie set up a thin wail.
Then the Duchess, Larisa, stepped forward, "My liege, this is a lady driven by circumstance to a mad act. Thou knowest she is not evil. Thou must not put her to death."
Lorin, who had stood with his head bowed, walked to his wife's side and turned to face the King. "My liege, I stand with my wife. This lady has been kind and thoughtful to her and to our child. I know she hath been in extremis. I cannot rest in good conscience without asking for clemency for her."
"Aye, and though I was the man who exposed her scheme," came the O'Neill's voice from somewhere unseen until he strode forward, "I know the lady to be driven to this terrible point by the selfishness and heedless actions of a man." He hesitated, "By men who thought more of their own desires than of the welfare of her, of their own wives and children and their own responsibilities." He stared straight into Lawrence's eyes. Lawrence stared back.
Jocelyn pressed forward, and knelt at Lawrence's feet. She held Jolie to him and cried, "Oh my lord, for this little one's sake, do not take this good lady's life."
All fell silent save for the quiet sobbing of Jocelyn and the thin wail of the baby. Lawrence sat and looked at them all. All eyes were on him. Then he looked at Juliana. She stood trembling, her head bent well over her breast.
"Stand and hear thy fate, lady," Lawrence said flatly. Juliana drew herself up and looked him in the eye.
He sighed and began. "Lady.. that is, Juliana, for whate'er fault you alone possess or I and others might share with thee, didst make a plan to kill the woman who is Queen of this nation, the mother of its heirs and my own beloved and much wronged wife." He paused. "For that I should put thee to death and be done." He silenced growing murmuring with a look.
He stood and Jocelyn moved aside with her baby. Lawrence strode to Juliana and looked into her eyes. "Aye, thou must pay for the hurt thou hath done or wished to do. But that punishment shall not be death. Thy crime was not the plotted usurping of a throne or the overthrow of a crown through secret acts of high treason. I can ne'er forgive thee for the threat to my Josephine. If I couldst go back and stop every act that led to the point where thou didst despair and begin to plot evil, I would. But even I, the king, cannot."
He looked long into her eyes. "Lady Juliana of Trent, I sentence thee to confinement in the Convent of our Lady of Penitence for the rest of thy natural life. Pray for me, Juliana. I shall pray for thee."
Juliana stood quite still with an absent look on her pale face. The King turned and left the room. Lorin called., "So hath the crown decreed." And the trial was over.
In the morning when Larisa and Jocelyn, as well as Percy, Lorin and others, came to her cell with the guards who would convey her to the convent, they all found the cell empty. Shannon who had held to the back of the group smiled and said, "Fare thee well, dubhín."
So.. who sprung 'er? You tell me. I never decided.
Next: The story ain't over yet...