Late September 769
ory McGuinness sat on the straw on the floor of the shed he had been ushered into the night of his arrival at Hucknall with O’Donnell. He had piled some of the mildewing straw up to create some insulation against the increasingly chilly nights. He knew he must smell of the mildew and worse. It had been three days since their arrival. He wondered why O’Donnell had not sent the guards to drag him to his chamber. Had he mistaken his purpose after all? If so, what was the reason he was here?
The shed was built of vertical pieces of local wood lashed onto a wood frame and thatched with what was now damp straw. Being no more than a storage place no effort had been made to stop up the gaps with moss or mud. Not until now as Rory pressed wet straw in the worst offenders. There was no window, of course, for which he was grateful, but he could see enough of the courtyard of the fortress through the places where the wood slats did not come together. He had a bucket for his waste and was fed daily what looked like the soldiers’ same supper. Most of the time he sat in his warm corner trying to keep his body heat in.
Hucknall was much like Keito Uxello though larger. There was a stockade wall all about it. The main building was a great hall where O’Donnell and his commanders no doubt ate and slept. There were the usual outbuildings, a kitchen, animal sheds, a forge, a baking shed with an oven. He saw that the soldiers had put up rough huts for themselves, some thatched like the other buildings, some with turf in place of thatch. He heard Irish spoken all around him, as well as Saxon. He noticed one man over and over standing near the door of the hall watching his shed. The man was obviously of some rank from the way the men saluted him. He was dark haired, bearded, strongly built but tending towards short. Rory wondered about him, but could not guess what his purpose was in staring at Rory’s prison.
What Rory did wonder about most was O’Donnell, whom he had glanced several times in the courtyard. He had seen the long mustached Irishman glance with an unreadable expression over towards him, but then avert his face and hurry on his way. This simply added to the mystery of why O’Donnell, if he had wanted him to make him a lover, had not pressed his desires yet. Rory wondered when it would finally happen, then wondered what he himself would do. Would he submit in order to survive? Or would he refuse and no doubt die? Would he have any warning and be able to prepare himself? He had plenty of time to think, plenty of time to wonder. Master Ishaq was entirely discreet, but Rory like any other soldier saw men together often enough and had a good idea what men did when making love. He did not shudder as being a poet he had respect for all types of love, but he could not imagine wanting to do any of the acts he had witnessed. He knew he would not be able to.. respond. What would O’Donnell do if he couldn’t return lovemaking in kind? Or might he not feel the need for an active lover?
And would the man just take what he wanted, even if Rory refused. It happened to women all the time. It had happened to the Queen. It had happened to Rory’s own sweet mother.. and she had been killed afterwards. Why could it not be with this sort of man as well, to take what he wants by force? Rory tried to close his mind to the images that filled it, but found he could not.
On the fourth day when the soldiers came to empty his bucket and give him his meal, a third man followed them into the doorway of Rory’s shed. He was silhouetted against the light, but Rory recognized the shape of the man who had been watching him from the door of the Hall. The man waved a hand at the two soldiers and said in a Scots brogue, “Leave me with him. I will call when I need you to unlatch the shed. Leave me the light.” The men had bowed and gone out, shutting and latching the door.
Rory stayed in his corner on the ground, watching the man whose face he could now see in the lamplight. The man had a sympathetic face which now held a pitying expression. He looked about for a place to set the lantern, the squatted to speak to Rory on a level with his own face.
“So you are the beautiful Rory McGuinness that O’Donnell has told me of all these years. You do not look so beautiful at the moment.”
Rory reached up to the growth of beard on his face. “These are hardly the conditions for stayin’ clean and neat.”
The man nodded, “I know. I wish I could do something about that. O’Donnell bade the men feed and slop you but nothing else, and no visitors either. You are shivering. I will try to find a way to get you a blanket.”
“No visitors? Then how come ye here…” He let his voice trail off as an invitation to say more. “Ye ken me name, but will ye tell me yours, me lord?”
The man laughed. “Not lord, not anywhere near lord. I am Roddy MacDhui. I am O’Donnell’s chief commander.”
Rory nodded acknowledgement. “Well met, MacDhui. I have seen you watchin’ this shed of mine. Were ye that curious to see me ‘beauty’?” His voice was self-mocking. “I am thinkin’ ye know more of me history with the man. Do ye now?”
MacDhui sighed. “Aye, that I do.”
“Then mayhap ye can tell me something.” Rory stared frankly into MacDhui’s face.
“What he wants with you?” the Scot replied with a question.
“Not so much that as why he has not sent for me ere this.”
MacDhui scratched his beard and looked up towards the thatched roof. “You might well ask that, my friend.”
Rory waited for the answer.
“How do I say this? He will need to work himself up to confronting you. You do not know how intense his regard is for you. You are the one person I have e’er seen confound him. In fact, methinks he will have to get rather drunk ere he … sends for you.” MacDhui had a wry look on his face.
“Will I be warned ere he does send for me?”
The Scot chuckled. “Warned? Now ‘tis not all that bad.” He looked at the Irishman candidly. “IN fact, it can be quite wonderful.”
Rory shook his head. “Then ye are.. as well?”
MacDhui chuckled again. “In fact, I am the man’s lover. For these many years.”
“And I suppose you have never known any other man who shares his lover with others? You cannot tell me that Saxon King is encamped lonely in his bed now.”
Rory’s eyes flashed. “He is completely true to his lady.”
“Well, be that as it may be, if it is true, I would hardly be the only person in the world who must bear rivals in my bed.” He looked hard at Rory. “Though this is different. I think you could supplant me. He is that much in love with you.”
“I am not in love with him, nor could I e’er be. I am not so drawn.” Rory stated it evenly, not defiantly. Then he asked, “Tell me then, if I may take your place why are ye here talkin’ to me and offerin’ me kindness?”
The Scot nodded. “’Tis that ye are not one of us that stirs me to help you. No one should be forced. I do not even think O’Donnell believes that. But he is overcome.” He shook his head thoughtfully. Then he looked back up at Rory. “You asked how you may know when the time comes? You will know, for someone will come to shave you and clean you up. But ere that you will hear O’Donnell shouting and singing as he swallows as much fortitude as he can. Now, may I ask you something?”
Rory was surprised at his permission being asked. “Of course, if I can tell ye. I willnae betray the Queen…”
MacDhui quickly said, “Nay, nay, ‘tis not that. I want to know.. what you will do when he sends for you?”
“I dinnae know,” Rory said miserably. “Common sense would say to endure it and live. But I am pledged to someone. I dinnae want to make love with the m an, and I dinnae want to be untrue to her, the lady I love.”
“Interesting dilemma,” MacDhui said ironically. “I can tell you that resisting will in fact be fatal. I know this man, and his pride will not brook rejection. We have to find a way to get you out of this…”
Rory had been staring past MacDhui to a rather large gap through which he could see movements in the courtyard. “O’Donnell is out there.”
MacDhui looked up sharply. “I had better cut this short. ‘Twould do you nor me any good should he know how long we talked. I will find a way to get you a blanket or a cloak. And I will try to be near when he calls for you. But I will not die for you nor shall I let him be killed. Remember that.”
Rory watched as MacDhui stood and peered through a crack into the courtyard. He called to the guards who let him out of the shed. Rory reached for his supper and ate.
Two days later as the dusk turned to twilight, Rory's prison was opened and he was led out to an outbuilding where a soldier shaved him and a serving girl cursorily bathed him. He was given clean but simple clothes to put on. He was also handed a large horn of mead to drink. He could hear O'Donnell singing and shouting in the Hall.
Still completely at sea as to what he would do, he let himself be led to the Hall. He found himself in a large open room with a blazing hearth, the air thick with smoke that struggled to fit through a hole in the thatch. The hall was dim away from the fire. He could just make out that a cluster of men sat at the far end of the hall. The soldier who had brought him in gave him a shove with the butt of his spear and chuckled, "Have a good night, Ulsterman."
The second shove when Rory did not move forward was sharp and painful, so he went to the far side of the room where he could now see O'Donnell with MacDhui and several other men. They all seemed quite drunk besides MacDhui who was sitting stony faced by O'Donnell. O'Donnell himself was expansively telling the others of his days in the clan wars. They were all speaking Saxon.
When O'Donnell caught sight of Rory before them he lifted his drinking horn and called out in slurred words, "Ah, here he is, the poet, the bard, the teller of tales. Why don't you give us one,. McGuinness! Tell us about how Cuchullain got his name!'
The other men echoed the request, all but MacDhui who gave Rory the slightest of nods. Rory took a stance near the men and started in with the tale of how the hero, having killed Cullen's hound that guarded his grand house had offered to take its place, thus winning the name "Hound of Cullen" or Cuchullain. He told the story with his customary dramatic and ornate language, baying for the hound, boasting for the hero, and pleading for the bereaved master. The company laughed and cheered and lifted their drinking horns in salute. One called for a song after the tale, and Rory supplied three rousing war anthems.
O'Donnell looked more seriously at the tall singer and asked in a low voice, "Now how about a love song."
Rory stared at him a moment, then cleared his throat and sang one about Diarmuid and Grainne, of how they had eloped the very night Grainne was to wed the High King. At long last the King caught up with them, and Diarmuid was wounded sorely. Refusing to give the water from his own hands that would have cured Diarmuid, the King relented but arrived too late from fetching it to save him. Rory's audience were somber and sentimental after, except for O'Donnell who was staring fixedly at Rory.
"Leave us," he commanded the others. They coughed and rose, bowed to the high commander, then left him with Rory and MacDhui. O'Donnell shot a look at MacDhui that said, "What are you waiting for?" The Scot bowed his head, turned and left.
"Sit down," O'Donnell commanded Rory. "No, here, next to me."
Rory did as he was told. He sat stiff on the ledge around the walls of the Hall, looking out towards the fire. O'Donnell leaned back, somewhat away from Rory and looked at him. "You have a fine voice.. and you tell a story well," he said in Irish.
"Thank you, sir," Rory replied in the same tongue without looking at the man.
O'Donnell reached out one hand and touched Rory's hair. "You do not have any idea how long I have wanted this. You were a handsome boy, but oh how beautiful you are now. I think you may actually be perfect." He curled locks of Rory's hair around a finger. Rory did not move. "Since I saw you in camp during the war… I told you before that you took my breath away. It was more than just lust. That is easily slaked, even for men like me. It was a desire that went much further. I wanted you, but I wanted your heart and soul as well as your flesh."
O'Donnell sat forward now and reached to the cord on Rory's borrowed jerkin. He pulled it loose and reached in with his hand to caress Rory's neck and shoulder. He let his hand slide up to cradle the side of Rory's finely sculpted jaw. Rory closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.
O'Donnell asked humorously, "Is that tension from resisting me, or to resisting your own desire for me?"
Rory said plainly, "I do not and cannot desire you, Finn."
O'Donnell's face hardened, but then he smiled again. "You may think so. I may be able to change your mind." He slid closer to Rory and put the hand that had caressed Rory around his neck. He reached with his other hand now to caress Rory's chest and belly. "You are such a fine mixture of muscles and softness." He leaned to Rory and started to kiss his face, first his cheeks, then his forehead, then placed his lips against Rory's. Rory sat on, unmoved and unmoving. He was letting his body decide what he would do. He felt it pushing the man away, though not yet literally fighting him.
O'Donnell, feeling the rigidity of Rory's mouth, pulled his own face back just enough so he could look him in the eye. "You know, you do not have to want this. I can take you. I can hurt you terribly, so you will never be the same. I would rather you came to me in desire, but I will still have you even if you do not."
Rory sat still but for the first time he returned O'Donnell's gaze. "Then you will have to do that, for I am pledged and will not be with you willingly, nor do I want you, never wanted you, and shall never want you. Even if I was drawn that way, I would never want a man so crude and savage."
O'Donnell reared his head back and slapped Rory's face hard. "You want savagery then?" the older man demanded. He grasped Rory's hand and put it on his bulging manhood. "Feel that? You will be feeling that many times and many ways tonight."
Rory started to try to pull his hand away, feeling the man's erection turgid against his palm. But he stopped and let himself relax a little. He relaxed his hand and gently clasped O'Donnell's phallus. He started to stroke it.
O'Donnell looked at him astonished, then smiled. He half closed his eyes. "I knew it, I knew it, you will want me, want me as much as I want you." He sighed as Rory's hand began to rub his phallus with a firmer grip. O'Donnell moaned with pleasure.
Then Rory slipped his hand under the man's tunic and grasped his naked member. O'Donnell gasped, first with pleasure, and then with pain as Rory grabbed his balls and squeezed them with all his might. O'Donnell's gasp turned into a howl of pain, then a scream of rage. Too soon not to have been right at the door, MacDhui rushed in with his sword drawn and reaching Rory he put the point of the blade to his throat. Rory had already withdrawn his hand.
MacDhui glanced at O'Donnell and could tell by how he leaned over with his hands on his groin and a paroxysm of agony going through him what Rory had done. O'Donnell demanded, his voice constrained almost to a squeak, "Take him away. Put him in that shed. I will deal with him as he deserves later."
MacDhui grasped Rory by the arm and pulled him out of the Hall. Soldiers were rushing towards them, looking to the Scot for an explanation. "Get back to your posts or beds!" he commanded in a voice that would not tolerate any questions. He waited while a guard unlatched the shed door and then tossed Rory in onto the floor. "You have a death wish, I see," he snapped. "If you have hurt him permanently, I will kill you ere he has a chance to."
Rory did not look at him but sank into himself, knowing that he would be lucky if O'Donnell just killed him.
MacDhui slammed the door shut and latched it. Outside his expression changed to anguish. He rushed back to the Hall,. To O'Donnell, to take the rage the man would feel on himself, and do whatever he could to help him out of his pain.
Next: The Execution of Rory McGuinness
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
New Stories: Rory's Next Choice (Happened)