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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Stories: Time Together (Happened)

Late September 769

Lawrence left the cottage first later that afternoon to save Josephine the embarrassment of the gleeful looks from the soldiers but could not spare her ears from the cheering. His stern look of approval only earned him the rough laughter of fighting men, so he smiled, then beamed, and went to find the men who had accompanied the Queen back from her hiding place.

Ethelberga smiled to herself as she rapped softly on her own cottage door, then entered to see if the Queen needed anything. She found her frowning but otherwise making no comment about the rowdiness of the camp. The old woman bowed and said, "It is inevitable with such a large number of men all together."

Not that the camp was made up only of men. The womenfolk of many of the soldiers, especially the levies, came with them on a campaign, along with any children, to care for their men and stay by them. Some fought as well. The King had been among the only men in the camp who had not had a wife or a local woman warming his belly at night. All Lawrence needed to do when tempted was first picture his Josephine's face, then the Breton Elerde's to resist, not wanting to share the Queen's place in his bed any more than he wanted another man to take his in hers.

After the King had escorted his wife to the cottage to bathe and rest, he had sought out her cousin Ioruert to learn all he could about the resistance force in the mountains and about the movements of O'Donnell's, the Breton's and other enemy forces since the takeover in the spring. Now he simply wanted to reward the men who had braved a dark midnight rescue behind enemy lines to bring his wife safe back to him. He found Botopher with his elite housecarls at their own campfire and joined them as the light started to lessen towards dusk. He clapped Botopher on the back, clasped forearms with each of the men, then liberally gave out silver arm rings and gold and iron rings for their fingers and beards, the traditional gifts of a Saxon warlord.

On his casual walk back to the great fire near his borrowed cottage, Lawrence ran across the Irish minstrel, Shannon, who had been with the Queen in Affynshire before the country had fallen to the usurper Malcolm of Horsfort and his confederates. He called to the Irishman to come to the fire and share a pot of ale and some conversation about the puzzling event of just a few days before. He noticed Shannon had a troubled face.

"Shannon, can you shed light on this strange occurrence involving McGuinness?" He poured warm ale from a clay pitcher that sat in the coals of the fire and handed it to the dour minstrel.

Shannon sat for a few minutes, holding the pot of drink in both his hands. He stared at the fire. "I spoke with Lord Ioruert and heard what transpired as much word for word as he was after bein' able to tell me. I cannae say for certain what was in O'Donnell's mind, but I do think I be knowin'."

He paused and the King pressed. "What is it? That he had the Queen in his hands and chose to make a bargain with McGuinness to have him take her place is a complete puzzle to me. Praise God that he did, but what heavenly or hellish impulse inspired him?"

Shannon chuckled wryly. Neither heavenly nor hellish, methinks - but inspired by some other gods than those who rule those places. My liege, Rory and I knew O'Donnell long ago, when we were but lads. He was a... friend of our master in music, Ishaq the Andalusian. Then years later, so Rory told me, he and O'Donnell met again when both fought in the Ulster wars."

Lawrence nodded, "The war was between their two clans, was it not?"

Shannon took a drink and nodded. "Aye, but O'Donnell was a sword for hire e'en then and fought against his own. He fought alongside Rory and the O'Neill clan and the clans of O'Neill's allegiance."

Lawrence frowned. He understood the need for mercenary warriors, but he did not care for those who took the side of their own people's enemies. Elerde's shift of loyalty from Críslicland to Malcolm sharpened his condemnation, though Lawrence himself had released the Breton from his bow to serve himself. "I still do not understand. What is the connection other than that?"

Shannon seemed to struggle with revealing some fact. He finally sighed and explained. "My lord, our Master Ishaq loved men. I do not mean he was of good will. He was that, but 'tis not what I mean. He preferred to make love to men. And O'Donnell had been one of those men. O'Donnell was little more than a lad then, but certainly of age to make a choice of his own. I often thought he fancied Rory.."

Lawrence looked up sharply, "Rory? Is Rory..?"

Shannon shook his head. Nay, he is not. But ye must admit 'twould not be that hard to think so. Especially if ye wanted it to be so."

"If you wanted what to be so?" came Josephine's light voice from behind them. She saw both men frown when they turned to her. "What is it, my lord? Is it about Rory?" She was frowning herself now. Lawrence moved over on the log he was sitting on so she could sit between them. She accepted the warm pot of ale Shannon poured for her and took her place. "If it is about Rory, I have a right to know, my lord. He sacrificed his freedom for mine. No one else's."

Lawrence looked reluctant to say any thing, and Shannon looked grim. The King saw a familiar flash in his wife's eye, even in the growing gloom, and put his arm around her shoulder. "Shannon thinks 'tis possible that O'Donnell wanted McGuinness.. for a bed partner."

Josephine stared at her husband, not speaking.

Shannon thought the Queen was uncertain what he meant. "O'Donnell prefers men to women, my lady, beggin' your pardon.."

She shot a look at him. "I know about that. About men who love other men, I mean. I am not a child." She looked back at her husband. "But Rory is not a man like that. If anyone knows that, I do." She instantly regretted her words as Lawrence glanced down with a dark look. "I just mean I know he loves women… not any particular.."

Lawrence waved one hand, "And I too know what you mean, and Shannon says 'tis true. But it seems that matters not to O'Donnell. He has some.. attachment."

Josephine looked back at Shannon, who was poking at the edge of the fire with a long piece of firewood. "An attachment?"

Shannon explained again about Master Ishaq and O'Donnell. "Both the Master and O'Donnell thought that Rory might be inclined the same way as they. That is one reason that me darlin' friend left us. He dinnae want to confront the possibility. He was just a lad. He told me later when he had satisfied himself of his own love of women he met O'Donnell again, in the clan war. O'Donnell seemed more taken with him than ever."

The three sat on, each staring into the flames. The Queen finally broke the silence. "Then what we are saying is that it may be that O'Donnell wanted Rory more than he wanted whatever reward he would get from my capture. This is indeed extraordinary."

Lawrence nodded, then asked Shannon, "But what will Rory do? 'Tis not his nature. How can he fulfill the bargain."

Shannon simply returned a baleful look.

Josephine's jaw dropped, "Oh no, do you think O'Donnell would?"

Lawrence pulled her close. "Men will do that when power is their aim. You know that as well as anyone, better in fact." He was thinking of his own brother's rape of the Queen many, many years before.

"I should not think 'twould be as easy, but a stronger man can no doubt over power a weaker one…" She stared into the fire, then stated with certainty, "I do not believe Rory would allow it."

Lawrence noted Shannon's sudden pained expression. "What is it, Shannon?"

Shannon did not look at the pair as they stared waiting for his explanation. "I dinnae think he will either. And that be what is after worryin' me."

Josephine simply sighed, "Oh dear," and hugged Lawrence's arm closer. "Would O'Donnell kill him?"

"Most definitely, with more than one reason at that. Rory is after all.. a spy."

Lawrence buried his face in his hands. "Dear God," he breathed, and Josephine put her hand on the back of his neck and massaged it.

"Can we try to rescue him?" she asked, but without any expectation.

Lawrence looked into her face, then reached to touch her cheek. "Nay, my dearest. We cannot spare the number of men it would take to find him and free him. This was what, a sennight ago he went with O'Donnell? Then he is most likely already at Hucknall Hall. We could not take that fort."

Rory was in fact riding with O'Donnell's men to the Hall at that moment. O'Donnell was a careful man when sleeping in camp, but soon they would be within the walls of the fortress. Then he would have to face the man, and he wondered if he would live to tell about it. He saw O'Donnell's covert glance at him, as full of uncertainly as he himself felt.

Next: Talking Over Siege Strategy

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About the author

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