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, September 10, 2009

New Stories: Returning from Ireland (Happened)

With the exception of the exxistence of Heather and Seamus, this sequence is most definitely in the novel. In fact the next story has a parallel in both the old stories and in the novel.

November - December 767

t was a mostly somber trio who traveled back from Ulster. The little boy was a quiet thoughtful child as it was, and his father's mood did not cheer him up. Shannon tried to be light with Seamus but his encounter with his father had left him miserable and in pain. To top that off he had the dread of what his wife Heather would say when he showed up with his bastard son in tow.

Rory had gotten help for his friend after the elder O'Neill had deliberately broken his son's arm. Shannon felt humiliated but also feared permanent harm as he depended on his arms and hands for his livelihood as a musician. He could sing without a lute, but the lute was his lady and mistress. If he could not make love to the women he encountered on his way or with his wife far away in Christenlande, at least he had that lute to "make love to". Now he had nothing.

Shannon and his friend Rory had gone back after the former had had some time to start mending to his brother Timothy's house. All the sons of O'Neill had returned, empty handed, and now Ron and Padraig had joined them.

Seeing Shannon's broken arm all the sons and their sister Kathleen recognized at once what had happened. They had all had those broken arms at one time or another, all a gift from their loving father. None would let Shannon berate himself for failing to hold or kill their father. They all knew how slippery the man was.

Privately Rory had asked Shannon if he planned to tell his sister and brothers what their father had told him about his real mother. He shook his head, "I will tell Kathleen, but no other." In fact Kathleen had become furious when Shannon told her, pacing about her small cottage waving her fists in the air and calling the elder O'Neill names Shannon had not known she knew. Her children watched nervously.

Then Kathleen had sat down with him and leaned in to confide. "I have a shame of him too, me darlin' brother." She looked towards her eldest child, a strapping boy with flame red hair. "Our lovin' Da got Brendan on me."

Shannon had sat back with shock. "He… he.. raped ye?" he said as quietly as his horror would allow. His sister just nodded. Shannon looked more miserable than ever. "Now more than ever, machroidhe, I wish I had killed him.. and long ago." Kathleen put a hand on his arm to comfort him.

The parting was sorrowful for all. Shannon's visit had turned into a wake and funeral for his mother and a failed revenge on his father. The brothers went about as if all had been unmanned. Nothing their women said, not even Kathleen, could reassure them. Shannon was at least finding pleasure in getting to know his son, and that was the one ray of sunshine in the journey home.. until his thoughts started turning to Heather and if and how she would receive the boy.

The journey was slow. Shannon could not walk far each day, but as the miles went by he became stronger. Not long before they had reached the frontier of Christenlande, he was able to hold his lute for a short time and even pluck the strings. "'Tis a blessin' that he chose to break me right arm, as I dinnae think I could finger the strings on the neck if it had been me left. Ye need more strength in all your fingers for that."

At their campfire soon after, Shannon was thoughtful. He waited until Seamus was fully asleep before he came and sat near Rory. "Me father made some rude comments there."

Rory looked up from his tin whistle which he was fingering without blowing into it. "Aye, I thought they were strange, but I was not offended by them. I dinnae know your Da even knew about Master Ishaq."

Shannon's eyebrows went up and he blew out a puff of air. "Och, now there is a tale I'd rather not recall, no less tell." He gathered his resolve and went on. "The good master and me came across me Da one day in our travels. Me Da saw right away that Ishaq was not one for the ladies. He accused him of keepin' me as his fancy boy. He demanded Ishaq buy me from him. When our master refused, me Da beat him bad. I thought he would die. He was never the same after that. Me Da is a man whose cruelty and greed are bottomless."

Finally after the long weeks of travel the castle at Lawrencium came in sight. Rory had been enjoying the scenery as he traveled through Christenlande, far east of where he had ever been on the Britannic island. His first sight of the North Sea made him stop and stare. "How beautiful!" he breathed.

Little Seamus was in his arms. The boy looked up from where his head lay on Rory's shoulder and looked at the sea. His little face screwed up. "I dinnae like it. Please make it go away, Rory!"

As the three trudged up the steep road to the castle from the town, Shannon was growing tenser and tenser. "Och, sure and here it comes… me day of justice."

Rory tried to reassure him with a smile but it did no good.

"Now Seamus," his father coached him. "When ye see the little dark haired woman who looks like she just ate somethin' sour, reach out your arms to her and say, 'Ma!'".

Rory chided, "Och, now, dinnae tell him that. Let the love come, natural like." Shannon cast a baleful look at his friend.

As they entered the gates, Shannon was cheerily and affectionately hailed by the guards. Lorin, who was just crossing the courtyard, turned his steps to them. "O'Neill, well met! We have missed you all these months!"

Shannon introduced Rory to the Duke. As Rory bowed deeply, Lorin said, "And this must be your fine son, McGuinness."

Rory and Shannon exchanged a look. "Nay, your Grace, 'tis mine, the one I went to arrange things for," Shannon explained.

Lorin smiled with recognition. "Well, of course, and we shall all be glad to have your son with us." Then Lorin's face was touched by a thought his diplomacy helped him hide. He said nothing more.

Shannon inquired, "And the Queen? Is she safely delivered of her child this past month?"

Lorin's face broke into a smile again. "Aye, indeed she has, of two little girls. Beautiful and healthy. Caithness and Elaine."

Shannon grinned, "Twins, eh? I am that sure the King is all puffed up about that."

Lorin just smiled.

The two men and the boy were ushered straight into the King's chambers. Lawrence sat at his work table going over documents. His smile was genuine as he greeted Shannon. When he was introduced to Rory he accepted the man's deep bow and then took his hands. "Welcome, McGuinness. How pleased my lady wife will be to meet you and to have your voice added to our entertainments."

The King called for a servant and sent the man for ale and to ask the Queen to join them to meet the new visitor. "Have ye seen Heather yet?" the King asked. Then he turned to Rory again, "Is this your little son?"

Shannon replied for his friend, "Nay, me lord, 'tis mine. Seamus O'Neill."

Lawrence was less successful hiding his realization. But he recovered quickly, took the child's little hand and said, "Well met, Master O'Neill." Seamus reached from where Rory had him in his arms and tried to grab the golden chain around the King's neck. The three men laughed.

The ale arrived, and shortly afterwards the Queen who brought Heather with her. Heather saw Shannon, cried with joy and rushed to him. He put his left arm around her and kissed her, and then it was she noticed his arm still in a sling. "Shannon, what happened?"

"'Tis but a little gift from me father, that's all. 'Tis mostly healed." He kissed her again,. And for once she was not shy to be kissed inn front of others. His heart warmed at her greeting.

In the meantime the usually placid Rory was frankly staring at the Queen. His eyes were wide and his mouth slightly agape. He had bowed from where he was standing back a bit so his discourtesy was not noted. He did not raise entirely from the bow but looked up from where he stood bent. All he could do was think, "I have seen this radiant being before.. where? In a dream?" When she turned to smile at him he felt as if he had been struck in the face.

The King hurried to make the introduction. "My dearest, this is the O'Neill's long friend, Rory McGuinness, also a minstrel."

Shannon added, "And a fine teller of tales."

Josephine smiled at Rory. "A long friend I must say, you are the tallest man I have ever seen methinks."

Rory was speechless.

Shannon grinned, "And his tongue too long it is as well.. it is tied in a knot now to see your beauty and grace." Rory blushed crimson.

Heather caught the compliment and frowned a little. Shannon saw it out of the corner of his eye and hurried on to introduce her to his friend. "Rory, me oldest and dearest friend, I am after wantin' ye to meet me darlin' sweet, beautiful Heather. Heather, ye recall me talkin' about me boyhood friend?"

Heather shot him a "Too little too late" look, but turned a gracious and welcoming smile on Rory. "Welcome, McGuinness. I have heard so much I think I am knowin' ye already."

Rory had regained his composure. He took Heather's hand and kissed it. "Ye are everything he has said, Heather. And I knew ye must be to tame this wild Irishman as ye have."

Heather lifted an eyebrow and glanced speculatively at her husband. "Have I?"

Shannon put his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes, "Heather, I have been true to ye me whole journey. I promised and I kept me promise." He could not tell if she believed him.

"He has," Rory tried to be helpful.

Heather's eyes had fallen on Seamus, taking in the red hair and the likeness to Shannon. She said without looking at Rory, "Would ye say if he had not?"

Rory replied, "Nay, but I also would not say he had falsely."

Heather turned a thoughtful look on him, clearly impressed. "An honest Irishman," she breathed.

Shannon headed off the mistake the others had made. "Heather, me sweet darlin', this is Seamus. Me illegal son."

Heather's eyes went to Shannon's, uncertain, then realization came to them. She kept her voice even as she said, "And ye have brought him here to live with us."

Shannon's eyes pleaded for her approval. "Aye, and can ye accept him?"

Heather gazed at him, then turned to the boy. She went to him and took him out of Rory's arms. "Seamus, dear, I am your new Mama."

Shannon hurried up to the two and put his hands on Heather's shoulders, her back being to him. She shrugged them off.

Lawrence and Josephine exchanged quick, furtive looks. Rory looked as if his own heart would break.

"Come with me, little one, and I will introduce you to the prince and princesses." Heather took Seamus to the door of the chamber. She remembered herself and turned to the King and Queen. "With your leave?" she asked with a little curtsy.

Lawrence looked at his wife, who nodded and said, "Of course, Heather," in a kind voice.

Shannon started to bow and go with her. Heather shook her head and he stayed back, his head hung.

When Heather had gone, Josephine came to Shannon and put her hand on his arm. "She will come around Shannon. She missed you terribly. We have had many good talks." She turned to Rory. "McGuinness we shall love having you here with us for a long time, I hope. I think mayhap you could take Shannon to the Hall and you both can get something to eat?"

Rory stood staring at her again. He finally nodded, bowed and took Shannon from the chamber.

Lawrence gave his wife a humorous smile. "My lady, I think ye have captured another heart" he said archly.

Next: Rory's Vow to Love the Queen

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About the author

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