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
Thursday, September 17, 2009
New Stories: Josephine's Dilemma About Rory, Part 1 (Happened)
Late April and May 768
As Josephine entered the Great Hall that evening on the King's arm for the homecoming feast, her eyes fell on Rory McGuinness, who was talking with Shannon O'Neill over in the corner where they would later perform for the assemblage. Seeing him she thought of Lawrence's words, that he would dislike or even hate any man who cared about her in a romantic way… and her heart skipped a beat. She thought about Rory's vow to love her and only her for all his life. Her step faltered slightly.
Lawrence felt her sudden jerk and looked at her concerned. "My dear, you have gone all pale. What is wrong?" He was guiding her onto the dais where the head table sat.
When she was seated she said, "Nothing, my love. I just felt odd for a moment."
She was surprised to see him smiling knowingly. "Might you be with child, darling?" he said very quietly in her ear, then kissed it lightly.
"No. I don't think so. I don't know," she stammered.
He took her hand and squeezed it. "When would you know?"
She looked at him, wanting to be truthful but also wanting to be sure about what she should tell him about Rory. "If I was, I would know in about now. We have been apart long enough that I could have been able to tell by now."
He smiled at her. "'Tis been six months since the twins were born.. I was gone some weeks, but in spite of that, it should not be a surprise." He lifted her hand and kissed it.
During the meal she often saw Lawrence stealing sweet, knowing looks at her. The fact that she picked at her food and seemed distracted just made him more certain that she was pregnant. She carefully kept her eyes away from where the minstrels had gathered. She tried to look attentive and entertained when Shannon sang and played the lute, but when it was time for Rory to tell one of his stirring tales, she could not face it. She begged off saying she felt unwell and retreated to her chamber, the King looking after her torn between concern and wanting to get up and dance and sing out news of another pregnancy.
Rory had seen her go as well. He was already opening his story in his usual way, ""A long, long time ago. If I were there then, I would not be there now. If I were there now and at that time…" He could not see how pale she was in the dim light of the Hall, but he sensed that she was upset. Was it the story he had heard from Shannon that the King had tried to kill a man who had shown more than proper attention to the Queen? He did not himself quite know how to react to that.
He had been sitting just over there by the hearth when Shannon had come sauntering in with that "I know somethin' ye dinnae" look on his face. Rory had been feeling melancholy. He had enjoyed being a companion to Josephine while her husband was away. He did not see himself as a suitor for her affections. On the contrary, he saw her as entirely unreachable, untouchable, but he stuck to her as closely as he could, just to bask in her presence. He knew she liked spending time with him. Even after he had confessed his vow to love her and only her forever. After an initial period of discomfort they had slid back into their old familiar habits, just never entirely alone together.
Shannon had perched himself on his stool near Rory and grinned impishly. "Methinks ye need to practice your skills with a sword, me darlin' man," Shannon had commented.
Rory looked at him surprised. "Aye, and why is that?"
Shannon had leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially, "The King almost made fast work of that fellow Robert or Elerde or whate'er his name may be."
Rory just looked at him. He knew about the tension regarding Sir Robert's advances to the Queen… or at least Shannon's colorful version of it. "What are ye sayin', man, fast work? What happened, and what has this to do with me?"
Shannon fairly glowed with being able to bring such sensational news to his friend. "Well, listen close, boyo, for ye willnae hear me speak of it again.." Rory thought that was unlikely, but he listened attentively. "The King shot the Breton fool while hunting, then jumped on him on the ground and tried to stab him to death!"
Rory shook his head. He knew what Shannon was getting at, but he made him say it. "Now why would he be after doin' such a thing?"
Shannon gave him a longsuffering look. "Because he wooed the Queen, ye great fool. They say the King went north to examine the frontiers, but like as not he went to make short work of the rascal Elerde."
Rory now frowned. "I dinnae believe it. He wouldnae do such a thing. He is a man of honor."
Shannon sat back and crossed his arms, looking smug. "Well then if ye dinnae believe me, ask Sir Percy." He went on in a significant voice, "He was there. He had to pull Himself off the man." He leveled an "argue with that if you dare" look at his friend.
Rory sat for a while, thinking. "And what, pray tell, has this to do with me, then?" he asked, knowing what Shannon meant.
Shannon stood and came to lean over Rory, not difficult because sitting Rory was not much shorter than Shannon stooped. He whispered in Rory's ear, "Well then, if Himself hears of the vow ye made to the Queen…" He made a melodramatic gesture, a finger across his throat and made a "zip" sound.
Rory gave him an offended look, "Och, Shan, 'tis not a jokin' matter and ye ken that 'tis not. Ye dinnae think he would really do that, do ye?"
Shannon stood and crossed his arms over his chest again. "I dinnae know…" he led, with an arch tone.
Rory had thought about this after, ignoring Shannon's rather tasteless looks and gestures during the rest of the day. He had looked as casually as he could to see if he might have a moment with Josephine, but she was closeted with the King in his chambers all afternoon, no doubt talking about the incident up north and also making up for lost time in the King's bed.
Now he watched her retreating back and worried for her sake if the King had learned of his vow and was angry with her. He stole a look at the King, even while well into the beginning of his tale, and saw the man was smiling a little foolishly. He most certainly did not look angry about anything. The revelation about his attack on Elerde must clearly have met with forgiveness or even understanding or the King would not be so merry now. Odd that he would smile as his wife hurried from the room. He made an effort to concentrate on his tale.
Josephine entered her private rooms and dismissed the servants who rushed in after her to help her get ready for bed. "I can do it myself," she said, almost irritably. "I am sorry, I just want to be alone now. Please make sure the children are asleep and well and leave me to myself."
Alone she sat at her dressing table and gazed at her own pale face in the highly polished brass mirror. She was fairly certain she could not be pregnant unless it had happened that very afternoon, but even that she knew was not timed right. But it was a useful mistake for Lawrence to make. It allowed her a little time to decide what she must do.
She knew the situations with Robert and Rory were nothing alike, Robert.. Or as he called himself now.. Elerde had really been trying to make love to her. She was shocked that he would have been so bold as to taunt the King while in his company up north.. She had thought the man more refined than that. She discovered his actions did not in fact please her. Since they had been dangerous to him and her husband at least and at worst rather cruel to Lawrence. She was not in the least flattered.
But Rory.. That was different.. Was it not? He was not making serious love, not really courting her. Certainly if she told Lawrence what he had promised her the King would not react as he had with Elerde. Or would he? Was she fated to spend her life worrying that men in her acquaintance risked destruction if they got too close?
Should she warn Rory? That would do no good. He was the sort of fellow who seemed drawn to hopeless love. She did not doubt his sincerity, more's the pity since it might have saved them both some pain in the future if she had questioned the reality of his romantic notion and forced him to examine it over and over.
Should she tell Lawrence of Rory's sad vow? Was that condemning the sweet Irishman to death?
At the very least she knew she needed to pull away from Rory, to keep suspicion off him, to discourage him, to keep her promise to Lawrence this very afternoon to be more careful about allowing men to see her as a proper object of their love and affection. If she grew suddenly cool to Rory, might that not itself provoke suspicion? They had been in plain view of all on the beach ride where he had admitted his love. They had never been alone save in the corridors of the castle. Usually Shannon and even Heather had been with them. But with the King home and the rumors about his attack on Elerde making the rounds like wildfire, any sudden change in her behavior towards Rory could spark innuendo and speculation.
Josephine was still miserable when Lawrence came to her room that night, solicitous of her feelings, watching her with sweet expectation. He went to bed with her but just held her, feeling she might need the rest and comfort more than his sexual attentions. She would not have minded the reassurance of his passion, and in fact would have liked having her mind taken off her worries. But as so often happened with the two of them, their very love for each other got in the way of their understanding each other.
Next: Josephine's Dilemma About Rory, Part 2