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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Stories: Rory Falls In with Elerde (Happened)

ory had to think fast. In spite of his best efforts he had been spotted by the soldiers and was now being dragged bodily in to see the commander of the fortress. He needed a story as to why he had been found sneaking around the outer walls and not coming in at the main gate. Somehow, and he chastised himself for this, he had not put together any explanation before he started his journey back to Keito Uxello.

The soldiers had surprised him. They simply appeared at his elbows and seized them, not even demanding who he was or what he thought he was doing there. They quickly searched him and took his belt knife, but left him his wooden flute. After leaving Shannon to go their separate ways he had decided he needed to come back here to the Queen's uncle's fortress to determine if she had been captured and what her current disposition was. He had noted that the cousins' houses outside the timbered stockade appeared to be occupied now by soldiers and their followers, but rounding the deep forest side of the fortress he had found ways to climb up and peer over the top. He had seen no sign of Josephine, but then he had seen no sign of any of her family. It was when he had hit the ground and gone to find a new spot to climb that he had been roughly grabbed and dragged away.

The soldiers pulled him through the gate and into the courtyard. Rory glanced around to see if any familiar faces were there and would give his identity away. A couple servants did glance up but carefully turned their gazes away, perhaps sensing the need to play dumb for his sake. His captors spoke to the men guarding the door of the residence in what he supposed must be Breton, appearing to ask a question and get an answer, no doubt whether the commander was within. He was, it seemed.

Rory could not detect whether any of the household was in the hall as he was taken through it. The contrast from the light of noonday to the dark interior blinded him. He did note however that the room they threw him unceremoniously into was the one that had been described to him and Shannon as the Earl's work chamber. He had not seen Ceretic there before, as he was too ill, and he did not expect to see him there now. If under these circumstances a person could relax, it could be said that Rory did so now.

His eyes had the benefit of a narrow window in the room to adjust more rapidly than he had in the hall. He saw the silhouette of a man standing at the table with his back to the window, lifting some things from the surface that sounded like heavy parchments. He had noted that before the soldiers left him alone with the man, the one who had taken his belt knife had put it in front of the man at the table and bowed quickly. The apparent commander had put his hand on the knife and held it while he continued to look at the parchment in his hand.

Rory stood, waiting to be addressed by the silhouette, and waiting for clues as to what would put him the most at ease with an unexpected interloper.

Light from candles on the table finally revealed some of the man's face. He was not at all old, probably Rory's own age. He was armed even indoors, and had a dark, simmering uneasiness on his visage. Rory wondered if this was indeed the Elerde who had courted the Queen. He wondered if the man, if he, knew of Rory at all.

"A flute," the man stated, glancing at the instrument in Rory's belt. "A musician or just someone who plays a flute?"

Rory reacted to the stolidity of the man by adopting the opposite mien. He smiled foolishly, made a short but obsequious bow, and answered in a fey voice, "A musician, sire. And a storyteller. If it pleases you."

Elerde looked up. "And Irish? Is that what I hear in your voice?"

"Aye, that I am, sire."

Elerde leveled world weary eyes on Rory. "Do not call me 'sire'. Call me 'my lord'. Why is an Irish bard spying on this encampment?"

Rory tried to look puzzled. "Spying, sire.. I mean, me lord. Just lookin' for someone is all."

Elerde sat down in the Roman style chair behind the desk. "Looking for whom? Whom do you expect to be here?"

Rory let a slight giggle enter his reply. "Another Irish bard, me lord. I heard he was here servin' the Queen of Críslicland. O'Neill be his name."

The Breton gazed thoughtfully. "Why do you expect the Queen to be here, no less some Irish minstrel?" He was sitting back with his chin on his thumb and crooked index finger, considering the tall man in front of him.

Rory looked blank again, then smiled and answered, "I heard she was here and that the minstrel was with her. I want to meet him and to get work with him. I was here in Affynshire and I thought it was a good chance. Is he not here then? "

"Where did you hear the lady and her minstrel were here?"

"Some soldiers.. in a tavern.. they were after speakin' of it."

Elerde stood and moved around the table towards Rory, his gaze cast down and his hands clasped behind him. He had left the belt knife in plain view on the table, but Rory did not look at it. Best not to show that he might know how to use it for defense. Or want to.

Elerde glanced up at Rory when he came abreast of him. "Why did you not just come through the gate and ask?"

Now Rory carefully stammered his answer. "Well, sire, lord, 'tis just that.. well, ye ken, I mean, look at me. I am what ye might say am .. well.. pretty. That has been to me disadvantage among soldiers." He blushed and looked down. "Well among many soldiers. Not so bad a thing with others." He looked over at Elerde who was gazing at him with distaste. "If it pleases you, lord." He let a hopeful look cross his features.

Elerde did not answer but continued to walk around Rory. On the other side he stopped and looked at him again. "No, it does not please me. And if any of my soldiers should.. molest you.. they would not be my soldiers any more. But of course, you could not know that." He continued until he was in front of Rory. He looked at him through lowered eyelids. "So you are telling me you were looking to see if the Queen was here.. but not wanting to be found out. That is spying, sirrag."

"N-not the Queen, lord. The minstrel. Though if the Queen is needin' another minstrel…"

"I would not know. She is not here. Nor is her minstrel. But I have no desire to let you go looking further for them. And I do not entirely believe your story. " He called to his guard. The man entered the chamber immediately. "Take this man and bind him in the stable while I consider what to do with him."

"Lord?" Rory spoke up.

Elerde glared at him.

"I dinnae suppose ye need the services of such as I?"

Elerde looked surprised, then reconsidered his understanding of the question. "This is a military encampment. We do not need to listen to dances and such."

Rory let his gaze drift, then return. "I know lots of stories of war and combat!" His tone was hopeful.

Elerde dismissed him. "Mayhap. Now take him. I have work to do."

He sat again at his table and picked up the message from Malcolm again once the Irishman had been led away. Malcolm was questioning how the Queen could have slipped through the Breton mercenary's fingers. Elerde decided to ignore the request for some explanation.

His eyes now better adjusted, Rory saw that Modron, Josephine's aunt, was crouched by the hearth ladling a broth into a bowl. She looked startled when she caught sight of him and spilled the broth. Rory quickly said, "Beggin' your pardon, your Grace" in the new voice he adopted, and managed so slight a shaking of the head that only she could detect the movement.

"You startled me," she recovered, addressing the guards. "Now see what you have made me do."

The guards ignored her and led the Irishman away.

Next: Malcolm Makes his Plans

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About the author

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