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 7, 2009

New Stories: The Journey to ireland II (Cut)

eather stood in their chamber and stared out the window. There was a balmy breeze drifting in. She had her arms clutched about her breasts. She looked about the room idly. As angry as he made her, she did not think she could stand being in Lawrencium without Shannon. She was about to go to fling herself on their bed to cry when a soft knock came at the door.

In an irritable voice Heather called, “Come in!”

The door opened to reveal the Queen standing there with a tentative but concerned look. Heather hurried to curtsy, her face and back rigid. “Your majesty,” she said.

Josephine looked at her with sympathy. “Oh, Heather, please, I wish you would be less formal with me. Just call me Josephine, or if you are uncomfortable with that, my lady. But no need to curtsy or make a big fuss when we meet.” She paused, watching Heather’s lack of response. “I was wondering if you would come for a walk with me?”

Heather looked up surprised. “Your majesty? I mean, my lady? Me?”

Josephine smiled warmly. “Aye, you. We have not had much time to get to know each other, and I should like to hear about you and your home in Scotland. I am from Affynshire, you know. We may have a few things in common.” She turned in the doorway, inviting Heather to come with her.

Heather looked about as if trying to decide what she should bring with her, then hurried to join the Queen. “I did not know ye were from the north. Do ye miss it?”

Josephine took Heather’s arm as they walked down the corridor and then the stairs. She was great with child and needed the support as much as wanting to show interest in the woman. “Aye, sometimes. I have been in Christenlande for many years and ‘tis my home now. But ‘tis hard not to become nostalgic for the things I left behind when I was really still just a child.” She looked at Heather. “You had a farm, did you not?”

Heather looked back at her, surprised at the interest. “Nay, not really. Just some animals and a good sized garden. Vegetables and herbs, not like the beautiful garden ye have, my lady.”

Josephine chuckled a bit. “Oh my flowers. Frankly I would much rather be growing vegetables. But I am expected to grow flowers. And one must do her duty.” Her smile was humorous. “We can walk in the garden if you like, Heather.”

Heather looked at her. “Aye, ‘twould be lovely. “ She paused and said, “I ne’er think of ye, my lady, as having a duty. I suppose ye have more than we common lasses do.”

They had just come to the gate of the garden and Josephine motioned to a marble bench. “I should like to sit a while., if you please.” The two went over and the Queen sat carefully. “This child is enormous.. I sometimes think there is more than one in there.”

Heather smiled thinly. “Ye are lucky, my lady. I wish I had a child.” She dropped her eyes at Josephine’s sympathetic look. “O’Neill and I have been together for many months now and there has been no child. I know he can father one, as that is why he is in Ireland. He has gone to make arrangements for a bastard son whose mother died.”

Josephine put her hand on Heather’s. “Heather dear, it will happen. Give it time. Who knows God’s plan for us? If it is to be, it will be.” She suddenly took in a gasp of air. “Now that was a mighty kick.” She put her hand on her belly.

Heather laughed a little. “What a pretty laugh you have,” Josephine said. “No wonder the O’Neill fell in love with you.”

Heather blushed and looked away.

“He does love you very much, Heather, even though he is not very good at showing it. I wish you could turn and watch him when he sings love songs. The looks he casts over at you are sheer poetry.” The Queen took her companion’s arm. “Let’s walk a bit then go back inside, shall we?” She smiled privately, having seen the look of hope on the Scots woman’s face.

Shannon had plenty of time to think about his life and the mess his marriage was as the journey he took was one of several weeks. Afoot he did not even have the benefit of four equine legs to make the trip swifter or less tiring. But he was glad of his physical exhaustion at the end of each long day. Temptation was in the dancing eyes and tempting lips of every wanton along the way be they Mercian, Saxon, Welsh or Angle.

He knew by now that it had been a mistake to take Heather away from her home. He knew also that in his typical self centered way he had not really even considered her feelings. He had taken her assent to marriage to mean she assented to his way of life, that is, the wandering footsteps of an itinerant musician, and for his part had made what he thought was his own concession: to be faithful to her. He wondered if she knew what difficulty he had with that particular concession. A habit of a lifetime and one he believed was in his very blood fought against his promise every step of the way.

It had been somewhat easier in Ratherwood and Lawrencium. When she was not angry with him, Heather was a loving bed partner.. and he did love her dearly and could not imagine how lovemaking could be so wonderful with her. Maybe his old friend Rory McGuinness had been right after all, love makes lust better, richer, more real and sustaining somehow.

Unfortunately he had discovered quickly that Heather’s definition of faithful did not fit his. He was utterly true to her in body, but he had not thought his casual ways with the women of the court would mean anything to her. She begrudged him his idle flirtations, but more vexing was that she begrudged him his way of wooing the women in his audience while he was singing. She did not understand that this was part of his performance. It had stood him in good stead all these years. He knew talent alone had not got him the reputation he had with women of nobility. He owed their place in Lawrence and Josephine’s court to that allure he had with them.

Shannon knew that Heather was lonely. But he also knew she did nothing to ease her loneliness. She stayed in their chamber most of the time once Sean and Emily had left in March. She would sometimes sit with the Queen and her women, but she did not engage in the conversation. She sat at supper with her eyes on her trencher and her back to him all the while he sang. He had tried to coax her to make friends, be more open, but it had done no good.

When they were first married the one very good thing they had was their time alone. He would sing and play the lute for her. She would remember fond times in Ayrshire. They would make love, sit and hold each other, warm and happy in their coziness. But as Heather had grown annoyed with his buoyant flirtatiousness she had started to turn a cold shoulder to him oftimes. He had been cast out of their chamber on more than one occasion for his lack of sensitivity, or worse, for her suspicions about this woman or that. She had even decided that Shannon was in love with the Queen. Well, he admitted to himself, he was a little.. who wasn’t?

So the two had become famous not only at the castle, but in the town he soon learned as he was ribbed at the Blue Lady. Their quarrels were a favorite topic of gossip. He realized it was partly because they liked him and liked to talk about him, but he also was smart enough to know the men were not fond of his effect on their women and liked to see him hen-pecked. “How the mighty are fallen” and all that.

So here he was, on the road, on a family mission, not entirely sorry to be away from the strife but certainly not enjoying the self imposed celibacy. He was relieved to finally reach the sea coast so he could at least rest himself on the voyage over to Antrim.

In a tavern he found a ship’s captain who agreed to take him across to Ireland for a reasonable amount of money. When Shannon offered to sing for his passage, the man shook his head. “I be that tone deaf, sir, and I already told that fellow comin’ in here nay when he offered.”

Shannon looked up to see who he was talking about and his mouth fell open at the tall slender red headed man who had come in and was walking towards a table near the fire. “Rory McGuinness, as I live and breathe!”

Next: Shannon and Rory Reunite

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About the author

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