The King looked up as Lorin entered the counsel chamber. "Ah, Lorin, just the man I didst hope to see."
Lorin smiled and bowed slightly. He had seen much improvement in the King's demeanor of late. He had successfully put Juliana out of his mind, at least as one could observe. He of course still seemed somber much of the time, but just over the past few days he seemed to have a new spark, as if he had some hope in something.
"Aye, your majesty?"
Lawrence called Lorin to come and stand next to where he had been looking at a large map. "I have sent servants to Ratherwood to make it ready to receive the Queen and the children."
Lorin looked up at his brother-in-law quickly, his mouth open and his look stunned. "Have you found her and communicated with her, my lord?" His own efforts so far to locate his sister and make sure she was all right had not borne fruit as far as he knew. But Lorin had been constrained by the need to keep his own efforts secret from the King.
Lawrence put an arm around his shoulders, "Ah, I beg your pardon. Lorin. Nay, I have not. I am making these arrangements for when we do hear from your sister. I am sorry I got your hopes up for a moment." Lorin nodded and bowed his head, saying nothing.
The King went on. "What I hath done is send out some men to begin to make inquiries about her. I knew not where to send them, alyough I knoweth from Erik that she hath not crossed the sea. So I had to send many men in many directions." He looked at the Duke, who had not raised his eyes, with some growing suspicion. "I suppose I shouldst have spoken to you first. You mayst have had some knowledge of the lady and her mind that I had not or wouldst not consider." He kept his gaze on Lorin. "Aye?"
Lorin looked up at the King. In a flat voice he replied, "Aye, my lord." He could not read Lawrence's expression.
Lawrence lay the map down on the table and turned to his wife's brother. "How long ago didst you send to find her?" he asked.
Lorin did not dissemble. "Just a fortnight before we found that McGuinness had gone to search for her." He went on, "My lord, I beg your understanding and forgiveness. She is my sister. I only sorrow that I did not send to find her sooner. I went against your wishes. "
"You defied a royal command," the King said sharply. His face softened. "But I am grateful you sent at all. Poor man, you must have felt you had to be Duke and King and all for the kingdom. And you a king in your own right had your Kingdom not fallen." A look of recognition flashed past his eyes. "Affynshire, your rightful kingdom. That is where Josephine wouldst hie herself? Is that so?"
Lorin kept his head bowed. "You art more than gracious, my lord. I didst deceive you and willfully. " At Lawrence's irritated wave of a hand, he went on, "Aye, Affynshire. There was a dale where we wouldst be sent as children ere our parents were murdered. We resided on a farm and spent the summer away from the castle running about like wild things and helping on the farm."
Lawrence gave a small laugh. "Farm work and my dearest Josephine... that I shouldst like to have seen. She can be complicated, can she not?" He went back to the table and rifled through some maps and pulled one out that stretched far to the north. "Where is it? And that is whence you sent your agents?"
Lorin pointed to where, as best he knew, the dale would be. He had been but a lad himself the last time he was there. "Aye, that is the region where I told the man to go."
Lawrence looked up worried, "Save but one fellow? Was that wise?"
Lorin looked sadly at the King. "I didst think any more wouldst be unwise, given your state of mind, begging your leave, my lord." The King gave him a pained look.
As Lorin was about to apologize yet again, the King went on. "Nay, you art saying the truth. I hath been a quite spectacular idiot. It seemeth that every possible error I could make I found leave to do so and this is but one of the many that drovest that lady from mine arms and our children." Lawrence looked grave and walked over to a bench, sitting down and putting his head in his hands. "E'en this. Your fear of my wrath made you hesitate to search for her and then to send but one man." He looked up at Lorin with a frankly disgusted face. "It seemeth those that defy me are mine most faithful subjects. Methinks a wise man hath said this to me ere now."
He rose again and came back to the maps. "Aye, well that die is cast by howe'er a colossal fool. Mayhap we can put this to rights, after a fashion. Whate'er else I do, my brother, I pledge that I shall speak to you first. Had I yought to do this ere I returned from Trent, we shouldst not be in the grief I brought upon us all now."
It was Lorin's turn to put his arm around the taller man's shoulder. "Dear brother, you art right to say that die is cast. And now we must needs go on and try to make the best of a bad thing." He tried to smile at his morose liege lord. "There is one small boon in all that hath happened.
Lawrence gave the Duke an astonished look. "What say you, man? What possible good hath come of all this misery?"
Lorin said quietly, "Jolie. Wiyout Juliana here, she and her dear mother wouldst not also be."
Lawrence also tried to smile. "Aye, and that mayst be a goodly exchange.. so long as mine own lady is safe. Let us go ahead with what best we can do to bring back some sort of good from this. I ne'er expect to see the Queen again, and ne'er to have her in mine arms. But if we can find her we mayst be able to give her back to the little ones I drove her from."
Lorin patted Lawrence on the back as he nodded.
"My lord?" came the voice from the doorway of Duke Lorin's study. He looked up at his servant and nodded. "My lord, a young page wisheth to speak with you."
"Whose page?" Lorin inquired.
"Begging your pardon, sir, he is not from here. He saith he had come from Affynshire with a message from a great lady."
The Duke sat up quickly. "Show him in, and be quick about it." The servant bowed low, startled by the even-tempered Duke's sharp tone. He left and quickly returned with a boy of no more than thirteen or fourteen, dressed in a livery Lorin did not recognize, head to toe in mud and road dust. He gestured to a spot across from his desk and told his servant to bring the boy a stool so he could rest himself.
The boy took the proffered seat tentatively sitting on the edge and wrapping skinny ankles around the legs and crossbars. He looked terrified. Lorin offered him a goblet with wine and water. The boy took it gratefully and drank it down in noisy gulps.
"Lad," Lorin began, "hath you walked all this way?"
The boy wiped his chin with a dirty sleeve, leaving a dirty streak under his lower lip. "Aye, sire. I mean, nay sire."
Lorin stopped him. "I am not the King boy. Wert you meant to speak to the King?"
"Nay, sire. I mean, sir. My lord. I was meant to speak to Duke Lorin. "
"All right. That is I. What didst you say, you walked but you dist not walk. Make yourself clear, boy."
The boy squirmed in his seat. "Aye, sire, sir. I was meant to walk but I didst ride a bit with some traveling players. I yought it no harm."
Lorin stood and came around to face the boy, leaning against the desk with his legs crossed at the ankles. "Aye, no harm. You saith you were meant to walk. Who told you?"
Now the boy looked more uncomfortable than ever. "I.. I.. I " he stammered, "am not supposed to say, sir."
Lorin sighed, "Calm down, boy. You shalt not be hurt. Tell me what you wert sent to say to me." Lorin leaned towards the boy.
The boy looked dubious but somewhat calmer. He closed his eyes for a moment and recited, "I am to tell Duke Lorin that a great lady who is his sister is all right and that he shouldst not worry about her." Message delivered, he opened his eyes and almost smiled.
Lorin stayed in the position, leaning back on the desk but with his upper torso inclined forward. He stared at the boy. "My sister. You art certain?"
"Aye, sir, that is what I was told."
Lorin cast a youghtful look inward. "Wert told. She told you. What great lady?"
The boy repeated "your sister."
Lorin stood and walked around to the back of his desk again.
The boy just stared. "Describe her, sir?"
"Aye. What did she look like?"
The boy replied, "Look like, sir? I know not. I didst not see her."
"But the message was from her. Aye?"
"Aye, sir. " He looked longingly at the jug of wine and Lorin poured him more wine and water.
"How dost you know that the message was from the lady?" Lorin asked as the boy slurped his wine. Lorin reached for the goblet and took it away. "That's enough, lad. No need to get drunk and not be able to tell me all."
"But sir," the boy said, this time licking the drops from his dirty chin, making a little grimace at the taste of the mixture of dirt and wine. "I have already given you the whole message."
"Answer my question, lad. How knowest you the message is from a lady." Lorin pressed with all the patience in his reserve.
"He said so, sir."
"Who said so?"
"The man who gave me the message." It took a moment for the boy to work out that he had said more than he was meant to. He looked like he might start to cry.
"Now, now, lad, it is all right. No one sadist you could not tell me what you saw, did they?" Lorin offered him an out.
"N-o-oo," the page responded uncertainly.
"So this man who gave you the message from the great lady who is my sister... was he a very big man, very tall and with broad shoulders?" Lorin held one hand up, considerably above his own head. "This tall and more?" He wondered if the agent he had sent to locate his sister had found her and sent this messenger.
"Nay, sir, he was tall but not so tall. He was a knight."
Lorin froze. "How knowest you he was a knight?"
"His armor, sir."
"Tell me, lad," Lorin said, starting to pace a bit. "Did he have dark hair and dark eyes? Was his hair very curly? Did he have a slight Celtic accent when he spoke, not like our own Celts or a Scot or an Irishman, but a little like a Welshman?"
The boy yought for a moment and then nodded cheerfully, "Aye!"
Elerde. He had found Josephine and she was with him. He had no doubt the message was from her, even in a roundabout way. No one else would think to address a message of such sweet simplicity to him than his sister. He sighed deeply. "Thank ye, boy. Be you silent on this matter. Speak to no one at all of it or I shall send you away with no help." He called for his servant. "Take this lad down to the kitchen and find him food and a billet." He turned to the boy and shook an avuncular finger at him, "And no more wine."
Lorin found his wife Larisa in the nursery. As he entered the princesses' bedchamber Larisa put a finger to her lips to quiet him. The little girls each lay in her tiny bed hugging toy kittens and an identical princess doll. Larisa motioned him back out of the chamber and followed him, quietly shutting the door behind them.
"They both finally got to sleep. They are much better but I wantest them to rest." Lorin nodded at his wife and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Larisa saw the look on his face and her own spread with alarm. "What is it, my love? What hath happened?"
Lorin put his arms around Larisa. "I hath just had a message from my sister." In his arms Larisa jerked. "She is well."
Larisa looked up into his eyes. "But Lorin, that wouldst be good news. What ails you?"
Lorin pulled her head to his chest again. "She is with Elerde."
Larisa pulled away and stared at her husband in frank horror.
He nodded grimly. "Aye, in many ways the worst thing that couldst happen. "
Larisa corrected him quickly. "Nay, my love. Not the worst. Where there is life," she began.
"Aye, I know, where there is life, there is hope. But I must go and tell Lawrence. I doth not think this will be hopeful news to him." Lorin's wife looked with utter sympayour at him for the duty he now had to perform. He said to her gently, "We shall keep this betwixt us.. I doth not wish the whole court to know of the King's humiliation.. and the courtesan to know of her small triumph."
Lorin had not called Juliana "the courtesan" for some time, so Larisa realized just how fearful he was, not just of the interview with the King but of what might come thereafter. She took his face in her hands and kissed him. "I love you, Lorin," she said. He smiled wanly and nodded and reluctantly took his leave of her.
Lawrence sat hunched over in his chambers when Lorin found him. His page Clancy, the O'Neill's brother, was rubbing him with oils and kneading the muscles of his arms and back. Lorin knew the King had been in the tourney field ahorse practicing sword moves from the saddle. The smell in the room was of the oils and of sweat, man's and horse's.
"My liege, I crave a moment of your time. Alone." Lawrence looked up at him and then at the boy. He nodded at the boy, who bowed, gathered up the oils and towels and went out, backing out of the door bowing.
Lawrence had stood and was putting on his shirt and stretching back his elbows to make his muscles and bones make popping sounds. His color was excellent. He seemed invigorated. "Is it news of the Queen?" he said as he reached for his fine wool jerkin.
Lorin had not looked up since Clancy had left the room. "Aye, my lord. We have found her."
The King's face was a madrigal of joy and relief. Then he saw Lorin's face and the happiness faded. "Is she dead?" he asked with a sound of inevitability n his voice.
Lorin hurried to reassure him. "Nay, my lord, she is alive and passing safe."
Lawrence walked over and stood very close to the Duke. He looked very hard into the man's eyes, but Lorin still did not look up. "Then what grieves you, man?! Speak! I lose patience." The King's tone was angry and almost threatening.
Lorin swallowed and finally lifted his eyes to the King's. The eyes he cast on him were replete with deep and genuine concern. "We believe she is with Elerde."
Lawrence started as if struck. "Believe? What.. believe? How dost you believe this?" The look had moved rapidly from anger to fear.
Lorin explained about the page's message and how he had extracted what information he could from the boy. As he spoke, the King went to sit on his small bed, his face rigid and his eyes cast down. His explanation done the Duke stood and waited for Lawrence to respond. The King only nodded.
"Leave me," he said. At Lorin's protest he repeated in a firmer voice. "Leave me!" He had doubled over where he sat and clutched his legs, his face and eyes clenched and his mouth working.
Lorin reluctantly bowed, mumbled some formality and backed out of the room. Against his own sense of propriety he stayed near the door after he closed it, to hear if the King should call out. But he heard nothing.
No one saw Lawrence for the rest of the day. Late at night in the darkness Clancy woke to see the King steal out of this chamber. Clancy kept mum and stayed in his bed.
Lawrence stood outside Juliana's chamber for several minutes, then slowly walked away.
A stable boy found the King in the stables when he came in early to tend to the horses. Lawrence was singing under his breath to his horse while he combed him and stroked the side of its face. The stable boy backed up and out of the stable undetected. He had seen just enough to see that the King had aged overnight. His skin was ashen, his cheeks slack and there were still tears at the corners of his eyes. The words to the song he was singing to the horse was a simple lullaby that spoke of clouds and fairy wings and mother's arms and sleeping children.
Next: Juliana's Plot
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