Modern view of site of Heather's cottage.
Sean laughed when Shannon asked him about the grim young woman who hated minstrels. "Heather doesn't care much for soldiers either." The Scot sat at his own table with his smiling wife Emily bringing in cheese, bread and ale for him and his guest.
"Aye, and who does she like? Shannon grinned sardonically.
Sean exchanged a look with his small, pretty wife. "Well. I think if priests and monks could marry…" Sean laughed.
Emily put her hand on Sean's broad shoulder. "Now, Sean, that is not fair. Heather likes hard working, serious men, like farmers." Sean nodded. Emily continued in a compassionate tone, "Poor Heather has just lost her mother. And there is no father. Her mother had Heather outside the bonds of holy matrimony. Now she lives all alone in that broken down little cottage near the shore."
Shannon accepted the mug of ale she handed to him. Sure and let me guess.. Heather's father was a minstrel who made her mother swoon, took his pleasure with her, and then left, ne'er to be seen again in this world."
The couple both laughed. Sean responded, "Actually nay. 'Twas some peddler."
Emily added, "And why does she hate minstrels, ye may well ask? She likes men who work hard.. and that in her book includes not minstrels."
Sean cautioned his friend, "Man, I would not bother with her. She is not ye'r type of woman." He put an arm around Emily's waist. "Now this one, that is another tale entirely!" He made a jocular growling sound.
Emily laughed and pretended to punch him. "Och, I can see ye were not changed by ye’r travels. Still a scoundrel." She turned to Shannon with a wicked grin. "I suppose he has had all the women in Christenlande and half he met on the way home." She kissed her husband on the top of his head.
"Nay, love, I have been true to ye. Is that not right, me lad?" Sean smiled up at Emily.
Shannon laughed, "Aye, but too true it is. Sean makes for a poor travelin' companion. Everywhere we went we'd run into pairs of beautiful colleens with sparkling eyes and willing hearts, but no pleasure for Shannon. Sure and he turned the other one down every time."
Emily grinned. "That was probably because ye always gave the man the choice of the ugly one."
Sean roared with laughter. "As if Shannon needed to choose the prettier.. all pretty girls fair throw themselves at Shannon. He can have beautiful, ugly, any type, size, color of hair and eyes, and all."
Shannon's eyes, not yet aged by years of too much drink, twinkled with a lusty youthfulness.. "Methinks there be one colleen who can resist me." He looked thoughtful. Sean and Emily laughed and they set to their meal.
At her small dilapidated cottage Heather struggled to push a small rough harrow through the earth of her garden. She would push it through for a foot, then hit a root or some other snag and be caught up fast, more than once hitting herself hard in the solar plexus with the handles of the harrow. She gasped out curses under her breath.
"Here and let me help ye with that. Ye are too charmin' to be sweatin' and strainin' like that." She looked up to see the Irishman coming toward her on the path to her cottage on the shore. She was exhausted and he looked determined, so she left off and let him take the harrow without protest.
Shannon set to the harrow as if he had farmed all his life, which in fact he had until he had found in music his way to get away from the backbreaking work. He was strongly enough built and just the right height to really lean into the task and was able to finish the entire garden before the sun was too high. He was dusting himself off and wiping his face and the back of his neck with a damp kerchief when Heather, who had disappeared just a half hour before, appeared again with a jug of ice cold milk and some cold meat pie. Shannon sat down on the crude fence that enclosed the garden and accepted the refreshment gratefully.
"Here," Heather commanded, "give me that cloth." She took it from him, went to a bucket of water and dipped it and rinsed it out. She came back and bathed the back of his neck and his forehead.
"Ah, lass, ye have a gentle touch." Shannon closed his eyes, savoring the mutton and potato pie and the cool water on his skin.
Heather rinsed out the cloth again, then came back to lay it across the back of his neck. She sat facing him with a look of measuring skepticism. "I should ne'er have thought to see what I just saw," she stated flatly.
Shannon looked up at her with his mouth full of pie. "What, an Irishman eatin' meat pie?" he jested around the mouthful.
Heather smiled a little, "Nay, a minstrel who knows what hard work is."
He looked at her with a knowing gaze. "There is hard work and then there is hard work. Sure, and I have done me share of all types. I grew up on a farm."
Heather crossed her arms over her chest. "Oh, aye, and where was that?"
Shannon swallowed a large gulp of the ice cold milk. "In Tyrone.. that is in Ireland, in the north. Me father was a chieftain and a farmer and sheep herder. I was next to his eldest son, but when Patrick died in an accident I was to take over it all. I let me younger brother Ron take it all but the title." He sucked the mutton grease off his thumb with a loud smack.
Heather was dumbstruck. "Ye had a farm with sheep and ye left it behind?" she asked incredulously.
Shannon drained the last of the milk and cleared his throat. "Och aye. I had a stern mistress who wouldnae let me sit still."
Heather's eyes narrowed, "I might have known. Some lady, I suppose, who kept ye as a pet."
Shannon laughed. He reached to where he had lain his knapsack and opened it to pull out his lute. "Ye might say that." He held the lute in his arms and started to play a simple little Scottish lullaby. She listened quietly. "This is my mistress." He began to sing quietly in Scots Gaelic. His eyes closed in concentration, he did not see as her own look softened.
His song done he looked up to see an absent look on her face. He dared not speak for fear of breaking the spell, but the silence snapped her out of it. She looked abashedly at him and collected herself. "I have much work to do, sir, so I shall thank ye for ye'r help and thank ye to leave me to it." She stood as if to dismiss him.
He smiled, stood and, slinging his pack and lute over his shoulder, made a delicate bow and walked close to her as he headed for the path. As he passed her, he made as to give her a quick kiss, but she evaded him. He smiled and saluted her playfully. "Fare ye well, me lass," and left her to her work.
Next: Shannon Meets heather, Part 3