Continued complete with link to matching old story from yesterday's post.
The party had taken the well established track along the top of the bluffs on the way down, but the Queen was in high spirits coming home and expressed a wish to ride along the shore at the foot of the cliffs. None of the party had much of anything to do with the sea except to enjoy its bounty, the soothing sound of its waves, and the cooling breezes it brought on hot summer days, so they were at least acquiescent to the royal whim if not actually enthusiastic. Rory was so buoyant from the festivities of the day that even he gave way without expressing any concern and cheerfully rode with Josephine as she veered down a fisherman’s track to the strip of beach along the rising land.
It certainly was still a lovely day. It was unseasonably pleasant and warm and the few clouds in the sky were brilliant white and soft. No storm threatened even in the distance over the North Sea. The Queen’s horse picked its way daintily along the rocky beach and slowly through the sandier spots. The party knew it would reach the port at Lawrencium before dark and would have no trouble then climbing to the top of any of the steeper and steeper cliffs along the water.
Josephine was entranced with the lapping of the waves. She rode along, mostly silent, just gazing and dreaming. Rory watched her as covertly as he could. He liked her pensive moods. They reminded him also of someone or some time he could not recall.
Suddenly as they crossed a small shallow stream that emptied into the sea, Josephine turned to Rory and said, “I shall race you to that rock outcropping there, see?”
He peered and saw the huge boulder she indicated. “Aye, me lady, and ye shall win.. I am no horseman.”
Her eyes flashed with merriment, “Well we shall see.” She dug her heels into her horse’s flank and sped off. Rory did the same. The rest of the party had been behind them, around another of the outcroppings, and the soft sand had muffled the horse’s hoof beats, so it was not until the pair were far ahead that the men at arms realized they had let the Queen out of their sight and hastened to catch up.
But they did not catch up. “Let her stay a bit ahead, “ the captain of the men at arms said. “Methinks the lady wants some time alone with her minstrel. And take care you keep this to yourselves as well.”
His men just smiled knowingly and slowed their horses slightly.
Far ahead Josephine had reached the outcropping moments before Rory. She was laughing and her color was high. Rory had had a time of it staying on his horse, so he was breathing heavily when he rode up. The Queen nimbly put her leg over her horse and slipped off into soft, golden sand. Rory climbed down as well. “Let’s sit for a while. I am so tired,” Josephine proposed. While Rory and she found a spot to sit, the rest of the party slowed to a stop some hundred or so yards away and settled to rest themselves. The captain posted his men to keep watch but relaxed, the Queen being in clear sight where she was.
Rory and the Queen sat in silence for a while just looking out over the waves. The sound and smell was so refreshing. They each occasionally commented on the view, on fishing boats heading back into Lawrencium, on how long they could stay and not risk riding back in the dark themselves, and on the gulls that soared over the cliffs above them. Neither noticed, nor did the rest of their party, that the tide was coming in and the Queen and her friend were sitting on what was fast becoming isolated from the rest of the beach.
“Saints,” Rory suddenly cried. He had looked around himself and seen that they were now on a little rise with the water all around them except for the cliff wall behind them and the rock outcropping to their side.
Josephine looked around quickly and saw their situation. “It looks like we have a little island of our own here, Rory,” she commented happily.
The captain of the men at arms had heard Rory’s sudden cry and had come forward a bit to see what ailed the man, realizing as he approached that the dip in the level of the shore was now filled with seawater. He shouted and waved to the Queen who waved back dismissively. The captain went back to mount his horse and edged it forward to the trench. As he went, the horse almost stumbled in a deeper spot. He backed it away quickly. He looked along the short length of the trench but was not confident any of it was shallower.
Rory had stood and come to the other side. He called to the captain, “It is a deep rill. He had to jump it when we came across.” He remembered it distinctly since he had not expected his horse to leap when it did and held on for dear life, just glad still to be ahorse when they hit the other side.”
The captain and Rory stood a few minutes, then Rory looked around him. “The water will not reach the cliff base.. see how the driftwood only comes so far. We will be safe here until the tide turns.”
“But how long will that be?” the captain worried.
Rory shrugged. A few hours. Ye can send to the castle so they are not made worried by our late return. There is a clear sky and I seem to recall the moon is close to full. It will not be very dark. Sure and we may not need to wait the whole tide out. Thinkin’ I am that this rill will be shallow enough to cross ere that.” He looked along it. “Dinnae be riskin’ your horse by tryin’ to leap it. It will not be that long.”
Whether the captain agreed or assumed some intrigue was afoot, he did not argue with the Irishman and turned and rode back to the rest of the Queen’s escort.
Rory explained his suggestion to the captain when he rejoined Josephine. She had hoped they could stay a while. It was thrilling to be out longer than planned, pleasant to be away from the rigors of court society, and simply pleasant to be in the company of this good man.
“Other than the chill breeze, I am not sorry.. This is a lovely place, and I ate enough at the fair to last me for some time.”
Rory at her words hastened to get his cloak from where he had tied it to his saddle, fetching the Queen’s cloak as well. He brought both back and draped them around and over her. She smiled up at him gratefully and patted the ground next to her. He sat. “Will ye not be cold?” she inquired, concerned.
“Nay, lady, I have Sunshine to bask in the warmth of,” he replied with one of those grins.
She looked at him appreciatively. “I did not realize you know my childhood nickname.” Rory just smiled. She considered him for awhile. He noticed her attention and blushed but in the dimming light it was not as noticeable.
“Rory, may I ask you something?” the Queen asked.
“Sure, ye may ask whate’er ye want, me lady. Ye are the Queen,” he replied, without anxiety.
She paused a moment, then went on, “You and Shannon come from Ulster, is that not right? In the north of Ireland?” When he smiled and nodded, she asked, “Is there not a sweetheart there who awaits your return, Rory?”
He was surprised at the question, having expected some light curiosity about Ulster in her question. He stammered, “Nay, me lady, none like that.”
She pursued, “If not in Ireland then, surely you must have a love somewhere, a man as well favored and pleasant as you.”
He hesitated, then answered, “Aye, I do love a woman.”
She clapped her hands together. “I knew it. How could it be otherwise. Where is she?”
Rory’s head was bowed. He asked quietly, “Ye think me an object worthy of love then?” His heart had risen to his throat. Inwardly he chastised himself for his boldness.
Not recognizing the change in his demeanor, the Queen pursued merrily, “Indeed, Rory! You are a most handsome man, and one of the kindest and sweetest I have e’er known. Now tell me, is she in Lawrencium?”
Rory replied, “Aye, she lives in Lawrencium.”
“In the town?”
“Nay, at the castle.”
“Is she a Briton or Saxon?” the Queen continued to ask.
“My lady, she is one half each.” He looked up to see if he could tell her reaction in the moonlight.
As Josephine began to reply, she stopped. Misgivings rose in her mind. She herself was half Briton, half Saxon. But he could not mean her, she counseled herself. “Rory,” she began tentatively, “if she lives in the castle, I must know her, must I not?”
He did not reply.
“Rory, you cannot be meaning..” And Josephine knew all at once he did mean herself. “Rory, that lady is married.” When all he did was bow his head again, she continued “Married to a very important man, and she has children.. and responsibilities.”
He finally spoke, “If only she had not those responsibilities.. methinks she and I would both be that much happier.”
Josephine took in a short sharp breath. How could he know her discontent with the duties of a high lady in the land? Her voice became gentle but firm. “Rory, you must not.. you must cast away this misdirected love. You know it cannot be.”
At this he lifted clear sincere blue eyes to her. “Seosaimhin, forgive me. I cannae make meself not love. ‘Tis me destiny, sure and I ken. I shall love ye for all me life. I shall ne’er kiss another maid.”
Josephine was appalled, and behind that both a little thrilled and already mourning the loss of the easy companionability she had with this man. “Nay, nay, Rory. I cannot accept that promise. You know I cannot.”
Rory looked up and out to sea. His eyes were narrowed, as if he was looking into a strong light, and his face was full of sorrow. “Aye, I know that, and ye need fear not from me. I shall love ye, me darlin’, chastely and reverently. I shall not veer from that path as long as I live. Nothin’ can change how I feel.”
The Queen tried again, “But Rory you cannot know that. You cannot know that a real love will not come along for you. How could it not?”
Rory shook his head. “It cannot because me heart is already given.”
Josephine tried one last desperate strategy, “Rory, I do not want you to be in love with me. I entreat you as your Queen to renounce your promise.”
At this he gave her a pained look. He stood stiffly and turned and walked to the water’s edge. She was on her feet in a moment, following him. “Rory, please answer me!”
He turned and looked down into her eyes. “Seosaimhin, I ken that ye cannae love me, not like that. Ye love the King, and that be as it should. But I dinnae believe ye dinnae want me to love ye.. I ken your heart better than ye know. And I cannae do as ye ask. I am not me own master in this regard.”
Josephine, stunned, just looked at him. She bowed her head then and turned. She went back to where she had been sitting, pulled her cloak around her and sat. She left his cloak on the ground.
He came towards her after a while. She bit her lip praying that he would not press his suit further. Instead he just leaned and picked up his cloak, draping it over her again. Then he stepped several paces away and sat, facing away from her.
When at last the tide was out again and the party returning to the castle, Josephine turned to Rory as he rode alongside her as before. “Rory?”
He looked up, solemn. “Aye, me lady?”
“Promise me I have not lost your friendship.”
He smiled thinly. “Nay, me lady, ye have not. If I can but stay near ye, we shall e’er be good friends. I wouldnae risk that for anything, not even for me great love for ye.” He reached to her and took her hand and kissed it. “Now ye have two promises from me, and ye can count on both.”
Josephine looked at him with sorrow and regret. “As to the second, I am filled with gladness; but I shall pray that you prove unreliable in regards to the first. It is a terrible thing to waste your love in such a way.."
Next: The Hunting "Accident"
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
Saturday, September 12, 2009
New Stories: Rory's Vow to Love the Queen, Part 2 (Happened)
Continued complete with link to matching old story from yesterday's post.