Saturday, April 26, 2014

Chapter Fourteen, Scene One - A Change of Heart

The chill of winter came upon Nûmidëa quite suddenly, with no warning save the arrival of the first calendar day of winter. Duke Osric and his family had never made much of a celebration of Winter’s Night, nor paid it much attention at all, but they couldn’t help but notice it this time. Fires were lit throughout the manor-keep, to try and warm up the chambers suddenly chilled by the cold air.

Osric sat at his desk in the main hall that day, as was his custom, while servants hustled about their own tasks. Someone eventually came to light the fire in the hearth behind him, and he sat back in his chair to stretch his muscles, which had gone stiff from the cold. Looking down at the hearth, he mused a moment on the coming warmth, anticipating its heat on his back, radiating outward to eventually fill the large hall.

As a servant approached with a lit taper and held it toward the stacked logs, Osric’s brow suddenly went up. “Hold!” he exclaimed, raising a hand to ward off the servant for a moment. “What is that?” he asked, pointing at a crumpled piece of parchment in the corner, near the wood.

“I-I do not know, m’lord,” the servant stammered.

“Bring it to me.”

The servant nodded, and quickly reached down to grab the parchment, then turned and handed it to the duke.

“You may proceed,” the duke said, turning away. The servant gladly lit the fire, and left the room before his lord could catch him with any other surprises.

As the flustered servant departed, Osric turned the parchment over in his hands, slowly spreading it out on his desk, flattening it in order to see what was written there. Was it some writ from a fellow duke, something that had irritated him enough to make him simply toss it away? The gods knew he’d received enough of those lately, the duke of this manor or the duchess of that place, writing him letters, people he’d not even known existed but who suddenly found reason to try and form alliances with him, or even feign friendship, as his influence in the court had risen over the past few years. And no wonder they should try, he thought, knowing how useless most of them were in their supposed service to the king. The king himself confided in me that the lot of them were a conniving, back-stabbing bunch of ingrates, and me the one servant who he had some reason to trust. As they saw their own stars falling at court while his rose, it should come as no surprise that they might try to make a connection with him, and perhaps share in his good fortune.

Well, let us see who it was that so irritated me, that I should crumple up a perfectly good piece of parchment and throw it in the fireplace to await winter’s first burn. He smiled grimly, focusing his attention on the carefully-written letter.

It began:

Balfrith, son of Osric,

To Duke Osric, of House Aethelred,


It is with a heavy heart…

Osric’s brows rose, and he frowned, but he read the letter all the way through, then read it again, and yet a third time, absorbing the words. Finally he sat back in his chair, pondering, holding the letter up to let the light of a lone sun-ray play through the thin parchment. Lines of light showed the creases that he had flattened out, a complex and random web that made it difficult to read the words written there. But he knew what they said - and he needed time to think on them. He stood, parchment still in hand, and left his desk, to go up the stairs to his private chambers.

He never left his desk early in the day, and his servants took note of this, though they knew not what could have inspired this change in behavior.

Sorry For The Silence

I just realized that my last post was almost three weeks ago... ugh. In my defense, I spent a week in Brazil (big project), which took the previous weekend for travel and the following weekend for jet lag recovery. And then it was Easter weekend, and while I had time to write, I was working on other things instead.

The good news is, I have in fact been working on the story. Nothing to share at this time, as it's been cleanup of various scenes, closing minor plot holes, and similar. I do still have a couple of missing scenes to write, and may even do one this weekend. If I do, I'll be sure to share it along with some context.

Next weekend I'll be traveling again, to Argentina first and then Brazil, before returning home. And after a weekend of recovery, I'll be on a flight to Europe for a week, for more meetings. Alas, my weekends (and general writing time) will be pretty messed up for the next few weeks.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chapter Eight, Scene Three - Osric's Return Home

This scene takes place just after Balfrith's first return home, when he hoped to speak with his father but was greeted by an angry older brother instead, his father being away on other duties. I had previously posted a sample with the same name, but this scene is inserted ahead of that one, so everything after this scene three gets pushed out by one. I only mention it for those of you who might be paying attention to these kinds of details.

* * *

Duke Osric returned home to his family’s manor keep four days after Balfrith’s brief visit. It was early in the afternoon, and the journey had been easy, so that he was in a good mood as they rode through the gates to the manor keep.

In the yard, his eldest son, Aldfrid, stood with Osbeorn, the captain of his guard, awaiting his arrival. As he dismounted, Aldfrid said, “Welcome home, my lord. It is good to see you again, though we did not expect you to return so early. As I recall, you had expected to be gone most of the summer.”

Osric nodded. “Aye, and so I had thought it would be. But I was forced to change my plans. I will tell you more later, at supper. For now, I would have a bath and change of clothes, and then you can bring me up to date on happenings here at home.”

Aldfrid bowed, saying, “As you will, lord.”

“Aldfrid, my son, you need not play the servant at all times with me. I trust you have fulfilled your duties while I was away. Now that I am home, I wish to be with my family for a while, before I take on the mantle of lord of the manor once again.”

Aldfrid smiled then, and said, “Thank you, father. I did grow rather tired of playing the part, myself. I do have some interesting news for you, which I think you would want to hear straightaway. Balfrith returned home, just a few days ago. He has left already, so you need not worry about having to deal with him. I sent him on his way, with no doubts as to our feelings about him.”

Osric paused in mid-step, then continued walking, his son keeping stride with him. He muttered under his breath, but loud enough for Aldfrid to hear, “No doubts, eh? Would that I were so confident about my own feelings in this matter. Anger, aye, but mixed with doubt….” He shook his head, looked at his son, and asked, “Did he say anything?”

Aldfrid shrugged. “Nothing of importance. He actually believed he could come here demanding forgiveness of any debt that he might have owed you. And he intended to keep the sword. He concocted some lunatic story that he would be able to remove the curse - him! As if better men in our family had not tried, and failed, before this.”

Osric, growing angry at his wayward son’s arrogance, asked, “And that was all he said?”

“Aside from his weak words of apology? He spoke of leaving a letter for you, but I never saw it, and he may have changed his mind. I could not stomach any further converse with him, and dismissed him before my anger got the better of me.”

Osric nodded, satisfied. Nothing else need be said.

They parted ways a moment later, Osric climbing the stairs to his private chambers. He looked briefly through the papers waiting for him on his desk, but saw nothing from Balfrith. Shrugging, he called for a bath and began undressing, leaving thoughts of his son behind with his travel-stained clothes.