“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what are ye goin’ on about?” Shannon snapped at Rory as the latter fussed about with packing their belongings for the next leg of their journey with Ishaq the musician. Shannon had come in quite late as usual, drunk this time, and just dropped everything he had with him on the floor of the room they shared at the inn.
Rory McGuinness, now like Shannon O’Neill nearly eighteen years of age, just muttered his response and continued to pack. Shannon, annoyed at his friend’s behavior, studiedly ignored him and did not rise to help.
Ishaq rapped softly at their door, opened it and looked in. “Are you boys ready?”
Rory snapped back, “Aye, no thanks to himself!”
Ishaq’s eyes under raised eyebrows were cast in Shannon’s direction. The mop haired boy slowly stretched and stood. He glanced at Ishaq and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I dinnae know what is eatin’ McGuinness.”
The Andalusian averted his eyes and turned and walked away.
The trio set out shortly thereafter, an uneasy silence between them. The master musician wished he could pull Shannon aside to ask what the upset had been about, but there was no way to do it without his friend knowing. He resolved to wait until the opportunity presented itself.
He did call to the shorter boy, “Let’s hear your exercises, Shan.”
The taller boy stared straight ahead as his best friend for a dozen years started in on the modes and scales that Ishaq was teaching him. It was the Andalusian’s intent to train Shannon’s voice to work well in any language and with the music of any nation. The boy’s talent was definitely up to it.
Rory quickened his pace and strode out ahead of his two companions. His shoulders, seen from behind, were stiff and irritable. Shannon, preoccupied, did not react. Ishaq just sighed.
The three had roamed Ireland and beyond in the two or more years they had been together. They were back in Ireland now, having made a circuit of Wales and Cornwall. Ishaq had seen the shorter boy’s allure with the girls and women everywhere they went, but he had watched Rory as well to see where his own desires would lead him. It was yet a mystery. If the boy himself knew, he was not sharing the information.
The travelers still had some hours to reach Sligo when they stopped in a grove to rest and take some food. Rory sat apart a bit. Ishaq was actually relieved when the boy stood and mumbled something about looking around the grove. When Rory was out of hearing, he turned to Shannon.
“Have you any insight into this black mood of Rory’s?” Ishaq inquired.
Shannon swallowed a mouthful of bread and cheese and shook his head. “I think the man needs a woman.”
Ishaq considered this. “Shannon, do you remember the conversation we had in Tirconnell?”
Shannon nodded, “If ye mean whether Rory was for boys or girls, aye I do, and I still think he is for the lasses.”
Ishaq smiled. “And how do you know that, my boy?”
Shannon thought a moment, then answered, “He just dinnae seem the other way is all.”
Ishaq chuckled. “And do I? Seem that other way, I mean?”
Shannon flushed a little, but answered readily enough. “Och, nay, and I dinnae mean insult by it. I guessed about ye because ye dinnae look at lasses and I saw ye once or twice lookin’ at men. That way. But subtle. I never have seen McGuinness do that, but I have seen him gaze at a lass now and then. “
Ishaq lounged back on the ground. “Then why does be not… tryst with them?”
Shannon shrugged. “He must. I cannae believe he dinnae. How can any man or woman for that matter do without?” He shook his head.
Ishaq laughed. “You would say that, would you not? Such a libertine you are.”
Shannon grinned. “Well just so ye know, I still dinnae believe Rory goes for his own sex.”
They were startled by Rory’s sudden presence between them. He glared at each in turn, but said not a word. Ishaq and Shannon hastened to gather their things to press on to the town of the Holy Well. They did not meet Rory’s eyes the whole trip there.
The Andalusian and Shannon put on a fine performance at an inn in Sligo that evening. Rory was as testy as ever, and earned a sharp word from Ishaq when he carelessly dropped the Andalusian’s precious lute. The boy shot back, “I am that tired of bein’ the servant around here. “ He went out the door and left Ishaq and Shannon gaping.
“Och, I will go after the peevish fellow,” Shannon offered and the Andalusian nodded gratefully.
When neither boy returned for more than an hour, he decided to look for them in the town. He had just about decided the boys had made up and were perhaps couched with some willing lasses when he heard Rory’s voice off the path raised in an unaccustomed oath. He followed the sound and came up to see the two boys grappling in the dirt in a clearing between some shrubs.
Ishaq rushed up to separate them. “What is this, Rory? Shannon? You two never fight!”
The boys got to their feet but Ishaq had to restrain them from going after each other again. The young faces were angry, flaming. Shannon’s lip was bleeding. Rory favored one ankle.
Ishaq was finally able to get them to stay apart. He insisted they come back to the inn with him so they could talk this out. Much to his surprise, Rory snapped, “Nay, Ishaq, sure and I dinnae think ye want this matter broadcast too widely.”
Ishaq stood and regarded the tall boy evenly. “And just what is that supposed to mean?” he demanded coolly.
Rory looked as if he had said more than he wanted to, but he went on, his eyes down. “Methinks ye would want your ideas about love kept to yourself.. and your friend there.”
Shannon’s face twisted, and he lunged for Rory again. Ishaq kept them apart. “So that is what this is about. Shannon knows of but does not share my predilection.. and he does not judge me for it. Why do you?”
Rory stared a minute then said, “Ishaq, Master, I dinnae find fault with you.. as a man of honor. Or the man of honor ye try to be.” He shot at Shannon, “But I grow weary of this profligate.. He sings the songs of love and beauty, but he cares not for the lasses he beds and leaves behind. It fair chokes me to hear him tell the tales of courtly love, all the while he is seducing innocent lasses with his eyes.”
Shannon snorted in derision. “And what would ye have me do, McGuinness, leave the lasses alone? A man is not meant to live without love. “
Rory pulled himself up to his full height and crossed his arms over his chest. His chin went up as he replied, “If ye loved them, ye would not debase them with your lust. Ye would hold them in reverence. As do I and does Ishaq.. well ye know what I mean.”
Ishaq looked at him amazed. “Rory, are you saying that I keep celibate?”
Rory nodded righteously. “Aye, and that should be a model for this wastrel here.”
Shannon sniggered. Ishaq pursed his lips and said to Rory, “I am afraid you are mistaken, my boy. I am not celibate. I am simply.. discreet.”
Rory’s jaw dropped. He stared at the musician. “Ye mean.. ye have.. with men..?” He paused, still staring. “When?”
Ishaq smiled to himself. “Do you remember the innkeeper in Cardiff? And the older mason in Tintagel?”
Shannon inserted, “And dinnae forget the mummer in Killarney!”
Ishaq glanced at him. “You knew about that one, then?”
“Aye, he thought I was of the same mind and tried to kiss me…” Shannon grinned.
Ishaq responded, “You did not hurt him, did you?”
Shannon snorted, “Of course not. ‘Twas an honest error. I just told him nay and he went on his way.”
Ishaq nodded, “Good. He was.. a very nice looking young man… I should hate to have him disfigured..”
Man and boy turned to look at Rory. He was standing there, unable to take it all in. Ishaq pressed, “Rory, my friend, does it bother you, that I sleep with men and not women?” Ishaq’s face was full of compassion.
Rory relaxed his proud stance, and turned away from Shannon and towards the master musician. “Nay, ‘tis not that. Ye are a good and kind man and I cannae see aught ye do as wrong.. but… but I thought ye above the baseness of lust. I have seen ye as a model of a higher sort of love, of worship of the beloved, like in the stories.”
Shannon snorted again, but seeing both Ishaq’s and Rory’s looks, composed himself and just stood whistling a tune under his breath.
Ishaq went to Rory and put a hand on his shoulder. “Those are just stories, my boy. They are not real. They are composed to make men strive for greater things and to make women swoon and dream of love. They are not instructive.”
Rory shook the man’s hand off his shoulder. “That is a lie! They teach us how to love purely! They are the ideal to strive for!”
Ishaq looked at him evenly. “Have you believed this long?”
Rory said hotly, “I have known it all me life! It was instilled in me with mother’s milk.”
Ishaq knew this was just an expression but could not help but wonder if there was some literal truth in it for Rory.
Ishaq thought a moment. “Rory, if all love was so elevated, how do you think the world would be populated?”
Rory’s kind nature deserted him and he snapped, “Not by the likes of ye, I’ll warrant.” He saw the pain in the master’s eyes and was sorry, but was too angry to apologize. "There will always be base men to repopulate the Earth. It is for better men to find the woman who will be their true love and to worship as a goddess their long lives.”
Shannon could not hold back any more and burst into laughter. Rory turned a furious look on him. Shannon threw up his hands and said, “That’s all I can listen to. I am to bed.” He turned and headed back to the inn.
Ishaq watched him go, then turned to the other boy. “Rory, Rory, what can we do to make this right. Shannon may not show it, but his heart is broken with you always so angry with him. He loves you dearly, Rory. And I know you love him.”
Rory glared. “Not like that!”
Ishaq nodded, “I know not like that. ‘Tis not what I meant.”
Rory shrugged and said harshly, “Even if I did love him like that I should not dishonor him with base lust.” He looked at Ishaq challenging. “Have ye?”
Ishaq gasped, “Rory, nay, how can you say that? You are my wards, I would never do that. And how can ye imagine Shannon.. I mean, the boy loves the lasses.. all of them.”
Rory all at once felt deep regret for his words. He was overwhelmed by how low he had slipped. He groped around for something to say, but his tongue was tied. He finally just made a noise of frustration and took off into the woods not looking back.
Ishaq stared after him mournfully. “How more badly could I have handled that?” he thought to himself. He slowly turned and went back to the inn.
Shannon woke to a candle held near his face some hours later. “Shannon, Shannon, wake !” a voice rasped in a whisper.
“Rory, what is it?” Shannon saw in the dim light that Rory had his hat and cloak on and was holding his pack. “Where are you going, Rory?”
Rory sat on the cot and looked very sad. “I am sorry, Shan. I must go. I have made a right fool of meself and hurt ye both. I once promised meself I would be a soldier and fight to protect women and children and the old from those who would make victims of them. I am off to Armagh to find the High Chief and offer meself.”
Shannon grabbed his friend’s arm and held it. “Nay, Rory, dinnae do this!” His voice was frantic.
“I must. I must keep me promise.” Rory gritted his teeth, and said through them, “Goodbye, Shannon. And tell Ishaq I am sorry and farewell. I hope we will cross paths again someday, ye and I.” He pulled his arm from his friend’s grasp. “And dinnae try to follow me.. I shall not change me mind.”
Shannon sat up and saw his friend take the candle to the table by the door, blow it out and then heard him leave, his footsteps on the stairs outside their room.
As he walked through the night Rory was glad of the dark that hid the tears that streamed down his face.
In the dark of the room, Shannon was glad of the same. “God go with ye, Rory McGuinness,” he sobbed quietly.
The next time Shannon and Rory see each other is in the story The Journey to Ireland II.
Next: Fan Fiction by Friar Jak
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