See note on yesterday's post.
fter nightfall when others had gone to their beds Josephine was just starting to gather up her work and head for her own chamber, having sent her women all to their own pallets, when she heard Shannon take in a gulp of air all at once. She set down her spindle and wool and leaned her forearms on her knees to look closely at him on the floor. It was chilly in the Hall in spite of the firepit. She had a shawl tight around her shoulders. She had listened to the whine of the wind in the thatch high above her and the occasional bark of a palace dog, but her attention had been focused on the Irishman's raspy breathing.
Shannon groaned and looked up, bleary eyed and unable to discern where he was for a moment. He muttered something like "Gerda?" then tried to sit up. He held his head in his hands as the pain struck inside his head. Josephine just watched and waited as he came to himself.
He finally pulled his hands from his eyes and squinted up at her. "Where the hell am I?" he said irritably.
"You are in the Great Hall, my dear friend."
His eyes widened when he realized who had spoken to him. "Jo? Me lady?" He looked around, then down at himself. "I be that much of a mess," he said without a hint of humor in his voice.
"That you are, Shan. How do you think Rory would feel o know that you made such a misery of yourself on account of him?" Josephine's eyes were soft but her face was stern.
Shannon flared. "Dinnae tell me how to grieve for my friend. What do you know of any of it?"
Josephine did not react to his show of temper. She let him sit glaring at her until his face relaxed and he gazed down at his hands sadly. "I be that sorry, me lady. I have not been meself."
The Queen thought to herself, "I wonder…" but kept her doubt to herself. "Shannon, I need your help. That's why I sat up with you, hoping you would be awake when we were alone. I cannot turn to any other but you."
Shannon's attention was caught, his eyes cleared somewhat, and he looked at her with hesitant concern. "Me lady, what is it? What is wrong?"
She looked about them, causing him to do the same, then leaned in and said bery quietly, "I do not know what it is, but something is not right here in the palace. 'Tis like I went away and came back twenty years hence. So many people are gone, so many new faces. Mostly those around Duke Gaylorde. I may be imagining things, or I may just not be able to put what I feel into words. I am afraid, Shannon."
Shannon's eyes filled then with sympathy. "I havenae been here, so I kennae what ye mean..." he began.
"But you are the one person I can think of here now who can see the same things I do and tell me what you think. I cannot tell my brother. He would insist on looking into it, and something tells me that would be the wrong thing to do. Shannon, I need you. I need your sharp wits. I need to know you are here keeping an eye for me and the children. You can learn things I cannot." She reached for his hand. "Please, Shannon, won't you help me? You know that is what Rory would ask you to do as well. And Lawrence."
Shannon gazed at her, working his jaw as he thought. "Aye. Aye, Jo, that I shall."
The look of relief was genuine on her face. "I need you to promise me that you will stay sober enough to help me, to be vigilant. You most certainly can do as you will, but passed out or gone from the palace will not help me..."
Shannon's eyes flashed with anger. "So that be what this is about.."
"Nay, Shan. I shall be honest, I do want to kkeep you from destroying yourself, but I also need your help. I am terribly anxious about this. I am sincere in wanting your help above all others'."
He looked at her considering for a time, then nodded. "I shall do just as ye ask."
The Queen smiled, then squeezed his shoulder. Then her look became serious again. hesitated, then went on, "You know about Heather, I suppose?"
A flash of anger crossed the man's face again. "Aye" he assented desultorily.
"I am most heartily sorry for that, dear Shannon. I pray she comes to her senses and returns to you."
Shannon looked to one side. "She took Seamus!"
Josephine leaned forward again and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I know. I have sent a small party to find out whatever they can so you at least will know he is safe."
Shannon looked back at her face this time clearly surprised. "You did that, me lady? For me?"
Her smile was warm. "Of course I did, my dear. I pray 'tis not long ere we have news."
Shannon looked abstracted again for a few minutes, as he ingested this information, this kindness, this concern. A look of realization touched his face and he put his palms flat on the floor on either side of his hips. "And the King? And the war? They are…?"
Josephine looked grim. "The King is alive and as far as I know well. The army has taken some setbacks. But we are confident that we can recoup the losses."
Shannon frowned and asked, impulsively, "And O'Donnell, that fuckin' bastard? Is he also alive?"
Josephine sat up with a stern look at him for his language. But when she replied she said, "Still alive as well, again, as far as I know."
Shannon looked abashed but said through gritted teeth, "May he die a horrible death and roast in hell."
Josephine sighed. "I cannot pray for that.. but I can wish it."
Shannon looked at her with new eyes. "Ye will?"
"Aye. Here is a little ale to help you clear your head. Now lie back down and get some more sleep." She stood and stretched stiff muscles.
Shannon sipped the proffered ale gratefully, then looked up from the cup and asked, "How long have you been sitting watching me?"
"My lady," she chided.
Shannon grinned his old familiar lopsided grin. "Me lady. I beg your pardon."
Josephine smiled back. "Quite a long time, really. Now do as you are told and sleep." She stifled a yawn behind her hand. "I am off to my own slumber." She looked at him again seriously. "I mean it, Shannon. You are not to leave the palisades. You may do as you wish within them, I shall not interfere within reason." Her voice was firm but not chiding. "I shall not permit you to destroy yourself. That is all."
Shannon offered her a mock flourish as a salute and she nodded quickly and left him to curl up in his blanket again and sleep.
He watched her go. "That is one hell of a woman. If she wasnae a Queen…" he thought. Then he shook his head and lay down.
Next: Something Is Rotten in Lawrencium
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