ater when they were alone, Lawrence explained, "I know you could leave sooner, one or two days, but I erred on the side of my own self interest. I hope you can forgive me.." He held her in his arms, stroking her hair.
"Aye, my dearest. I know I should make haste, but it shall be torture to leave you and the children, even if for only two fortnight s, more or less. I have no complaint to make of you." She put her head against his chest. "I suppose that means I shall stop nursing the twins now. Mayhap 'tis as good a time as any."
Lawrence asked, "Would that mean that you could become with child after you return?"
Josephine smiled at the smile she could hear in his voice. She looked up into his face, which was tilted down to meet her look. "Aye, my lord, though that in part shall be up to you." The Queen smiled.
He kissed her lightly on the lips. "My dear love, I grieve for your trouble, fearing the worst for your good uncle. I know that you and Lorin lived with them oftimes when you were but children."
"Aye, and our sister Kenna, God rest her soul. We did have merry times. Our uncle, Ceretic, is a dear man with a song or a jest ere at hand.. not unlike our Shannon.. but more settled, less madcap."
"A combination of Shannon and Rory then."
The Queen nodded. "Much like."
"I shall miss you terribly. And you must promise to take your weapons and to be extremely careful at all times. I know you shall do what you shall do, but it comforts me to order you to stay well.. give me that, I pray."
For an answer, she held him closer.
The very evening of the day the messenger came with the sorrowful tidings, Rory stood in the Great Hall as the evening's meal wrapped up. He nervously wondered why Shannon had not arrived yet. It was just time for the minstrels to stop providing the meal's background entertainment and to strike up songs, stories and dances for the pleasure of the court.
From their ornate chairs at the head table on the dais, Josephine noted and commented on Rory's seeming concern and Shannon's absence. The King at her side nodded. "He will be here forthwith. He is never late. That at least I shall say for him."
And he was right for Shannon appeared moments later, hurrying across the Hall carrying his lute.. and a bundle of some sort. The royal pair watched as he thrust the bundle at Rory, who took it and clearly asked a question. The lute player made some response with a dismissive gesture of his hand, eliciting a shocked and unhappy look from the taller man.
"Oh dear," the Queen breathed.
Shannon took his place on a stool by the heart and shrugging off his cloak onto the floor, took up his lute and cradle it in his arms. The closest candles lit his face. The look was hard and angry. His voice reflected his expression as he began to sing. It was a song of a woman's heartlessness and betrayal.
The water is wide, I cannot get o'er Neither have I wings to fly Give me a boat that can carry two And both shall row, my love and I
A ship there is and she sails the sea She's loaded deep as deep can be But not so deep as the love I'm in I know not if I sink or swim
I leaned my back against an oak Thinking it was a trusty tree But first it bent and then it broke So did my love prove cold to me
I reached my finger into some soft bush Thinking the fairest flower to find I pricked my finger to the bone And left the fairest flower behind
Oh love be handsome and love be kind Gay as a jewel when first it is new But love grows old and waxes cold And fades away like the morning dew
Must I go bound while you go free Must I love a lass who doesn't love me Must I be born with so little art As to love a lass who'll break my heart
When cockle shells turn silver bells Then will my love come back to me When roses bloom in winter's gloom Then will my love return to me
Shannon ended the verse with a discordant chord, stood, and left the Hall, leaving his bundle and cloak. Rory glanced at the Queen, then dashed after his friend. He returned a moment later carrying Shannon's lute and went to bow and ask leave of the Queen.
"My lady, Shannon is distraught. He handed his lute to a servant as he left the keep. I must go find him."
Lawrence leaned in and asked, "What has passed?"
Rory looked back over his shoulder, his own look dark and unhappy. "'Tis Heather. She has cast him from their wee cottage with all he owns."
He shook his head at the Queen's "Why?" Then without waiting to be given leave, he dashed away.
Rory found his friend at the Blue Lady. He was drinking from a large tankard and smiling and laughing with other men seated near him. He glanced up irritably at Rory. "Now what is it ye'll be wantin'?"
Rory slid onto the bench next to him. "Why did ye run from the Hall?"
His friend leveled a scornful look at him. "Och, McGuinness, are ye deaf or just half-witted. I told ye. She has tossed me out, for good this time says she. I am tired of it. I cannae do right in her eyes and heart. I shall no longer try."
"Do ye know what happened to make her act so?"
Shannon shook his head sourly, took a large draught of his ale, then answered, "Do I e'er ken the woman's reasons? Do ye? Leave off, I have no wish to be after relivin' the argument." He turned to the men he was sitting with and started up singing a bawdy drinking song.
Rory sat for a while, then stood. Shannon took no notice of his departure.
There was candlelight in the tiny window of the cottage Shannon had shared with his wife and son. Rory made his way to the door and rapped on it. Heather opened it narrowly. "Rory, dinnae bother, 'tis the last time I shall bear his wenchin'."
"Sure and ye will at least let me come in and find out what convinces ye he has been doin' it?"
Heather reluctantly opened the door wider, and Rory came into a warm, clean but quiet place. Seamus was asleep on his bed of straw in the corner.
Rory took the stool Heather offered, but turned down the ale she did likewise. "What is it then, Heather? Ye were doin' so well together. Saints, I cannae think what would make ye so angry with him this time."
The Scots woman sat across the crude table from the very tall man, her arms wrapped around her and her lips tight. She thought a moment and said, "I ken what ye shall say, Rory. Ye shall assure me o'er and o'er that he has been true. But 'tis not his nature. And now I have the means to convince even ye."
She turned and reached for something on the shelf behind her, then turned and handed it to Rory. He stared at it, dumbfounded. It was a woman's glove., made of soft kid leather with colorful stitching on the wrist.
"Och, where did ye find this, lass?"
The dark haired woman squirmed as she answered. "I went to that.. room.. of his.. where he takes his women. I found it there."
Rory put his face in his hands. He muttered in Irish. When he pulled his hands away, his expression was impatient. "Och, lass, he dinnae take anyone there. I have told ye that again and again. No lass would go there.. nor would there be any room to.. well, there would be no room. He and I cannae even both sit comfortably." He glared at her look of resolute suspicion. "And I know whose glove that be."
Heather glanced up at him sideways, intense curiosity mixing in her face with trepidation. "Aye? And who might that be?"
Rory stared at her frankly. "The Queen's."
Heather's face paled. "What? How? She is the one woman I should not suspect.."
"And with good reason, though it seems to me ye ne'er have needed a reason to suspect him." He held up the glove and considered it. "On one of Shannon's and the lady's and me romps, her grace dropped a glove. In a weak moment I picked it up and put it in me tunic. 'Twas some days after that I was holdin' it and Shannon was after teasin' me when who but the King should approach. Shannon took the glove and shoved it in his own tunic so the man should not see me with his lady's glove in me lovin' hands."
It was clear from her face that Heather did not wish to give up her belief that the glove belonged to a woman her husband was bedding. But how could she argue now that she had proof? She shook her head, which Rory answered by nodding his own.
"This means nothin' but that I have not caught him at it yet," the Scotswoman cried defiantly. Seamus stirred in his bed at the noise, and the adults glanced at him and lowered their voices.
Rory retorted, "Heather O'Neill, ye have a cruel heart, methinks. I know he is a handful, but the very life that shines from him should bring ye joy, not make ye hate him." He was rising from the table.
"I dinnae hate him, Rory. I love him, I do, I vow." She looked at him plaintively. "But how can I bear it? I have tried. I shall no longer try."
Rory's normally placid expression was now one of fury. "And that be just what he said of your suspicious nature. Lass, if ye dinnae want to lose the man, I think 'tis time you made an apology. I will leave ye with that thought. He is near gone from ye.. and so 'tis all your own doin'.
He strode out of the cottage without looking back.
Heather went to look for Shannon in the morning, but she was few paces from her own door when she saw them. A bawd from the tavern was supporting a very drunk or ill Shannon, and they were coming her way. Heather's face hardened. She stopped and crossed her arms on her chest.
Shannon saw her and drunkenly asked, "Och, 'tis me lovin' wife Heather. Well, lass, I hope ye are satisfied. After bein' your faithful husband these years, I have done it. I have humped another woman." He made a lewd gesture, then half passed out.
The bawd sighed. "Help me get him to his bed."
Heather protested, "He has no bed here. He spent the night in yours.. why not take him back there?"
The woman ignored her, went on to the cottage and kicked open the door. Seamus was playing with a friend, so thankfully he saw none of this. The woman stretched Shannon, who could only help a little, on his and Heather's bed. He started snoring immediately.
"I would put a pot near the bed, were I ye," the tavern woman advised Heather, who was ushering her back out of the cottage.
The bawd turned on Heather in the dooryard, her hands on her hips. "You I see are as much of a bitch as I have heard."
Heather was stunned. "What? From my worthless husband?"
"Nay, the man cannot say an evil word against ye.. e'en last night when 'twas clear ye had tossed him out on his arse."
"Oh, ye mean when ye took him to your bed with ye?" Heather had her hands on her hips now as well.
"Oh that I could have.. he's a sweet man. We all would pay him for a tumble.. but he will have none of us. Last night, then, I thought 'twas possible. I did take him to my bed.. but the man wept for love of ye and then passed out. No use to me, he was." The woman started to turn.
"I suppose ye expect me to believe that," Heather snapped.
The tavern woman carelessly called back to her, "Believe what ye want. Ye may be the stupidest woman I have e'er encountered."
When Shannon finally woke, he was sick and in great pain from the drink. He was also surprised to find himself in his own bed. He got up to relieve himself outside and found Heather sitting outside in the dooryard while Seamus played with a toy horse that the King had given him. He stood in the door and gazed miserably at Heather. "How did I get here, me lass?"
"Your wench brought ye."
"My wench? And pray who would that be?" he asked acerbically.
Heather did not answer.
"Och, then, so I dinnae remember anything from when I got to the tavern. So if ye believe I did anything, I cannae meself deny it." He wanted to ask her, "What happened to us, love?" but he knew what her answer would be and was too sick at heart and body to venture.
He went to the boy and leaned to stroke his hair. "Och, macushla, what a life 'tis ye have been born into.," he murmured. "Darlin', ne'er forget that I love ye with all me heart."
He stood and looked at his wife. "God be with ye, Heather."
"And God with ye, Shannon." Heather did not look up as he walked away.
Next: Part 3
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
Thursday, October 1, 2009
New Stories: The Queen Goes to Affynshire, Part 2 (Happened)