We are back to paralleling the novel with this tale.
The tall monk in his dun colored habit stepped off the narrow road to let the cart have its entire width. Waiting for it to trundle by he bent one knee, put his staff on the ground, and retied a sandal that was coming loose. He did not see the nod from the carter as the man showed respect to the back of the cowled and bent head. He stood as the cart passed and continued his long journey east.
In the back of the cart another man sat, the sides of the cart higher than his own head but the back open. He slumped dispirited, weary but glanced up at the retreating figure. His own unruly mop of flame red hair was covered with a blanket, the blanket the carter had given him during a brief downpour. He had shaken his head when the carter asked him to sing a merry song, begging his weariness, and he just stared at the monk desultorily.
The monk kept to the path towards Lawrencium and did not turn and see his lifelong friend Shannon gazing after him. Rory McGuinness looked east toward the sunrise, to where the queen waited.
Shannon had left the gravely injured and sick Duke ably hidden with his betrothed at the fork of the river leading to the healer’s village. The mercenary’s lieutenant had left them long before to return and rejoin his commander in the sham hunt for the escapees. Shannon had been reluctant to leave but knew it was too much to hope that someone as distinctive as he could be so easily hidden. His best hope, their best hope, was for him to leave the area and head west to find the King and tell him all he could of the conditions at the fortress. He was headed to Grantham now, would be there in a fortnight or so. “When did I become a god damned messenger boy?” he muttered to himself. “I need a drink.” He had stayed sober for the Queen’s sake, but now he was alone with his grief and loneliness. The first chance he got he was going to get drunk.
Rory upon hearing of the usurping took his leave of the monks who had nursed him back to health. He had followed the abbot’s advice and allowed himself time to rest and contemplate his next move. He agreed with the old man that he might do the right thing by staying out of the ling’s and queen’s lives, taking the complication of his regard for her out of their lives as well, and out of his own. “But Shannon,” he had protested. “How can I let Shannon go on thinking I am dead?”
The abbot asked, “Can Shannon keep your living a secret from all?”
Miserably, Rory shook his head. “Nay, he can't. He can't hide his joy any more than he can hide his grief.”
He had just about decided to go back to Ulster and start his life over, to hope that Shannon would return to find him alive near their old home, when he heard of the usurping of the crown by the King’s cousin. “Your heart is telling you what to do, my son. Go to her,” the abbot told him. “. Mayhap Our Lord has put you hear and made all believe you were dead so you could go and be a comfort to her. It is clear you are not made for this monastic life.” He blessed Rory and his quest and sent him on his way dressed as a monk of the order.
Though he thought he was making steady progress along the dismal pathways of rural Críslicland, he had become acutely aware of life all around him since he had come within minutes of his own death by hanging. His long legs would carry him some distance then his keen nose or eyes or ears would catch him up short. Walking by shrubs he was caught up by a sort of clean, sharp smell and stopped to look at the plant with its narrow spiky leaves that were redolent with an almost exotic scent, earthy but with overtones of.. myrrh, that was it. Another time he heard a lark in song and had to leave the path to tread carefully through a woodland’s undergrowth until he found it, joined it in its song, and waved a greeting as it cocked its head at him and flew away. Then out of the corner of his eye some miles further at the ridge of the rolling wolds he caught the impression of a pattern at odds with what lay about it. He stopped and looked to see what it had been. It was nothing more than another bush, this one with deep green shiny leaves that were scored like a chevron with lighter colored waxy lines. It was so distinct with the other bushes about it being grayer or more yellow and dusty. While gazing at it he saw a pink trumpet shaped flower and had to stop and look at it.
He thought about the Queen as he started on his journey again, about time spent with her in her garden, how she would kneel in the soil and work patiently and meticulously to nurture one plant and then the other, regardless of their scent or color or other properties. If he had not been captivated by the very first sight of her he would have given her his heart for the beauty of her face as she smiled and laughed as they talked about the plants in her garden. He knew that for any woman to win his heart she would have to be someone who, like Josephine, knew the names, properties, care and use of every plant, could walk beside him now pointing out which leaf would be good in stew, what flower could clear a catarrh, what shrub would keep away melancholy, what thriving plant did so because of the angle of the sun and the nearness of the brook. And he would offer in return his songs, his stories, about these things, about flowers a lover gave to his betrothed, what bird sang a child into a wondrous underground realm, what secret a nymph turned into a stone would whisper to the tiny creature crawling in its crevices.
Rory fell in with a scruffy man who said he was also headed east on the road that would eventually fork north and south. He claimed to be an messenger taking news to the family of the thane Aldwin of Sleaford, but Rory did not think he looked much like someone who would be entrusted with this responsibility. The man drank a great deal when they had found somewhere to rest for the night. He had also taken Rory’s reluctance to seek shelter in monastic guest houses as a sign that the tall monk was evading something or someone and grew familiar and even conspiratorial with him, especially in his cups. After making numerous broad hints one night he came right out and told Rory he was a bandit by profession and on his way to deliver a ransom demand. They had Aldwin of Sleaford prisoner and hoped to make a fine fortune from him. He showed Rory his belt and said it was Aldwin’s and was proof they held him.
Rory eyed the belt, thinking it was rather rich even for a thane, and that it was considerably too short for the Aldwin he had seen in Lawrence’s court, a corpulent man who could barely buckle the long belt he had. He decided to say nothing. He looked forward to the fork in the road.
When they finally reached the fork and the bandit turned south towards Sleaford and Skirbeck, Rory wished him luck and, at his insistence, said he would pray for him. The man walked jauntily off whistling off key, and Rory gladly turned his face towards the Humber and Lawrencium.
Being on foot Rory was easily overtaken by riders and often learned the tidings of the kingdom as he stopped in a town where the news had just come. He was still at least two or three days from his destination when he entered a town that appeared completely deserted. He heard the bell in the tiny timber and thatch church in the heart of it tolling on and on. He went to the church to find out what was amiss and began to hear wailing from within. Entering he found what must have been every man, woman and child and not just a few dogs packed into the stuffy nave. Light streamed through narrow windows and illuminated the dust that all were taking into their lungs. The priest prayed and wept before the congregation, and Rory recognized the lament for a death. The people wept, even most of the children, and dogs either barked or whimpered, disturbed by the concentrated emotion. He leaned to the man who stood furthest to the back by the door.
“What is it, man? Has someone great or dearly beloved died?”
The man turned red eyes and nodded to Rory, “Oh, holy brother, both. ‘Tis the King. King Lawrence is dead, killed by bandits.”
Rory stepped back almost tripping on the threshold with the impact of the news. “Nay, it cannot be.”
The man looked at him with sympathy. “Aye, we all loved the man, such a good man. Stay and mourn with us, brother.”
Rory’s eyes were darting about as he sought for a way to understand what he had heard. “Nay, nay,” he said almost incoherently. “She needs me. The queen needs me.” He turned and ran to continue his journey.
As he hurried he thought about the bandit who had taken so warmly to him. Could it be that the Aldwin he had spoken of was really the King? Was that why the belt was so richly ornamented and too small for a corpulent man? Was he alive then when the man had been sent to demand a ransom? Had he been killed afterwards? Might he be alive and his disappearance merely misinterpreted as his death? But Gaylorde would need proof and most certainly the queen would. He kept his pace almost too fast to be sustained. he would find out. he would see the evidence, if there was any.
Westward bound, Shannon was on foot again, and none too steadily. The carter had taken him as far as he could and shared a bowl of ale with him on their parting. When the carter went to his bed and his wife in it, Shannon stayed at the alehouse and drank himself stupid. In the morning he managed to retrieve his lute and to let someone point him in the right direction on the road, setting out unsteadily but determinedly to Grantham. This journey was even more interrupted than his friend’s, but it was alehouses and not fragrant bushes, wenches’’ dulcet tones and not lark’s, and periods of complete unconsciousness, patternless, and not striated leaves that detained him. Now that he could do nothing but, all he could think of was the loss of his dear friend, the pain of his marriage that now seemed inextricably ruined, and the loneliness for the son he had left behind as he fled.
He stopped at a crossroads where he thought he recognized the path he had taken before on his way to lawrencium. He waylaid a young woman with pale hair and the palest blue eyes, who was on her way to a nearby market town, a basketful of eggs balanced neatly on a delightfully curved hip. . Before she had scurried away with a sharp rebuke for his wandering hands he had learned something from her that his brain was sorting out as he watched her hurry away. “The Duke’s man, Earl Johan” she had said her uncle called the lord of Grantham. The Duke’s? Surely not Duke Lorin’s.. as meandering a route Shannon had taken to get this far, the Duke could not have healed that quickly and traveled that soon. He was suddenly stone sober as he realized the lass’s uncle was talking about the usurper, Duke Gaylorde! Was that possible? Could Gaylorde’s forces have defeated the King’s? And how was it that the King’s ally was now the Duke’s?
He hurried on, keeping an eye on the road for anyone he could stop and question. He paid less attention to those coming up behind as he assumed news of this eventuality would come from its source. He heard the group of horsemen but only as they came up the rise he had just topped. He leapt out of the way, thanking God he had not been drunk, and shouted after then , “Saints, you ruffians! Can't a man walk safe on the king’s roads?”
One of the men slowed his horse and looked back at him with a malicious grin. “King? What King?”
Shannon stared. “King Lawrence, of course.”
The man was gauging whether Shannon would be an enjoyable man to thrash, but decided it would be too easy, he would be unconscious long before the fun began. “Lawrence is dead. Killed these weeks by bandits in the south.ong live King Gaylorde!” He spit on the ground, wheeled his horse, and hastened to catch up with his fellows.
Shannon stood just long enough to comprehend the loss of one more dear one in his life. He let out a keening sound and crumpled to the dirt. He knew on some level he would have to get up and move sometime, if only to find a place where he could drink away the pain. He decided that could wait.
Next: Lagu Returns with Proof of the King's Death
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