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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New Stories: Two Bastards (Cut)

There is no Seamus (at least as far ass Shannon knows) in the novel. he does however hint at the terrible treatment he and his mother and siblings suffered at his father's hands when, as they escape from Ormyngel's men he and the queen flee south. Shannon explains to josephine that he learned to find places to hide quicly when he was a boy and his drunken father was bent on killing him. There are stories about Shannon's and Rory's childhood that I will post later.

October 767

"Och, what am I to do with ye, wee one," Shannon said as he looked into the little blue eyes so like his own.

Three year old Seamus stood and looked up at his father with his thumb in his mouth. Shannon looked up at Rory McGuinness, who stood by smiling at the child. "Now why is it that the boy reminds me of ye at a little older than this?"

Rory cast an offended look at his friend, then smiled and put his thumb in his own mouth. He said around it, "I have no idea."

Shannon smiled ruefully. "Sure and your sense of humor is improved these many years."

Shannon's sister Kathleen inserted herself. "Sham, 'tis time ye took responsibility for yourself and cared for the child ye got."

Shannon picked up a wooden toy and handed it smiling to his son. "I do take responsibility for meself.. 'tis takin' it for others I am no good at."

Kathleen, not tall but well-proportioned, with her fair hair in a knot at the nape of her neck, was surrounded by small children of her own. She crossed her arms over her ample bosom and regarded her older brother ruefully. "Aye, and that is what I am talkin' about. Ye go about peoplin' the Fair Isle with your bastards, but no sense of responsibility to them do ye seem to have."

Shannon's return look included one raised eyebrow. He motioned to her milling brood. "And their fathers.. are where?"

Kathleen glared. "I am takin' responsibility for them… and I am after speakin' to me brother. And this poor wee one's mother can hardly raise him now."

Shannon nodded sadly. "Och, sweet Molly. Poor lass. Childbed was it? Sure and that one was not mine." He glanced challengingly at his sister who just turned up her nose and walked away. "Come along, Seamus. Let's go out into the yard and get to know each other then."

Shannon picked up his son and went out the door, closely followed by Rory. Little Seamus leaned and reached to be put down again, and Shannon did as he himself sat on a bench. Rory joined him. Seamus took off after a puppy who had scampered into the yard as they had come out of the door.

Rory ventured, "He's a handsome lad. Can ye not take him back with ye to Christenlande?"

Shannon leaned his elbows on his spread knees and looked down at the ground. "Och, Rory, me lad, I dinnae ken how Heather would take to this. She is that dissatisfied with me as it is."

The two had talked many times about Shannon's rocky relations with his wife on the voyage and journey to Tyrone and Kathleen's home. Rory knew that Shannon had only a half realization of the cause of the woman's unhappiness. The wild haired Irishman understood now that he had taken Heather from her beloved home in spite of her pleas to stay. He tried to justify insisting she come, saying he had told her from the start he would need to wander. He was a minstrel after all.

But he did not see that Heather had reason to be lonely. In Lawrencium she was away from the simple farm life she knew, among people who did not speak her tongue, and now the best she could call her friends were women with something she did not have.. a child. Shy as she was by nature, she had nothing in common with the women at court, nothing to draw her out.

"He is a treasure, though, is he not?" Shannon said as he caught his own smile etched across the boy's lips. "He is the like of me, would ye not say, Rory?"

Rory smiled to himself. "Aye, that he is, ye great popinjay."

Shannon shot a look at Rory. "I will thank ye to be more respectful, soldier turned minstrel." He grinned. "I wonder if Heather would be happier with a child? She has been talkin' of her wish to be with child.. and her fear that she is not yet blessed with one of me."

Rory looked sympathetic. "Is she fearin' she is barren?"

Shannon shrugged. "Well she knows 'tis not me.. ye heard what me sister said. I am after keepin' the population of this Fair Isle up.. and she dinnae even mention Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Britain…" He looked speculatively at his friend. "I am supposin' ye have no sons or daughters out there yourself?"

It was then Rory's turn to shrug. "I dinnae believe so. The few women I lay with were camp followers. If they had children, who knows by which man?"

Shannon looked thoughtful. "And what of the girls we bedded ere ye left."

Rory averted his eyes and simply shook his head, making no further response.

Shannon's face grew mischievous. "Are ye after tellin' me ye dinnae actually bed those girls I made me lasses bring along for ye?"

Rory's face was growing red. He stood abruptly and strode away irritably. Shannon let the jest go.

Shannon gazed at his son, who was tiring now. The little boy came over to him and draped himself over his father's knees. He put his thumb in his mouth and lay there. Shannon ruffled his hair and started to sing a little lullaby. The boy looked up into his eyes and smiled. Shannon smiled back and picked Seamus up. He held him on his shoulder and sang the child to sleep.

Rory turned to look at the two. "Methinks this one is comin' home with ye."

Shannon nodded. Then he looked at his friend. "Comin' home? Not goin' home? Are ye comin' too, ye great hulkin' tower of a man?"

Rory looked at his lifelong friend. "Aye, Shan. Sure and I dinnae want to part we ye again as long as I live."

Shannon gave him a warm and grateful smile. "Ye are that good a friend, McGuinness."

On the day before the three, Shannon and his son Seamus and his friend McGuinness, were to set off for the coast and another boat across the Irish Sea, one of Shannon's and Kathleen's nephews came running into the dooryard, gasping for breath and soaked with sweat. Kathleen got him a cup of cool water from a bucket and asked, "Finn, have ye run all the way here from your father's house?"

It took the boy a while to get back his wind. When he finally did he gasped, ''Tis grandmother.. the O'Neill.. he killed her."

Kathleen put her hand to her mouth and cried out, nearly toppling over backwards. Rory caught her, but his own and Shannon's faces were as white as the woman's.

Shannon demanded, "Killed her, how? When?"

Finn took a noisy gulp of the water and tried to explain. "Last night, he beat her, as he ever does, only this time it killed her."

Shannon's face now began to color. He clenched his fists. "Where is the bastard?! I will kill him."

The boy could only answer, "Run away, he is."

Shannon turned to Kathleen, "Keep Seamus here. I will be back. Come, soldier boy, we have need of your skills." Shannon took off without his lute or cloak in the direction his nephew had come running.

At Timothy's cottage they found two more of Shannon's brothers with their assorted wives and children standing in the dooryard, gesticulating and swearing oaths. Shannon shouted, "Where is she? Where is Mother?"

Timothy's wife nodded towards the house where Shannon had grown up until the day he ran away to escape just such a fate as his mother had come to. Rory followed him. In the cottage Shannon's mother still lay where she had died. He knelt at her side. "Macushla," he wept over her. "Had I but been here to protect ye."

Rory kneeled at his side and put a hand on his shoulder. "Here, let's get her off the floor. Shannon stood and was unable to act, so Rory lifted the crumpled body from the floor and took it to lie on the bed. He reached and closed the woman's eyes. He straightened out her clothes. "It looks as if he broke her neck," he said simply.

Shannon stood where he was, tears streaming down. "'Tis a wonder either of us e'er looks at a woman unashamed, with the violence done to both our sweet mothers." Rory nodded sadly.

Around Timothy's table the brothers all chided themselves for not protecting their mother, then reassured each other that with a man like the elder O'Neill there was little they could have done. Timothy said, "I just thought the old man would ne'er go this far."

Rory put in, "As drunk as he used to get, I dinnae ken if he e'en knew what he did."

One of the other brothers nodded. "And he was worse drunk these last days. Much worse."

Shannon slammed the table with his fist, an action which startled everyone. "We cannae let this go. We must find him and kill him. We should have done this years ago. Then Mother would still be alive."

No one disagreed. Timothy asked, "But how do we find him?"

Shannon answered, "We split up and look. He has only a few ways he could go. With you three and Padraig and me and Rory we can cover three directions paired. Ye will come with me, will ye not, me lad?" He looked at Rory. Rory nodded firmly.

Timothy set off to the monastery where Padraig had taken orders. In spite of his vow Padraig would join the search. The two other brothers took off together to the north. Shannon and Rory went back to Kathleen's so Rory could get his weapons. Kathleen, in tears, bade them go with God but to take the Devil with them too.

Seamus just looked mournfully up at his father's face. "I'll be back to get ye, wee one, I promise."

It was Shannon and Rory who came across the older O'Neill first. He was in a tavern in a village on the Ban. He was drunk but not so far drunk that he did not know why the young men were there. "So ye found me, ye wastrel," he spat at Shannon. "Why are ye even in Ireland, boy? I thought ye had gone to Britain with that buggerer."

Shannon spat back, "Ye scoundrel!" He looked to the few others in the tavern. "This man killed me mother! Who will challenge me right to kill him?"

The others in the tavern just quietly rose with their tankards and melted away.

Rory stared incredulously at the elder O'Neill who was laughing. "Your mother? She was not your mother, boy."

Shannon had not heard him. He spun back to face his father, whose hair, though graying, still shone with the same copper his did. The man stood and faced his son, several inches shorter than he. "Did ye not hear me, boy? She was not your mother. Did ye never wonder why of all her children ye are the only one with red hair? Ye were got on an ignorant farm girl, ye wee fancy boy of a bastard."

Shannon stood staring, unable quite to understand. Rory watched father and son for the first move. If the elder O'Neill had planned it, he could not have succeeded more, as Shannon's grief and rage made him throw himself on his father with no effort to prepare himself for blows. The father deftly tripped his son. He reached down and grabbed him by the arm. The older man was powerful in build and in skill. He twisted his son's arm until anyone standing in the room could have heard the bone crack and break. Shannon cried out with pain.

Rory drew his sword and faced the elder O'Neill. The man just grinned back at him. "McGuinness, is it? Well I shouldnae be surprised that me son brings his little catamite with him. Ye know ye cannae kill me, not in cold blood. Ye owe clan allegiance to me not me illegal son there. If ye kill me, 'tis to the gallows ye go."

Rory kept his sword angled up. "If ye dinnae get away and leave me to find help for Shan I will risk it," he said with his eyes narrowed and hard and his teeth clenched.

O'Neill glanced at his son who lay on the floor boards, writhing in pain. He spat on him, prodded him with his foot. "Och, dear me, is that your lute playin' arm I broke? Or is it just the one ye hold your boys cock with then? Too bad ye shall be havin' to leave off playin' with either for a while." He spat again.

He turned and looked at Rory, still grinning disdainfully. "I will go, whelp, but 'tis the smell that has suddenly filled this place that drives me, not fear of ye. I think your sweetheart there has soiled himself." He made an elaborate show of smelling the air and wincing. Then he took up his cloak from the bench he had been sitting on and with a swagger left the tavern.

As Rory sheathed his sword to kneel by Shannon, the innkeeper came up fretfully, "The man dinnae pay for his supper! Are ye goin' to cover him?"

Rory cast a sharp look at the man. "I will pay.. now get some help."

Next: Returning from Ireland

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About the author

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