"e lady, we have come to ask a boon of ye," Rory said as he and Shannon stood in the doorway of the Queen's privy chamber.
Josephine had her children with her, the twins crawling at her feet and Peter and Tavish building a tower of wooden blocks together. She wanted to spend as much time as possible with them before she left in the morning.
Peter saw the visitors and his face broke into a smile. Tavish looked up as well and cried, "Shan! Rowee!" The two boys dashed to the pair, each throwing his arms around one of the men's legs.
"Of course, my good friends, do come in and tell me." Rory came over to a chair with Peter still attached to his leg, leaned to pick up Elaine and sat her on his lap as he took his seat. Shannon pulled Tavish off his leg and placed him on his own knee when he sati. Caithness, never to be left out, went to her mother to be held.
Shannon bounced Tavish on his knee, then turned to the Queen. "Me lady, if ye will grant us leave, Rory and I should like to be comin' with ye to Affynshire."
Josephine glanced at Rory's face, but he was focused on something Peter was trying to say. She thought to ask why they wanted to come, but thought better of it. She knew that Heather and Shannon were now well and truly estranged. That was no doubt the greater part of the wish.
"Of course, you may, my dears. And you will stay with my family, of course."
Rory looked up them, then over at Shannon. "Nay, me lady, we shallnae stay.. we should like to be on the road wanderin' again for some time. We should like to see more of your countryside."
Josephine felt a stab of fear. "You are not leaving us forever, are you?"
She saw Shannon's look at Rory and judged that indeed Shannon planned to leave and be gone from the castle and Lawrencium. Rory's face was conflicted. "I cannae say, me lady. I should meself want to come back as soon as possible. But ye ken how the fortunes of life are. I shall try, I promise." He looked down sadly. He knew that soon enough he would have to decide between his boyhood friend and the woman he worshipped.
The next morning the small party gathered in the courtyard of the castle. There were only four horses, for the Queen, one of her maids, and two men at arms, the others, including Shannon and Rory going on foot. Those who were riding were mounted save for the Queen. She stood with her husband making a difficult farewell.
"You would think we had had ne'er spent time apart," Lawrence said, speaking quietly so none other could hear their goodbyes.
Josephine smiled sadly. "Aye. It must be that every time we are we declare ne'er to be apart again."
Lawrence gazed at her, fighting back the tears that wanted so to show in his eyes. "Come back to me, as soon as you can, Love." He held her close.
"I shall, dearest, for I should not wish to be apart from you and our children any longer than I must. I love you, Lawrence, with all my heart and soul." Her own voice was tight.
Lawrence pushed her away somewhat to look in her face, then he leaned to kiss her long and intensely. "I love you so much that oftimes 'tis painful," he said after.
She looked into his eyes. "I know." Then she turned and went to her horse and mounted it deftly. She patted the sword she wore in its new scabbard. "I shall take great care, my lord, and return quickly."
Lawrence was at her side, looking up at her. He took her gloved hand and kissed it. He smiled as best he could and nodded. The two reluctantly let their hands slip from each other's as the Queen nudged her horse forward.
Lawrence watched the party out of the castle gate, then went into the keep to bury himself in work to try to cover the pain.
Rory came to walk alongside the Queen's horse, his hand on her saddle, staying close while she silently rode.
Shannon struck up a melody on his lute and sang a spirited traveling tune, not quite covering his own grief as they turned down the road that led west, away from his own cottage and the castle.
In their cottage Heather was gathering items of hers and Seamus's and putting them in a small donkey cart. She smiled thinking of her home, where she and the boy would be traveling. Then she grew serious, thinking of her beloved Shannon's child within herself. She had not said anything to anyone about it.
Next: The Long Road to keito Uxello
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 http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com