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

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Juliana Series: Rory Returns to a Much Altered Lawrencium (outtakes)

"Sure an' it be about time ye were after comin' back, when I dinnae need ye any more!" The voice at Rory's stirrup made him raise his head and look. The O'Neill walked alongside the horse, with his hand on Rory's ankle, and with a smile as wide as a mountain on his face. "Welcome home."

The exhausted Rory, barely able to stay ahorse, smiled back groggily. "Shan, ye darlin' man. Good to see ye."

Shannon looked around. "Where be thy friend?"

Rory sighed. "'Tis a long story, me friend. Can ye help me get to the castle and off this damned animal so I can see the King?"

Shannon nodded and skipped up to take the lead and direct Rory's mount through the streets of Lawrencium and across the moat into the castle.

Rory's arrival stirred immediate excitement and hubbub. Stable hands rushed up to take the reins as Shannon held up his arms and let Rory slide off the side of the horse and into his friend's arms. Shannon helped him stand and steady himself. He grimaced as Rory himself cringed at the many aches and pains a long ride had made worse. "Me darlin', sure an' it looks like ye met up with an ogre on the road."

Rory tried to smile as Shannon helped him cross the courtyard and enter the keep. "An ogre named Elerde." Shannon looked up into his friend's face anxiously. "Aye, we found them."

Rory asked to be taken to the Great Hall and put in a chair near the massive hearth. Someone brought him a stool to put his feet up on, which he did gingerly and with suppressed groans. Other servants rushed over with cushions and tucked them in as gently as they could around his sides and back. A maidservant fussed over the crude bandage on his leg. Finally someone brought him a tankard brimming with warmed ale. Rory sunk his face into it and sucked the rich refreshment in.

Shannon, eying the dark mass of bruises that covered the entire side of his childhood friend's face remarked, "Rory, me man, ye look worse than Lawrence did."

Rory lifted his face from the tankard. Immediately another serving wench filled it. He looked at Shannon and said, "I thank ye for that kind observation." He did his best to smile. "Speaking of Lawrence, can ye go tell him I crave an audience? That is, if he can be torn from the dark-eyed lady's side." He was surprised at the sudden exchange of looks all around him.

Shannon chuckled, "That I will." He started to slap his friend on the back and thought better of it and just put his hand on his shoulder gently. "Ye have a lot o' catchin' up to do," he smiled and turned to send a servant to find the King and Lorin.

The servant was stopped at the archway by those very two men who strode in and headed for the hearthside. Shannon murmured "Aye, an' well here is Himself."

Rory turned his head to see a much changed Lawrence coming towards him. The man had been a mess the last time he had seen him, albeit there had been some improvement after the catharsis of the fistfight with Shannon. The man he saw now was grim, gray faced and looked much older. Rory tried to get out of the chair and stand in his liege's presence.

"Stay where thou art, ye idiot. I canst see thou hast many hurts." The King cleared a path through the crowding tidings seekers and servants as if a sudden gust of wind had gone through a pile of leaves. Rory settled back in the chair and waited as Lawrence came and pulled another heavy chair close to sit by him.

The King examined the Irishman closely. He pointed to the bruise on his face. With a sidelong glance at Shannon he said, "Well I know how that doth feel. Is thy cheek broken?"

Rory shook his head. "No but me skull was cracked."

Shannon's quip "Now and it be always that" was cut off with a look from the king.

"Well, that heals faster than a cheekbone," Lawrence said, rubbing his own and glaring at Shannon. Turning back to Rory he then examined the bandage on his thigh, looking up questioningly.

"A long gash from a bare bodkin.. a friend patched me up, but it hurts like the devil."

Lawrence gestured to a servant. "Get my physician." He asked Rory, "Who did this hurt to ye, McGuinness? Doth thou know the varlet?"

Rory looked up from the tankard. He looked around at all the closely pressing faces. "My lord," he began., "might we not speak better in private?" He looked significantly again at the crowd and then at the King. Both Lawrence's and Lorin's faces grew grimmer.

Lawrence responded slowly, "Ayyye..." Then "Canst thou walk? Doth thou need a litter?" Rory shook his head and Lawrence and Shannon each took an arm to lift him to his feet and walk to the King's counsel chamber. As they passed Rory glanced at the faces around and alongside them. A no longer pregnant Jocelyn. A worried looking Larisa. Percy just coming up to take his young wife's arms from behind. Many others he knew. No Juliana. As they passed the King leaned towards his ear and whispered, "Did thee find her?" and kept a stern look as Rory nodded.

Lorin followed the three men into the King's privy counsel and shut the door behind him, after leaning out to instruct someone to bring the physician and food and drink to them there. Lawrence and Shannon propelled the wounded man to a large and well cushioned chair that Rory knew was the king's own. He started to protest, but another look from Lawrence stopped him. He let the men place him in the chair. Lawrence sat in another. Shannon and Lorin hesitated. "Sit down," the King snapped at them. They sat.

Lawrence looked at Rory candidly and asked in a somber voice, "Where is the Queen?"

Rory sighed and seemed to sink a little into himself. "My lord, I know not where she is this moment but I can tell ye where I was after seein' her last."

The King urged him to continue. "Tell me, where and was she well?"

A servant tapped and was let in to set tankards of ale, pitchers of wine, and plates of bread, cheese, and meats on a table. The company remained silent until the servant had bowed and backed out of the room. Lorin shut the door, picked up a tankard and brought it to Rory, then sat again himself.

"My lord, the Queen was well. She was at a crossroads near a small port on the road to Affynshire. She... left there.. in a boat."

Lawrence looked up and away distractedly. He seemed to be battling something inside. He cast his eyes about the room, but looking inward. His jaw worked. He said from between clenched teeth, "And was my lady alone?"

Rory looked into his friend Shannon's eyes. Rory's look was filled with pain and sympathy as he looked back at the king, whose own gaze remained unfocused. "Nay, my lord. She was not."

Lawrence stood and started to pace. Shannon tried to catch Rory's eye and mouth a word in silence. Rory inclined his head toward Lorin and made a face indicating he could not freely say anything about the man Shannon knew had been traveling with Rory. Lorin. Of course, caught the exchange but said nothing.

Lawrence came to stand by Rory where he sat. "Tell me." He did not look at the injured man. He stayed where he stood, looking directly forward at some middle distance.

Rory gathered his strength and began. "Aye, my lord, she was with the Breton knight." He felt rather than saw the King's flinch. He did see Shannon's and Lorin's glance up at the King's face, both showing concern of their own. "He was traveling with her from the north. He took her aboard a small ship, a boat really, with a rather disreputable looking crew. Smugglers, I be thinkin', or mayhap pirates."

Lorin reacted now. "Pirates? The Queen? What was the blackguard thinking?"

Shannon muttered, "now and I don't think he was thinkin'". He looked at Rory. "So Elerde did this to ye?" Rory nodded. "And he did not kill ye outright?"

It was the King who responded. "Nay, the knave sought only to stop his pursuit so he shouldst have to come back and tell me my lady hath eloped with him."

Lorin pressed, "But went she with him willingly?" At this Lawrence looked over and then to Rory.

"Sure and I canst not be certain. I didst ask her.."

"Thou spoke with the Queen?" Lawrence demanded. He came back to the chair he had occupied and sat, leaning closer to Rory. "How did she look? Was she hurt at all? Didst she appear to be in distress?"

Rory gulped more ale and replied, "She was after lookin' thinner, and her skin was that tanned." No one noticed Lorin's slight smile. "She was dressed as befits a lady of her station. She tried to help me when.. when Elerde attacked me. I asked her if she was safe and if she was goin'.. willingly.. with the Breton." Rory cast down his eyes. "She said 'Aye' but I be that sure she was thinkin' twice about it then."

The King sat back in his chair and let his chin drop. "Ah," came the sigh from somewhere deep in his chest.. Lawrence seemed to drift away somewhere out of time and space. He continued to listen, but he did not appear as though he attended.

Rory went on to tell how he and a companion called Bo had traveled all the way to a village in Affynshire where they learned the Queen had been living and had just left.. with the knight. When he said the friend's name, he glanced at Lorin. The name brought simultaneous but dissimilar reactions from the two men who still focused on his face. Then he looked at Shannon who was also trying to peek at Lorin's face to gauge his reaction.

Rory went on. "Bo and me thought we must have missed them somewhere on the road. We turned and headed back, figurin' the knight would take Josephine, the Queen I mean, beggin' ye'r pardon, sire, to the sea. But when we stayed an hour at the crossroads at that port, they rode up . Me friend and me fought them. I mean Elerde, not the Queen, and also some pirates who were put in at the dock." He turned his eyes directly to Shannon. "The pirates pressed Bo into joining their crew."

Lorin was inscrutable. Of course Bo was the agent he himself had sent to find and watch over this sister the Queen. He had worried that Rory, upon absconding from Lawrencium against the King's command, might run into his agent and interfere. But it seemed the two had forged a partnership. That was better than he could have hoped for. Now had the partnership come so close but lost the Queen again?"

Lorin spoke up then. "And thou saith that Sir Elerde did take the Queen aboard the pirate vessel?"

"Aye, but I be not certain she wanted to go at that point. In fact, though me brains were well scrambled by then, I am after thinkin' she only went with him to protect and help me."

That woke the king. "What doth thou mean, to protect and help thee?" he asked sharply.

Rory looked up at the man startled. "Well, just ere they left some peasants had rallied to come save us from the pirates. Seein' them, Elerde pulled the Queen along with him to the boat. But first he told her that me only chance was to leave me to the peasants to care for me and that she couldnae do anytrhin' to help me." He reached and put a hand on the King's arm. "Lawrence, the knight was sayin' to her, 'My lady, thou knowest thou hath nowhere else to go.' " Lawrence returned his with a haunted look.

Shannon broke in, "The bastard! He be manipulating' her to believe she is abandoned."

Lorin commented acidly, "Not surprising. He hath e'er tried to trick her into an error for his benefit." He looked carefully up at Lawrence who still sat gazing into nothing.

"Aye, that is so," the King had breathed nonetheless.

Rory continued, "Then the lady was after sayin' the strangest thing. She looked at me as he pulled her away and said, 'I will go with thy friend, Rory."

All sat in silence to consider the puzzle.

A rap at the door told them the King's physician had finally arrived. The men moved from their chairs to let him look over Rory's wounds. He made disgusted noises as he peered at the bruise. When he began to take apart the bandage, sending Rory into cringing gasps, he announced, "Ah, someone did a fine job cleaning thy wound, young man. The stitches are ragged but will hold. Best to cleanse but leave them. " He looked to an assistant and commanded, "Prepare a space on that longer table," then turning to the king, "Begging thy leave, sire?" Lawrence gestured consent. "We must lay him out so I can search him for other wounds and redress that gash on his leg."

Shannon helped Rory stand and then to sit on the table edge. The assistant had picked up papers and maps that Lorin hurried to take off his hands and place on a shelf. Lawrence stood and walked to a window. He listened to the others as they lay Rory full length on the table. The doctor called for shears as he started to remove Rory's torn and dirty cassock.

As the doctor was cutting away the sleeves of the cassock so he could pull them free of Rory's arms, something fell onto the table from the fold at the sleeve hem.

"Faith, and what be this?" Shannon bent to pick up a tiny bit of folded parchment. Lorin snatched it from his hand and bore it to Lawrence.

Lawrence had turned and looked down at the thing as Lorin put it into his palm. He recognized it instantly. He swayed a little on his feet and sat down on the bench in front of the window, gaping at the little folded treasure. The others saw that he touched it with what seemed reverence. "She.. she wore this.. in a locket.. I gave it to her once.. when .. when.."

He unfolded it slowly and looked at the faded words in his own neat block print.

"I am sorry. I love thee."

He held the tiny piece to his heart.

"Lorin," he said. "Have my horse made ready."

Next: Forces Beyond his Control Impede the King's Progress

No comments:

Post a Comment


Buy on


Buy on

About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .