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

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Stories :Rory Finds the Queen (Happened)

To his great relief, Rory’s odd performance on the banks of the Humber brought about just the effect he wanted. Not only did the two Saxon Benedictines avoid him as if he had leprosy, so had the crew. He wanted to be alone, to think. He stayed apart from the others on the ship and huddled into his cassock, a blanket around his shoulders, staring forward towards their destination in the north.

Lindisfarne did not have a place for ships to dock, preferring to use the causeway that flooded with the tides to be the only access to the Holy Isle. The ship put in therefore at Bamburgh. Rory disembarked and watched with contentment as the other two men dressed as monks set their feet on a path heading to the abbey. He wanted to make inquiries in the town first.

The captain eyed him as he started out. “Not a mad Irish monk then? You seem quite the opposite now. The act was for the benefit of the good brothers then.”

Rory shot him a wicked grin. “Och, nay, I am Irish.” He pulled off his cassock revealing his usual clothes, stained and torn here and there from his beating at O’Donnell’s command. he tossed the cassock to the captain. “See if ye can be after findin’ some monk who needs a good wool robe for the winter.” He looked up and about the sky and sighed. “Looks like snow, it does.”

The captain laughed and waved him on his way.

Rory walked the short distance into the town proper looking for a church or an inn where he might learn of a noblewoman traveling with children. he spotted an alehouse, went in and found a place at a rickety trestle table. The serving girl came over to him immediately.

“What’ll ye have, good sir?” she said with the accent of the north.

He smiled his sunlit smile at her and replied, “Three things, my lass. A smile, a bowl of ale, and some information, in that order.”

She shrugged and offered a wan smile. He put his drinking bowl which had hung on his belt on the table and she filled it from the pitcher she carried. “What d’ye want to know?”

“Has a great lady and her children traveled through here not long ago?”

She looked around the premises. “Does this look like the sort of place noblewomen visit?” Rory started to be disappointed when she went on. “The lord from Leon and his lieutenants are the highest born I have e’er seen cross our threshold.”

Rory reached out and grasped her wrist. “A lord of Leon? Black hair, beard? Huge muscles?” He had let her wrist go and held up both his arms bent up at the elbow, illustrating strength.

“Aye, that’s the man. A bonny man, that.” She eyed Rory. “As are you, sir, in spite of your scars.” If anything, she thought, the scars made him more attractive.

“Is he here now?” Rory persisted.

“Nay, but he just left. He and his men went to collect their soldiers and leave.”

Rory’s mind was racing. “To the sea?” he said, mostly to himself. He was thinking that the ship he had come in on was not one that could take fighting men and horses.”

“Oh, nay,” she said in her slightly nasal voice. “They went inland. I heard him talking to one of his officers in their strange, songlike language, and one word sounded like Scotland and another like ‘Vikings’. I heard travelers saying that Fergus mac Eochaid , the kinsman of the old, old king, was calling for swords to fight the raiders.”

Rory stood, reached into his scrip for a coin, and dropped it on the table. “Did a woman with four children leave with him?”

“But sir, you have not drunk a drop of the ale. You don’t need to pay for it. And I told you, I saw no woman and children.”

Rory leaned and gave her a loud kiss on her cheek. “Now there’s that smile I ordered, and worth every farthing.” He smiled and ran out of the alehouse.

Rory tried not to hope too hard that he could run fast enough to catch up with a body of men on horseback. If it was true that Josephine was not with him, Elerde could make good time. But it was no more than an hour and he was becoming winded when he saw them ahead.

The hindmost riders shouted at him as he dashed up to the fore. Lagu turned his horse to block Rory from reaching Elerde. Lagu drew his sword, a gleeful look on his face, when Elerde uttered an order in their language. Lagu sheathed his sword and let Rory approach.

“So you are not dead,” Elerde said to him flatly.

“Where be she? What did you do with the queen?” Rory demanded furiously.

Elerde looked at him. “She is on the Holy Isle. Go to her.” He eyed Rory coolly. he made a half hearted salute, and called to his men to get moving again. Rory stood on the road, the well armored horses passing him on both sides, staring after the mercenary lord. Once the long line of warriors, masterless men one and all, had passed him, with hoots and jibes and the odd but not painful blow, he found himself standing in the road staring after them.

He turned and tore off in the direction from which he came.

Josephine had pulled herself together when Willihad had joined her. She did not look to see Elerde again. Willihad had offered his cassocked chest to lean against, to weep, but Josephine shook her head. She thanked him quietly, then went her own way, seeking out her children. She found them in the guest quarters playing some game with a youthful monk. She sat down and watched, her face impassive.

At one or another time one of the children would glance up at her. They had seen her somber often enough of late that they let their questioning gaze fall from her at last and went on with their amusement.

The next morning, she walked with Brother Willihad to the gates of the abbey. He was leaving. “I must not linger when the King I serve, as I serve God, wishes me to make haste to Frisia to bring the heathens to Our Lord.”

Josephine nodded. She put a hand on his arm. “Thank you, Brother, for all your kindnesses and your wisdom. I cannot think how I could have faced the task I needs must have done without you.”

He took her hands in his and smiled at her. “Daughter, you have more strength than you give yourself credit for. Praise God for the indomitable spirit that is yours. I just helped you look at yourself and see what truly mattered to you.”

She smiled up at him. “Oh, that was never in doubt. I just needed to make someone else see it.”

He made the sign of the cross over her. “God bless you, your grace.”

“And you, Brother.”

She stepped back and he went to the mule he had been loaned to ride to Bamburgh and led it out of the gate.

Josephine sighed and crossed her arms in front of her belly. What was she to do now? Just wait, she supposed, and talk with every traveler who entered at the gates. She would ask each one of Críslicland and its king and how the realm stood in the midst of all its sorrow. She would have to be patient, enduring the waiting. She would pray, meditate, and safeguard her children. Turning back she thought of Bishop Cynewulf and his poetry and smiled.

She settled down to learn a new routine, the observances the abbey required of her, the work she would volunteer to do to make recompense for their care of her and her children. She would spend time with God, with St. Cuthbert and St. Aidan.

A few days later Josephine crossed to the guesthouse from the church with an armful of altar cloths and other items she had convinced the monks she could mend and embellish. She heard the bell at the porter’s gate but did not look up. Pilgrims of all classes and from all directions of the compass came to the Holy Isle almost daily. She reached the guest house and went into a chamber set aside for the common use of the guests. She and her children were the only ones there at this time, as clerics were housed with the monks in their dortoir and there were no lay visitors at the time.

She set to work on repairing a hem on a white linen altar cloth. She enjoyed the quiet steady work, fell into a sort of meditative state. She hardly noticed when the door open and one of the brothers softly called, “Your grace” in a thick northern accent. It took her a moment to come out of her dream. The brother was saying, “My lady, you have a visitor.”

She looked up now with interest. A visitor? Oh no, had Elerde come back? Then she caught sight of the dark red hair of the very tall slight man grinning at her from over the monk’s shoulder. She was stunned and dropped the altar cloth and needle and thread onto the rush strewn floor. “Oh!” she exclaimed and quickly picked it all up, pricking her thumb with the sharp needle. She set the altar cloth next to her on the settle and stood up, putting her bleeding thumb in her mouth. She stared unbelieving at the man who had come in and was standing before her.

“Your grace, I be that joyful to see ye again.”

“Rory! ‘Tis truly you? You are alive?” She stared as he nodded, smiling. Then she exclaimed with happiness and threw her arms around his neck. “Oh Rory, Rory! This is the happiest day of my life!” This time the tears came, but they ran down her cheeks into her wide, glorious smile.

Rory wrapped his arms around her, unaware of the uncomfortable glances of the monk still behind him. He put his face down on the top of her head and breathed in the fragrance of her hair. He parted his lips to speak, but instead he let the words form in his mind. “Oh my love, my love.”

The queen and Rory spent hours talking, catching up, laughing together and playing with her children together. On long walks about the abbey grounds they held hands, sat in companionable silence together, and had difficulty tearing themselves apart when it was time to retire for the night.

Some of the monks complained about their behaviour to Bishop Cynewulf, but he had shook his head. “You do not understand, they are like little children together. Let them be.” he was not blind to Rory’s devotion, but he recognized it as one that bordered on worship. He made a mental note to find time to caution the boy about idolatry. He knew Rory held his love out away from the bodily, not unmindful of the attraction but pouring all that energy into serving his lady and love.

There were sorrowful times as well. Rory took her hands as they stood in the cloisters, out of the lightly falling snow, and looked into her eyes all the way to her soul. “Me lady, I am deeply grieved for your loss.”

She looked up at him and stated simply and clearly, “I have had no loss. Lawrence is alive.”

Rory looked at her, unsure whether to smile. “He is? Ye have heard from him?”

She shook her head. “Nay, but I never believed he was gone. ‘Tis but a matter of time until word will come.” With a playful smile she added, "You are not the only one who can rise from the dead you know." They saw a passing monk cast them a disapproving smile. They were able to let him get well past them before they broke into giggles.

Neither mentioned Elerde, how he had been at lawrencium, how he helped her brother and then her escape, how she had sent him away, neither how Rory had found him and heard him say gently, “Go to her” in a voice that surpassed any and every tragic love song and tale Rory had ever performed for his dinner.

She asked him, “Rory, forgive me, but does Shannon know you are alive?”

Rory dropped his gaze and shook his head sadly. “Nay. I had no time to find him in Lawrencium.”

She reached up and put a hand on his cheek. “He was not there, Rory. He had gone east to join Lawrence after helping my brother escape.”

He nodded solemnly. “My lady, I am so sorry for the grief I caused ye and Shannon and others.”

“What have you to fault yourself for? You did not sentence yourself to hang.”

He looked at her. “But I have been alive all this time. And I did not get word to ye.”

She shook her head. “How could you have, with a war raging all about you?”

“Me lady, I did not e’en try. I chose to keep silent.”

Josephine was shocked. “Why, Rory? Why?”

He grimaced, and turned and looked away. “After what happened, after I recovered, I thought about all I had done to… all I felt about.. what wrong I was doin’. Oh Christ help me, I don't know how to say it. I thought both ye and me darlin’ Shannon would have been better off thinkin’ me no longer in the world.”

“Rory!” the queen cried. “How could that ever be? Thinking you were dead almost killed Shannon. And my heart was broken as well.”

Rory looked at her with an unfathomable expression of speculation. To survive the moment both fell into their old patterns. He went silent, and she chose to bury her knowledge of how he loved her. As long as they did not talk about it, they would not be hurt by it.

“But Rory, Shannon?” she persisted. he nodded but he said not another word.

Josephine looked out at the snow. “I wonder if Brother Willihad was able to set sail before this storm?”

At that very moment they heard the porter’s bell ringing as if someone chased by devils wanted sanctuary within the walls of the abbey desperately. They looked over and saw several monks running to the gate and being stopped by the brother Porter who clearly wanted them to calm themselves and behave in a dignified, respectful way. He turned to the gate and opened the peephole. Then he stepped back and opened the gate with all haste.

The next thing they knew Brother Willihad was in the gate and looking around wildly. He followed one of the younger brothers pointing finger to where she stood undercover with Rory beside her. With no hesitation Brother Willihad ran to her, his cassock billowing out behind him. He slipped in the snow on the cobbles but caught himself. He came up to Josephine and smiled into her puzzled face. He took her hands in his and said, “Your grace. You were right. Your faith was well founded as it is steadfast. Your husband the king is alive!”

Josephine staggered back and was caught by Rory. “Lawrence? Lawrence is alive? How? What tidings?” She seemed to be unwilling to hear what he was saying.

Willihad looked up at the Irishman quizzically. Rory answered his unspoken question, “Brother, I be a bard in that self same king’s household and a longtime servant of this high lady here.”

Willihad smiled and nodded. Then he turned his attention back to Josephine. “My daughter, you might guess that once I was in Bamburgh and ready to embark on the ship that was promised me the first storm came up and we were required to wait on God’s blessing. While we waited in the house of the priest there, out of the snow and storm came a small ship that docked near my own. On it was a man who was a messenger by his clothing. I sent a young boy to inquire from whence he came. The boy returned and told me ‘Críslicland, from the king, who is seeking his wife who had fled the usurper.’ I took myself out to find the man and question him. ‘Tis true. Your lord lives and has retaken his rightful place as God's anointed him as king. He has sent messengers to all ports and throughout the land to carry the glad tidings and to find you and tell you ‘tis safe to return home. I did fear ‘twas some trick of the usurper, but he showed me his safe passage. It bore your lord’s seal and his signature.”

At that he drew from his cassock a large folded piece of vellum hung with braid and sealing wax. He held it to her. Josephine took it in trembling hands and opened it. She read the document with awe, rubbed her thumb lovingly over the place where Lawrence had signed his name, “Laurentius Rex”. Then she looked up at Rory and then Willihad and burst into peals of glorious laughter.

“But Brother, have you not missed your passage by coming back here?” she finally asked him as he held her two hands and laughed along with her.

“I have, but ‘twas worth it to bring the news to you myself, dear lady. Perhaps I may accompany you to Lawrencium?”

Josephine nodded excitedly. “I must go tell the children!”

As she darted away Rory smiled at Brother Willihad. “Thank ye, holy brother. There is no greater happiness you could possibly have given the dear lady.”

Willihad nodded gratified and happy himself.

Next: Homecoming

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About the author

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