Heather sat at the crude loom near a window where she made the cloth that earned her a living. She crooned very quietly to herself, almost in a whisper, an old Scottish song sung to children. She was startled by a shadow passing over the loom and soon after that the sound of something being placed against the outer wall of her cottage. She stopped her weaving and stood slowly and quietly. She went to pick up a broom that lay propped against the wall and went out of the door to creep around to where the sound had come from.
She held the broomstick ready to strike the intruder, but stopped still when she saw the man who had climbed a simple ladder and was hoisting bundles of straw and grass to the roof of her cottage. He happened to look down as he reached to hoist another and saw her. Shannon O'Neill smiled broadly and put his hands up in the air. "I come in peace, fair maid!"
Heather lowered the broom, feeling rather foolish. "What are ye doing up there, O'Neill?" she inquired.
"I be after fixin' ye'r thatch, darlin'. When I was here workin' on the garden I noticed some wee spots that were goin' bare." He pointed to the spots.
The woman looked at him warily. "But why?"
Shannon looked at her a moment and then shrugged, "Well, ah, so the rain will not come in?" He seemed to be reaching for some expected answer.
Heather put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. "Nay, ye fool. I mean why are ye doin' that, what do ye expect in return?"
Shannon's smile faded. "Och, ye cut me to the quick. I suppose I cannae blame ye. I am doin' this for me friends Sean and Emily who worry about ye, colleen." He looked hard at her. "Do not worry, I am not peeking through the roof to see ye naked." He turned and started to push sections of thatch into the bald places. He turned back and said, "Anyway, ye'r not me type of wench."
Heather just stared. "And what type might ye'r type be?" She sounded annoyed but there was a hint of hurt.
Shannon smirked, "Friendly."
Heather gave him a little contemptuous laugh and went back inside. Shannon thought, "Well, the lass did not order me gone this time, saints be praised," and went back to work.
Over the next few weeks Shannon could be found, sometimes with Sean in tow, at Heather's almost any fine day. The two men brought stout timbers to shore up a leaning beam and Shannon mixed and patched the daub and wattle. One time he dug a new trench for her scraps and waste, and another time he expanded the garden. Heather watched with growing mixed emotions, feeling grateful but still suspicious. Sean's occasional forays with the Irishman soothed her misgivings somewhat. She was grateful for all the work she could not do herself. She did not know if her main emotion was distrust or an increasing shame at how she had treated this man.
One time she stopped him at work, bringing him some bread, cheese and cool water. "Shannon, methinks I owe ye an apology. I took ye for a wastrel, a womanizer, but ye are no such thing."
Shannon took the cup of water and pored it over his head instead of drinking it. He had an odd smile. "Nay, darlin'. Ye were right. That I am, a wastrel and a womanizer. " He gave her an ironic look and set to eating the food she brought.
Heather found herself stealing glances at him when he came to fix yet another part of her cottage, her fence, her sheds. When he worked in just his shirt she could see his muscular arms, surprised that a minstrel would have developed such strength. She watched as his red curls dried in the sun after being doused with water to ward off heat, and saw how they tightened and shone as they dried. She watched his face in concentration, not a handsome face but a kind one, a merry one. Then one day as he walked to the shore she saw him strip naked and wade into the cold salt water. From her viewpoint she gasped at the beauty of his body and felt a warmth grow in her belly. She turned away before he could turn to face her. She did not trust herself with that much temptation.
Shannon wondered sometimes if she would ever invite him into her cottage. If nothing else, he was sure it needed repair too. And he knew her loom was her livelihood.. she had forced a cloak on him as payment for all his work even though he protested there was no need. The loom was crude and could easily have been improved with a little carpenter work, but the invitation never came.
One afternoon as Shannon helped Heather carry in buckets of water a spring storm burst with a torrent of rain. They both yelped as the cold drops pelted them, and they let the buckets fall. Both ran for the doorway of her cottage and stood in the frame, laughing. The sky had gone dark and they were in sudden shadow. The laughter abruptly ended and they stood, looking into each other's eyes. Heather reached towards and then let her weight fall against him. He took her face in his hands and kissed her long. She put her head on his chest, and breathed, "Oh Shannon."
Shannon said not a word, but held her gently, savoring the feel of her. He made no move to caress or kiss her. He was feeling something he never had before, a desire to protect and cherish a woman rather than just dally with her. The women he played with liked just to play, to make love and to give as much as they got. This woman was a mystery to him, someone he wanted to give to more than just get.
"Heather, I think I am in love with ye."
Heather's body tensed but then relaxed. "Aye, Shannon, I think I love ye too." They held each other for some time, listening to the drops as they hit the trees, the ground, the cottage.
Then Shannon gently pushed her away so he could look into her eyes. "Darlin', I want ye to be me wife. But I want ye to know who I be. I am just what ye said, a wastrel and a womanizer. I will try to be true to ye, if ye'll have me, but I cannae swear an oath. I dinnae know if I can keep faith. It may not be in me nature."
Heather gazed back. She searched his face for something, she did not know what. She firmly decided that come what may she would have this man and would mold him to be her faithful husband. "Shannon, I will be ye'r wife." She hesitated and then added warily, But I will not let ye take me until I am."
Shannon's eyes filled with moisture. "Me darlin', darlin' girl. How I do love ye. I can wait for that blessed night. But may I kiss ye?"
Heather nodded and tipped her face up to his. He kissed her with a sweetness that he himself did not know he had in him.
Next: Shannon Meets heather, Part 4 - The Wedding
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