This story was a particular pleasure to write. I was on a trreadmill and listening to music from my Celtic radio station, Radio Dé Danann, and the images and sounds that came into my mind and heart were so real!
Tirconnell, Donegal 762 AD
The fall leaves drifted down on the revelers as the first hint of the chill of winter went unnoticed by them. The mountains had the barest dusting of snow but the dancing and feasting kept the people near the O’Donnell’s stronghold warm and merry.
Ishaq had arrived with the boys to a warm welcome from the people of Donegal. He had known from other travelers of the great Samhain festival near Lough Swilly, and there was no coincidence about his arrival, of course. Nor need there be.. he was not the only minstrel to have wandered into Donegal about the same time.
The light was just beginning to fade. Shannon, an apt pupil these months, had already sung to the grand approbation of the crowd. Ishaq had noticed how the lad caught and held the eye of many a young lass. He knew full well that Shannon would not be back to sleep where Ishaq and Rory were camped. He had a gleam in his eye at the amorous exploits of the boy.. He was no doubt already the father of more than a couple “illegal” children, as the Irish called them.
He looked over at the taller boy, Rory McGuinness, considering. Rory stood at the edge of the dancers, clapping his hands in time to the music, smiling and clearly enjoying himself. Shannon was dancing with a girl with raven hair and the whitest of skin. As the two came close to Rory, Shannon leaned and chucked him on the shoulder, winking. Rory beamed.
Ishaq strolled over to Rory. “I think we shall not see Shannon tonight.. or mayhap not until sometime tomorrow afternoon.”
Rory laughed, his eyes dancing. “Och, I think ye are right! He has his pick of them tonight.”
Ishaq raised one eyebrow. “Oh, you think he shall have to choose?”
“Rory,” Ishaq queried, “Will you not find a lass and go with her as well?”
Rory blushed. “Och, Master Ishaq, I dinnae know..” he began hesitating.
The Andalusian Arab jested, “You do know what to do with a girl when you get one, do you not?”
Rory looked up and sideways at him, clearly ill at ease. Ishaq regretted his words.
“Aye, Master, Shannon has showed me.” Rory was blushing.
Ishaq started, looked at the boy and asked, tentatively, “Showed you, Rory? What do you mean?” He couldn’t mean Shannon and Rory had.. no, he did not think this was so.
Rory blushed even more deeply. “He took me along and he had two lasses and he told me what to do.” He would not meet the man’s eyes.
Ishaq nodded. “And did you enjoy yourself, lad?”
Rory looked away, “Well, aye, but I dinnae think the lass did.. she laughed at me.”
Ishaq’s heart broke for the young man. “Dear boy. Do not despair. I will warrant you will find lasses more interested in the future. I think you will break hearts all over Ireland and beyond.”
Rory shuffled his feet. “D’ye think so?”
Ishaq patted him on the back. “Aye, I do.” He resolved to talk to Shannon when he had a chance.
Ishaq took a turn playing for the dancers, striking up an Irish melody on the tin whistle he had borrowed and learned to play from Shannon. As he played the spirited dance he was pleased to see a girl hook Rory by the arm and pull him into the dance. The poor boy tripped over his own long legs but the girl had had enough ale not to seem to mind. Rory seemed to be relaxing. That sunlit smile was on his face again.
The next musician, a piper, called for a sword dance. One O’Donnell man brought forward one of the swords. As the crowd looked for the second to cross the first, Ishaq called “Here!” He leaned to his bag of instruments and pulled out a long curved scimitar! The crowd gasped with pleasure. He carried the scimitar over and crossed the other man’s sword with it. He also stripped a silken scarf from his neck and held it out. “And who shall dance?” he challenged.
A few men’s names were thrown out but soon they were all drowned out with a chant of “Shannon O’Neill! Shannon O’Neill! Shannon O’Neill! ! The mop haired youth feigned surprise, came over to the swords, took the scarf and bowed with much flourish.
It was up to Shannon now to choose the other man for the dance. Ishaq greeted his choice with some misgivings. “Rory McGuinness!” the youth called out. Ishaq worried that Rory would be laughed at if he tripped or otherwise flubbed the sword dance. But Ishaq should not have worried. Shannon winked at him, and he understood that Shannon would make sure Rory was taken care of.
Rory, blushing again, came up and looked questioningly at his friend. Shannon just smiled and gestured for Rory to take the other end of the scarf. He did and they took their positions, the opposite hand lifted into the air and the outmost leg bent and ready to move. The piper started up, and the young men started to do the kicking, skipping dance back and forth around the quarters formed by the crossed swords.
At first Ishaq tried to see what Shannon would do to make Rory look good at the dance, but he had to admit he could not see it. He became lost in the pleasure of watching the lads along with everyone else. He could only conclude that there was some magic in Shannon that gave Rory the confidence and grace that the lad alone did not have.
Later Ishaq, tired and happy, was leaning back against a tree, his legs outstretched on his bed roll. He saw Rory coming towards him. “Rory, my lad, are you not with Shannon?”
Rory shook his head. “Och, no. He is very much occupied.”
Ishaq considered him. “Do you not want to be similarly occupied?”
The boy just smiled and stretched out on his own bed roll. Soon he either slept or feigned sleep. The Andalusian just gazed at the boy’s back that was turned to him. He could not see Rory’s eyes were open and his face was sad.
The festival continued the next day in a more somber tone, with the Christian clerics doing their best to get the people into the small stone church for All Souls’ Day. When Shannon came wandering back from his adventures, Ishaq sent Rory to fetch some ale for them all.
“Shannon, I would like to speak with you a moment,” he stated as the boy stretched out on the ground with his fingers laced behind his head which was, as it always was on the “morning after” full of bits of hay and such.
Shannon stretched his head to look at the man. “Aye, Master Ishaq?”
“This must be between only us two, Shannon.” Ishaq waited until the boy nodded. “Why does Rory not join you?”
Shannon looked puzzled for a moment. “Och, ye mean when I go off with the lasses.. He does.. sometimes.. but he is shy.”
“And Rory, he actually.. goes with a girl?” Ishaq tried to be delicate.
Shannon laughed, “Well of course he does. I think so anyway.. I am generally busy meself by that time. I am sure he would tell me if he was havin’ any trouble in that regard.”
“Some boys are born to it, others not, Shannon. I worry that Rory is lonely. I think you should see to it his confidence is bolstered.” Ishaq wondered if this was wise advice.
Shannon sat up and looked at Ishaq frankly. “Master, beggin’ your pardon, but I have ne’er seen ye go with a lass.. “
Ishaq just looked at him.
Shannon’s face shifted from curious to calmly knowing. “Och, I think I understand. If ye are thinkin’ that is the same for Rory, ye need not. Rory is for the lasses. I am sure of it. He is but such a romantic fellow.. he dinnae care for me wild and loose ways.”
Ishaq was taken aback by the implications of what Shannon had said. He stared at the boy, but saw no criticism or discomfort. He continued, cautiously. “Shannon, if you ever come to think that Rory is not.. for the lasses… you will tell me? Boys in my country are less ignorant of such things. He is too young now.. being an Irish lad.. but I would have him know he need not hide it.. from us, I mean.”
Shannon flashed a smile. “Dinnae worry, Master, I will take care of Rory.”
Ishaq gazed at him. “I think you ever have, Shannon. You are the best of brothers and friends.”
Rory came back with the pitcher of ale then, and looked from lad to man as they exchanged a look. “What is it?” he asked. Shannon just whistled a tune.
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