The general idea of this story remains in the novel, but with no heather, much of the action here is cut.
he Irishman veered away from the royal party as it headed into the fortress cheered by the returning Queen's adoring subjects. Afoot he passed through the crowd. Occasionally someone called his name or slapped him on the back as greeting. He nodded and smiled but said nothing, leaving the crowd behind to climb the hill west of the town. He trudged through the damp grass to a favorite spot, a copse on the hilltop overlooking the north road where he and Rory often went to sit and talk and play music.
Once there he leaned his back on a tree trunk and crossed his arms over his chest. He sighed deeply and bowed his head. Staring blankly at the ground, he said aloud in Irish, "Och, lad. How could ye go and leave me like that?" He smiled grimly. "I am supposing you were not given much choice. I cannot bear to think of ye like that, such a beautiful man. But I know ye are in God's Heaven now, for never was there such an angel." The tears overflowed and he let himself slide down the tree to sit at its base. He covered his face with his hands and wept.
Some hours later he stood on the crest of the hill looking down on the town. The crowd was long gone. The fires were burning in all the cooking pits and ovens in the palace, judging from the plumes of smoke straining into the sky when he glanced up and over to its ramparts. He was cried out, numb. Of course, a feast of celebration. He wondered if he had a place in either the palace or the town any more.
Then he thought of Heather. "Och, at the very least I can see me lad. And mayhap the woman will want to share my grief." He stretched his back muscles and arms and started down to the town.
As he walked he began to hope for a fortunate reunion with his family. When he arrived at the town gate he was hailed cheerfully by the gatekeeper. "Well met," he called in return. "Cannae stop for I be goin' to see me wife and son!"
He did not hear the gatekeeper's call, "But Shan, wait! She's…"
Their little house, the one he had leased to make heather happy, was on the far end of town. His lute bouncing on his back, he trotted through the houses and other buildings, shops, the church, store buildings and animal sheds, waving to those he knew. It was clear that he was racing to a reunion, but people just stood and watched, not knowing what to say.
He dashed around a curve and stopped still. The house was there, of course, and there was a child playing in the dirt in the late afternoon sun. But the child was not Seamus. He kept walking towards the house until a woman stepped out of the open doorway to call the child in to wash for supper. It was not Heather. Then he saw all the other changes, the bench and table in the dooryard gone, leather window coverings instead of the oiled parchment he had put in to please his wife. The thin patch of thatch on the roof he kept promising to fix was now amply supplied with straw. Toys that were far poorer and simpler than Seamus's given to him by the King and Queen littered the yard.
The woman looked at him. "Shannon?" she asked hesitantly.
He recognized her as one of the family of Celts of different origins who met regularly at the master metalsmith's house in the town. "Where are Heather and Seamus then?" he asked without greeting or other pleasantries.
"You didn't know? They moved. They went north the same day you left with the Queen. " She looked past him. "And where might Rory be? Ah, I suppose he is celebrating with the rest at the palace. And why be you not joining them yourself?"
Shannon stood mutely staring at her. He could not believe that Heather had just up and left without a hint. He knew she had been angry with him, thinking she had finally caught him trysting with some wench, but he never thought that she would go away. Worse yet, she took his son, his -- not hers-- with her.
"Did she say where she was after goin"?"
The woman looked sympathetically at him. Not that I know of, dear. You might ask the priests."
Shannon's face screwed into a wry grimace. "Aye, if anyone knew our business it would be the priests." He turned without a word and walked away back into town.
Each step was a painful memory of Rory, of Heather, of his son Seamus. He saw clearly that he was completely alone now. "I should leave and go back to Ireland, as we planned," he thought to himself. But the torpor stealing over him robbed him of volition. He stopped in the town square by the cross and gazed at the ground. He did not hear or see the people who greeted him. He was numb to the point of being frozen in place.
At last he looked up and saw the Blue Lady Tavern down the high street just beyond the square. He headed straight to its door and went in.
After the jubilation of the day before, the morning dawned on two subdued societies, the palace and the town. Once Josephine had seen her children and Shannon had strolled into the tavern the news they imparted of Rory's execution had spread. Everywhere his many friends and acquaintances were numb with shock. Rory dead was tragic enough, but executed? It seemed impossible.
Josephine herself set the tone for the palace. She asked for a mass in Rory's memory and arranged for regular prayers for the peace of his soul by the monks at the monastery outside of Lawrencium. She attended the memorial mass, bringing her children with her, and sat solemn but composed. In her heart she was weeping and longing for Lawrence to hold her and comfort her but outwardly demonstrated dignified grace. Others in the palace well knew that she was setting the example of attending to the business at hand and were grateful to her for it. The pain was al most too much to bear.
One thing that disturbed the Queen greatly was that when she sent a messenger to look for Shannon so he would know about the mass, the boy could not find him. She then sent a guard who was a friend of the Irishman's who found him at the tavern but in no shape to talk. Josephine wanted to go to him herself, but she could not. At the memorial mass Peter happened to see Shannon hovering in the door of the church and told his mother, but by the time she had turned to look at him, he was gone. She ached for his pain, knowing it to be more profound than even hers could be. Now he was so alone.
Shannon had blurt out to the others in the tavern the first night he was back how Rory had died, though he kept the real reason to himself. He drank himself stupid but not before pouring out his grief sloppily in song and lament. Those in the tavern who were natives of the town were shocked and dismayed. Others from the community of Britons, Welsh, Cornish, Scots and Irish in the town streamed into the tavern once the news had spread like a wildfire. Shannon was barely conscious of their arrival. One of the serving wenches cleaned up his vomit and covered him with a blanket where he had fallen to the floor and slept.
He had arisen groggily and painfully in the morning as the maids cleaned the alehouse and stumbled outside to a town of mourners. He was shepherded to Cedric's and coddled there. He was put to bed in the married niece's room and looked after by the women of the family. He tried to join the others who gathered that evening for music and stories and speeches in honor of Rory, but he simply could not bear it and stumbled out into the street and back into the tavern.
It was the bell of the church that drew him to the memorial mass. He stood in the shadows in the doorway and listened. He saw Peter's flaxen head turn to him, saw the lad point and speak to his mother, and slipped out and away before the Queen could turn around.
Josephine sat in her husband's accustomed seat at the council table with the Witan made up of the thegns of Críslicland who were not themselves at war. Some were too old to fight and had sent sons and grandsons. Others had been specifically asked to stay available for Witan service by the King before he left. Her brother, Duke Lorin, sat at her right hand, his usual place, not at all unhappy with giving up the seat she now occupied. He was a loyal henchman and happiest in that role. Besides he was preoccupied by being in love for the first time. It did not affect his duty to the Queen, but it made him happy he did not have to be in charge of everything. He had a great respect for his sister and knew if she needed help or advice she was sensible enough to ask for it.
On her left the King's cousin, Duke Gaylorde sat, alternating between looking bored and looking superior. The Queen did not try to like the man. That was unnecessary in her position. But she wanted at least for her skin not to crawl when he looked at her. She was not sure why he caused this reaction in her, but she was not a woman to worry such things unduly so she just treated him civilly and in a authoritative manner. He seemed to respond amused as much as anything. Lorin her brother, was too well occupied with his own thoughts to notice it.
The business of the Witan was to report to the Queen first about the war in Affynshire and how the armies were being supplied. She learned of the skirmish that lost the army many of its horses and assigned providing new ones to the palace guard's leader, Duke Gaylorde. The threat on the Lincoln Road to Ratherwood made supply parties risky and prone to raid, but they had no other option. Unless Hucknall in the southeast fell, the Lincoln Road was the only avenue for carts and large groups of mounted and marching men. Josephine asked an older man from Earl Jehan's household warriors to plan alternate means of supplying the army.
Josephine ignored the patronizing tone of some of the thegns. She reminded herself that she unlike anyone there but her brother was of royal blood, was the heir of a king who was himself the son of a king.. and that she was Lawrence's proxy now. She used as her main measure of what she must do the many hours she had sat and listened to Lawrence himself in Witan or in moot court or any other council. She knew that while her brother was a more than able administrator, he did not have quite the keen mind the King had, nor could he deal with issues that required a firm, even brutal hand. Lawrence was King in more than just position. He was born to it, lived and breathed it, and the very thought of him suffused her with his own strength and courage as a ruler. She learned more and more about why he was so loved and respected and yet also feared.
Josephine had ordered that the King's chamber be made ready for occupation again and had moved into it herself. It not only comforted her to feel so much of her husband around her in that room, it seemed to comfort their children as well. The first time they came in from her own chamber to find her in the large curtained bed they all smiled and ran to join her. She was glad, for Rory's death had hit them hard, especially the girls.
The time came however that no matter how precious her time with the twins and their brothers was to her or how important her role as sovereign was, she had to think about Shannon and how to help him. The same guard who had found him in the tavern found him again and with another man literally carried him stuporous into the palace. They put him on the rushes on the floor of the Great Hall, where the unmarried men of the palace also slept, and laid his lute gently beside him. Josephine took a stool to near where he lay and sat in the torchlight spinning while he slept. Servants came in and out of the Hall and glanced at the two, but no one disturbed them.
This storyr continues tomorrow.
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