hannon awoke on a pallet in a cottage he did not recognize. He rolled over to see who shared it with him and found himself alone. He sighed and struggled to sit up, tangled as he was in the beds sole blanket. He discovered that he was entirely naked and looked about for his clothes. He saw only one room, lit by the open door, with little inside but a couple stools and some female possessions hung from the wattle of the inside walls. He realized he heard someone singing from outside, shrugged his shoulders, and got to his feet. He looked down, seeing that his “little lad” saluted the morning, and shrugged again. “I suspect ye were well satisfied last night, me friend, but only one thing will do the trick this morn.”
He stood in the doorway and looked out. His appearance drew laughs and ribald comments from the several people who could be seen in the space between a number of cottages. Nearest where he stood, grinning his acknowledgement of the japes, he saw a comely young woman putting his wet clothes over a wattle enclosure. He could tell from where he stood looking at her that she had dark curling tresses and a charmingly well-rounded arse. She stopped singing and looked around at the good natured jeering of her neighbors. “You are up.. sweet Jesus, are you up!” Shannon saw she had lustrous dark eyes as well.
He made a comical bow and asked, “Is there someplace I can be after.. um.. relievin’ meself?”
The woman grinned back and motioned him around the back of her cottage. “The pit is around there.” She looked about on the ground near her feet and picked up something made of cloth. She tossed it to him. “This will cover you well enough until your clothing is dry.”
Shannon caught the rectangle of cloth and held it over his groin. He thanked the woman and took care of his most pressing business out of sight.
When he came back around he found his paramour of the night before, or so he assumed, had been joined by another young woman, this one far gone with child. He saw his new friend smiling and nodding and took that to mean he had completed the job she had brought him home to do the night before. He went over to the two women and smiled. To the pregnant one he said, “Me name is Shannon O’Neill.”
The woman nodded, “Aye, Hild told me.”
“Thanks be to the saints,” Shannon thought. “Now can I pretend I knew the lass’s name already… That is, if this one means…”
The woman continued, “I be Greta. Hild here is my own sister.”
Shannon moved to Hild’s side and leaned to kiss her on the cheek. “Good morn to ye, ladies.” They giggled.
“Love, can ye be tellin’ me where me lute can be found?” he asked Hild.
“The alehouse keeper has it. You were like to do harm to it last night. He said he would hold it for you.” She laughed. “As drunk as you were last night I was surprised you could.. you know… but you did.” Her smile was full of remembered pleasure.
“I suppose ye mean sing and play the lute?” Shannon said, but from his face and tone she knew he understood exactly what she had meant.
“I washed your clothes,” Hild told him. Shannon glanced about where she indicated and saw a cauldron with hot water and a scrubbing brush. “They were soaked.. with ale. I will get you some bread and cheese to break your fast, if you can eat.”
Shannon put the arm not holding up his makeshift breechclout around her waist and nuzzled her hair behind her ear. “I be that hungry, lass.. but I could eat as well.”
As Greta remained Shannon had to content himself with the bread and cheese, washing it down with home brewed ale. He listened to the women talk as he munched.
“My man does not know why the Lord Jehan keeps the madman in the fortress. You would think he would have him escorted far away or at least taken to the monastery,” the pregnant woman said peevishly. “Stig says he makes an awful howling as if he had something in his mouth. I think it's his tongue was cut out is all.”
Hild shivered. “Has he seen the man?”
Greta shook her head as she sipped ale from a wooden bowl. “Nay, they have him in the little hut that is surrounded by its own walls. He asked one of the guards about him. He said the man was tall and seemed strangely well muscled for a mad beggar. He was dressed in torn rags, he told him. He thought somehow the earl knew he was mad for he ordered him taken and knocked out almost ere the man could speak.”
Hild shook her head, her face showing suspicion. “Well, we both know how odd Lord Jehan is. Like a spooked kitten. Jumps at the least thing.”
Her sister giggled. “Methinks his lady has him jumping at shadows!” she said, still giggling. Hild covered her mouth with her hands and giggled merrily too. She gave Shannon a wicked look.
“You have not been at Grantham ere this?” she asked him.
Shannon shook his head. “Believe me, lass, had I been here and seen you ere this, I would recall.” Hild's charming dimples deepened.
He continued to listen to the women as they talked about the madman, then went on to other local gossip. He liked women’s talk, felt bathed in its energy, and was only too happy to revert to a small boy and let himself be coddled and seen to. But he found himself thinking about the madman and how he could find out more about him.
When Greta had finally and reluctantly made her farewell, Shannon lowered his voice and said to her sister, “Ye know, I could find out more about the madman… I could go into the fortress and nose around until I found him or have speech with someone who has seen him.”
Hild considered him. “Why would you do that?”
He shrugged. “Ye got me wonderin’ about him, and I could be after satisfyin’ your curiosity and that of your sister.”
Hild put her hand through his arm. “Satisfying is just what I am after, and not with Greta there.” Her eyes were half closed as she put her face up to his.
Shannon smiled and leaned to kiss her. They slowly rose, and, without separating, went inside her cottage. He had his arms around her and the breechclout fell away.
Next: The Bandits Figure OUt they Captured the King
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