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

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Stories: Josephine Learns About Shannon's Past and Saves a Child (Cut)

A two-story tavern? Not likely. Ale houses in this period, if they existed at all, were no more than cottages where more ale was brewed than the family required. The excess was sold. A broom would be put out by the door to signal that the ale was ready.

Summer 768

It was several days after her interview with Shannon about the secret passageways before Josephine made her way out of the castle again. She and the King had had a chance to discuss her decision to play more of a part in the everyday life of the town and environs, and, although he had had trepidations about her going out alone, she had agreed to have Rory and Shannon with her as often as possible, and he had assured himself that Rory would be armed. Lawrence overcame most of his uneasiness, realizing that in fact there was little danger in his wife going into the town where she was loved and would be "looked after".. his term, not hers.

Realizing now that she did not need to disguise herself, Josephine laid aside the rough gown that Shannon had provided for her and just chose something modest and comfortable. She threw a light cloak around her shoulders, for the day was warm, and went down out of the castle and into the road.

At the bottom of the rather steep path to the cliff top where the castle stood the very first buildings of the town of Lawrencium began. Mostly they were cottages, but they were interspersed with little shops. Josephine relished the feel of the sun on her head, covered with a light scarf, and the feel of letting her legs stretch as she walked along. She noticed a few looks she got as she walked. She met them with a smile and a nod. "Soon," she thought, "I will be a familiar sight."

Back in his chamber the King had seen Josephine leave. He called to a servant to bring the man he had spoken to just days before. At the man's arrival, and without turning to face him, Lawrence said, "Pendra, the Queen has gone into the town. I want you to follow at a discreet distance.. as we discussed the other day." The man bowed and left. Lawrence smiled slightly. He knew his preparation was to reassure himself primarily. He shook his head amused at himself, and then he went back to his work.

Josephine was not entirely sure what she planned to do in town, but the decision to some extent was taken away from her quickly.. She noticed before long that she had a following.. of children. They flocked behind her, all ages, and then started to overtake her. One little boy of about 7 tugged on her sleeve, and smiling, she looked down at him. "Aye, young man?"

He smiled, his dirty face clearing and he asked, "My sister says you are the Queen. I said you aren't."

Josephine laughed. "Your sister is right. I am the Queen."

The boy, still walking alongside her stared. He seemed transfixed. Josephine asked him, "Have you never seen me before?"

His answer delighted her. "Not here on the ground." But she was even more delighted when he gently slipped his hand into hers.

Seeing what her friend had done, a little girl of about 8 rushed up and took the hand on the other side. She smiled across to the boy, then fixed her gaze on the Queen. Josephine heard a chorus of "Me! Me! I want a turn!"

She turned to face all the children. "You will all have a turn.. I will come see you lots of times." Then she looked around at them. "Is it all right for you to be straying so far from your homes?" Just then she heard a woman's voice calling three of the children's names. Three little faces looked disappointed, then turned and their owners ran back. A few other of the smaller children turned and reluctantly dragged their feet home.

The girl holding her left hand said, "That was the right thing to do, my lady. They would get into trouble if they went to far away." The Queen smiled down at her and thanked her.

When Josephine reached the market square, she turned to the children again. "Now I need to go on alone. I will see you later when I walk back to the castle. Do you understand?"

The children stopped. She heard several voices piping, "Aye, my lady," and the children turned and scampered back the way they came. The little boy holding her right hand left last. "It is nice to see you close up, my lady," he said, then smiled at her, turned, and ran.

The Queen noticed several of the adults in the market square looking at her and smiling. They looked away quickly when she glanced at them. She took a breath and walked into the mass of people, looking for the merchant and crafts stalls to see what things were available on an off-market day. She knew she was the center of attention but decided just to make her way as she wished, and not make the people any more uncomfortable by addressing them without cause.

It was as she was standing in front of a table full of woven belts and straps admiring the colors that she heard a voice at her elbow. "My lady?"

She turned to see a portly woman who seemed about 35 or more. The woman's face was red, her hair hidden under a cap, and her eyes were blue and merry. Josephine smiled back at her, "Aye, goodwife?"

The woman smiled delightedly and inclined her head. "Oh, my lady, I thought it was you. How wonderful to see you out here in the market! "

Other people, the ice having been broken, were starting to cluster around, bowing, murmuring respectful greetings, and smiling with happiness.

"Why thank you, goodwife. I thought it was high time I came to the market.. I have heard how wonderful everything is. I decided to see for myself." She cast a warm look around at the faces that beamed at her.

The woman took her hand. "May I help you find anything in particular, my lady?" A number of voices seconded the motion.

Josephine smiled, "I thank you again, but I will just stroll through all the stalls, if you do not mind. I do not want to interfere with commerce."

The Queen was happy to see that in spite of murmured protests, the faces around her showed the people were glad to get back to the business of the day. The arrangement suited her and them admirably.

Josephine took her time, and having brought smaller value coins, was able to make a few small purchases, including one of the woven belts and a nut cake. Now that her identity was obvious, the Queen noticed that people seemed quite anxious to help her and to give her good prices. After the experience with the draper that Shannon had delivered her from, she had worried somewhat that she might not have such a self-policing reaction.

Thinking of Shannon, she wondered where he and Rory were. She knew that the morning after Shannon had "rescued" her he and Heather had decided, at Heather's request, to look for a cottage so they could live away from the castle. Josephine supposed Shannon and Rory might be making inquiries about available places. She might run into them. She smiled to herself at the thought.

Throughout the time she spent looking around the market and the town, several people had come up to offer their greetings. She had even stopped to talk with a man who was leading a donkey with two huge baskets of flowers on it. The man had explained to her where the flowers came from, told her the names of a couple she was not familiar with, and even promised her some starts for her own garden. He had pressed a small posy on her, which she tried to pay for, but he would hear none of it.

The peaceful, engaging day suddenly was broken into by the scream of a child. Josephine looked around concerned. It was not a playful boisterous scream but instead truly full of terror and pain. She was trying to locate the source of the cry when she realized she was hearing two men's voices raised in argument coming from around a corner. People were hurrying in that direction. She followed.

To her surprise the corner led to a fairly wide open square. Smack in the middle stood Shannon O'Neill, his fists doubled and raised, a posture she did not think she had ever seen him in before. He was facing a larger man who was swaying slightly, and who had a small boy held roughly by the hand, a huge bruise on the child's face. "Mind your own god damn affair," the man shouted at Shannon. He sounded drunk.

Shannon's face was suffused with fury. "Then stop hitting that boy!" he snarled. This was a new Shannon for the Queen.

"He is my son and I will do with and to him as I like!" The big man started to turn and drag the howling child behind him.

Shannon did not hesitate but threw himself on the man's back, having to jump to achieve this. The man shrugged the Irishman off him easily. He then whirled, dropping the boys hand, and faced Shannon.

"Why you little piss ant," the man said angrily.

Shannon did not quail. "Fathers are supposed to love and cherish their sons," Shannon said passionately. The only answer he received was a fist in his eye. He stumbled back and fell.

Josephine had come forward, the people she pushed through starting and getting out of the way as soon as they recognized her. She called out, "Shannon!" but neither he nor the big man heard her.

Shannon pulled himself up and stood. He faced the man again, and he tried to hit him. The man deftly parried the punch with his forearm and this time smashed his own fist into Shannon's nose which began to pour blood. Shannon put his hand to his nose, then pulled it away and stared at the blood on his fingers. The big man, whose child had run away, took this opportunity to shove Shannon, who lost his balance and fell on his back on the street.

Now the big man, with an evil grin, threw himself on Shannon. Though he was drunk, he obviously could do whatever he wanted now to the man underneath him. Josephine had winced when she heard Shannon's out rush of breath and groan when the man landed on him.

Josephine frantically looked to see if anyone standing around was going to help the prostrate minstrel, and to her horror she saw only passive interest and not a few grins. Without really thinking, she found herself snatching a dagger from the belt of a man near her. She rushed to where the man was about to smash Shannon's face with his fists and held the dagger against his back.

"Get off him, you blackguard," she shouted.

The man started to twist to grab the dagger with a furious look on his face, but someone in the crowd shouted, "What are you thinking, man? That's the Queen! You don't want to lay a hand on her if you want to keep it! And your life!"

The drunken man slowly stood and stared at her. "The Queen?" he said unsteadily.

From the ground in his brogue Shannon likewise breathed , "The Queen?"

The crowd parted and two men rushed forward. One was the guard Lawrence had sent to watch the Queen. He had joined the crowd but had not imagined there was any chance the Queen would be in danger in the situation and only now had come forward. He went to the father who had brutalized his child and took him by the arm. "Bart, you villain! You are coming with me." He dragged the stunned man along with him away from the square.

The second man who had come forward was now kneeling by Shannon, helping him up. It was Rory. Josephine was beyond happy to see him. "Rory, thank God!"

Rory helped Shannon up, took a scarf from around his own neck and pressed it to Shannon's bleeding nose. Shannon took it from him and nodded his thanks, but his eyes were wide, that is the one not now swollen up was, and staring amazed at Josephine.

Rory asked Shannon, "What were ye after, ye dolt? The man was twice your size!"

Josephine was the one who answered. "The man was beating his little boy I think. " She realized at that moment that the child had been the first boy who had taken her hand and said he had not seen her "on the ground" before.

Rory nodded and turned his attention back to Shannon. "That would do it, poor darlin' man. Let's get you over there to sit." He ;led Shannon to some barrels and helped him sit down. He leaned down to look at the black eye and the bloody but unbroken nose. "Och, macushla, ye may owe your life to the Queen. That man could have easily finished ye off."

Josephine had followed them over and was leaning close to Rory to see how Shannon was. She saw to her surprise that Shannon's eyes were full of tears. "Oh, dear Shannon, you must be in great pain!"

Rory glanced at her and shook his head. "'Tis not that, I will wager.. 'tis seeing' the wee one hurt like that."

Shannon pulled the scarf from his nose and looked around wildly. In a tearful voice he pleaded, "Where is the boy? Someone find him and make sure the tyke is not hurt or frightened." Josephine looked around then herself.

"I shall go find him," she said, leaving Rory to look after O'Neill.

She had only gone a few paces when she saw the same woman who had greeted her before crouching with the boy, wiping his tears and the dirt off his face with a clean kerchief. She looked up at the Queen when she approached. "Never fear, my lady.. I know this boy. I will take him home and clean him up and feed him and put him to bed."

The Queen replied, "Oh, thank you.. but who are you? What will happen to the boy?"

The woman answered, "MY name is Goodwife Branna.. I am known by everyone here. I will see to him until the law decides what to do with his father."

Josephine nodded, "What will they do with him?"

The woman looked at the Queen curiously. "Aye, well that will depend on the judge and how he decides on the case.. the law is weak when it comes to this sort of thing. Most times the boy will go back to his father until the man finally kills him. Then the father might be hanged."

The Queen was stunned. "Might be hanged?" But the woman was already moving away from her with the child.

Josephine went back to Rory and Shannon. The shorter man with the unruly mop of red curls was smiling again, his usual self. "I thank ye, me lady, for saving me miserable life."

Josephine just said, "We need to get you back to the castle to the loving hands of your wife…"

Shannon grimaced, "She will just say I was hit by some wench's husband…"

Josephine felt her anger rise. "Well then I will tell her she is wrong" she said with heat.

Once she and Rory had delivered their injured friend to his chamber, the Queen turned to Rory. "He was so brave and so kind. "

Rory nodded. "His own da beat him badly almost every time he saw him. The man killed his mother.. Shan ran away just to avoid being killed himself."

Josephine could only breathe "His own father?" in horror.

Rory nodded. "Ye recall, me lady, what bad shape he was in when he first brought me to Ratherwood Castle.. that was his father's doing."

Josephine just stared up at her tall friend.

Rory sighed, "Men like that may do as they please to their women and their bairn. 'Tis a crime."

Josephine shook her head. "No, 'tis not. But it should be." She put a hand on his arm. "It should be.. and it shall be." And she turned and headed for the King's council chamber.

Next: After the Child Beating Incident

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About the author

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