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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rory and Cerridwen: Cerridwen

This is by Laura, the partner in writing the old stories back in the 1960s.  We decided that our crossing paths after decades gave us the opportunity to make a gift to Rory, a charcter much beloved to both of us.  That is what this whole series is about.  There will be plenty of Laura's contributions laced through it.

Ceridwen's horse picked its way along the path to her home from Lawrencium early the morning after Beltane. She had already left behind the open stony land and she now made her way through a wood. Her thoughts were on the day previous. She remembered weaving around the maypole and laughing with Rory after his light kiss. She remembered her arm tucked under his. She remembered him singing Aignish for her on the top of the hill at sunset. And she remembered his arms embracing her and his lips pressing hers when he kissed her at the bonfire. She saw his face as she parted from him and heard him saying in the Gaelic tones that she loved, "Will I be seeing ye again?"

She yearned to turn her horse around and return herself to his presence. But instead she rode on through the leafy woods. At length she came out of the woods into the open again, and then with a glance to see if anyone was coming on the path from behind or ahead, she urged the horse to a gallop. Her skirt she had drawn up to her knees and her long brown braids went flying. The way ahead was clear and both she and the horse knew the path well. They raced up the hill and at the top she drew him back to a slower pace that she might enjoy the view of the hills and ocean in the bright morning sun.

She thought of Rory again. Though she had known him for many years, in the course of only several days he had taken a central place in her thoughts. She began to wonder what the chances were that the events of the previous day were anything other than giddiness brought on by the excitement of Beltane. She remembered Shannon many times over the years singing "The Ballad of Rory McGuinness" at her uncle's house. In the last line of the song: "the name he cried out was 'Josephine'". She saw Rory at this moment always blushing, never denying it. She remembered the maidens she had known that had tried to win his heart. He was immovable.

She hung her head and bit her lip. The chances were not good. It was a new experience for Ceridwen who had broken many hearts but had never had her own broken. Not that she had never sorrowed. She had lost her parents when she was still young, and her darling brother. Perhaps this was why, when she was of marriageable age, she gave up a young sweetheart in favor of a man she did not love. How could she have known that she would come to care for him and death would take him from her too?

She could not bear the intense longing she had to return to Rory combined with the thought that it was a hopeless infatuation. She prided herself on being level-headed. "I shall get over this", she cied outloud with passion since there was no-one but the horse to hear her. And she began to gallop again.

At length she slowed to a walk once again for the horse's sake. Several hours later they came to a fork in the path that led to her own and several neighboring farms. The main path went on to the village of Healing. But instead of following either path, she struck off across the meadows and climbed the hill from the top of which she could see her own farm and the fields of her neighbor Sighard's farm. She saw no-one about as she picked her way down the hill to rejoin the path. But she had been seen. Sighard had spied her and laid down his tools with a smile. When she reached the path he had joined her there on foot.

"Ceridwen," he said smiling up at her and catching the horse's bridle to lead it, "you have returned." Studying her he added, " and you are looking especially fine. I rekon you have been to Beltane, yesterday."

She blushed to be caught with her legs bare, but also to his reference to Beltane. He led her horse as far as her own gate, keeping up a running commentary all the way on the weather and doings at his farm and Ewen's doings at her own farm. At her gate she asked him to look away, swung her leg over the horse's back and dropped to her feet. He turning back, broke her fall by catching her by the waist. He did not let go when she landed on her feet. Instead he looked into her face and demanded earnestly, "Marry me, Ceridwen."

"I have already said you nay, Sighard. I'm not going to marry you. You could marry any maiden in the village; they would any of them think themselves lucky. Your children need a mother, don't wait any longer."

"I know that I could marry any maiden in the village. But it's Ceridwen that I want, and that will love my children best."

She extracted herself from his grasp and he opened the gate for her. "I know that you think only one of those men you meet at your uncle's house will ever do for you. A minstrel perhaps?" and here he noted by her blush that he had guessed well. "Perhaps this minstrel has kissed you at the bonfire, just yesterday...ah, I have guessed well again. You see, I have been to Beltane once or twice. But I lay you odds this man is not even thinking of you today. You need a man that can fix your roof, not sing you songs, Ceridwen. When are you going to give up this nonsense of living alone? What are you going to do when you are old, and childless? Think on it Ceridwen, and marry me."

She replied only, " I am not going to marry you, Sighard", and she made her way up the path to her cottage leaving him at her gate looking after her.

Ceridwen had not been home for a week and there were many tasks that needed doing. She went down to confer with Ewen about the planting of the crops. He and his two strong sons had everything well in order. She went to the garden and saw that the early vegetables she had planted were coming up strongly. There had been a rain, for which she was grateful.

She went back up to her cottage and looked up at her roof. Sighard was right, although it wasn't leaking, it needed mending soon.

In the evening there was another rain and as she prepared for bed she heard the sound of the rain on the roof. Ewen's children had been up to bring her supper, and had stayed to ask her questions about the doings in town and at the festival, however her cottage now seemed quiet and lonely. She banked the fire and climbed the loft to her bed. The bedding felt clammy and cold. Her cats jumped up onto the coverlet to join her and curled in two separate balls by her feet.

Now she thought of the day, and of Rory, and of Sighard. The thought of Rory made her body ache. It was the physical aspect of the thing that was uncomfortable, she reflected. She imagined how sweet it would be if only he were there and would climb under the covers with her...but she banished this thought from her mind.

She reviewed again her logic on the possibilities for romance with Rory. Her senses told her one thing, but her head told her another. He seemed to have been wooing her at Beltane, but she felt certain that if she had asked him he would have denied it. In the end what use was there in being wooed by a man that didn't know he was wooing you, even if that was what he was doing? Certainly it was a recipe for heartache.

The only thing to do was to stay away from Lawrencium for awhile. That way her equanimity might return. But as she lay trying to warm the covers with her body and sleep would not come, she thought that perhaps she had been ignoring her own loneliness too long. Was this really what she wanted, to sleep alone the rest of her life? Sighard's words came back to her. Perhaps afterall she should marry Sighard; there were many reasons in favor of it. He would be good to her, and he wouldn't care if she never bore him a child; he already had four of his own. And she knew that he was right; she would love those children. Suddenly tears came to her eyes that she had none; ordinarily she tried never to think of it. Yes, she thought, what Rory has done for me is to wake me up to my loneliness before it is too late. I will tell Sighard that I will marry him. And she felt a great relief at this decision and fell soon to sleep.

In the morning when she awoke, she remembered at once her decision, but she no longer felt sure of it.She could not get Rory's face out of her mind. She saw him singing Aignish to her, she saw his look before he kissed her, and she saw him looking after her with a question in his eyes -- would he be seeing her again? "It's up to him!", she lamented to her cats.

She could not find her usual feeling of well-being. Everything was out-of-sorts, herself and the world.

A pool of water had formed on the floor where her roof had started to leak overnight. Outdoors, it was wet from the rain. When she went to work in the garden, the mud clung to her shoes. She forgot to close the gate and the sow got in and mucked up a large corner of the garden before she could chase it out. In the chase, she slipped to her knees once in the mud.

Later the sun came out, and the ground steamed. Ceridwen went to survey the roof. She drug the ladder amd leaned it against the eaves. She went down to the shed and found the tools. Below the shed, she could see Ewen and his sons working in the fields. Then she went back up and climbed the ladder to the roof with the hammer and several new shingles. The roof was slippery with mildew. She studied how the shingles fit in place. She heard a laugh and she looked around.

Sighard was coming up the path. He waved and grinned at her. "Ceridwen, you look beautiful on that roof. By God, I'm going to let you keep my roof, when I marry you." He stood below now, holding the ladder, "Seriously now, come down before you fall, and let me fix the roof for you."

Ceridwen waved the hammer at him crossly and started to protest. But at that moment she did slip and she came down from the roof so fast that he barely had time to react and jump to block her fall. One ankle hit the ground hard.

So in the end, it was Sighard who mended the roof, and he told her as soon as the planting was finished that he would help Ewen and his sons to put a new roof on her cottage. Although he was busy with the planting at his own farm, he sent up two of his hired men to plant the garden for her, since she couldn't put any weight on her ankle. Ewen's oldest daughter came up and heated water in a large pan for Ceridwen to soak her foot.

After the girl had left, Ceridwen sat in the kitchen with her foot in the pan. She looked about the kitchen and found that there were many chores she wanted to do. A large crock sat on the table and she wanted to put it away in the pantry. Rising, she tested the ankle, found it sore, but she thought she could do it. She hobbled several steps to the table and picked up the crock. But on the way to the pantry the ankle suddenly gave way and she collapsed. The crock smashed to the floor.

It was the last straw. Ceridwen sat on the floor amidst the broken crockery and cried.

After several minutes she wiped her eyes and looked about her. She began to gather up the broken pieces of crockery into her apron. Suddenly as she picked up a piece of broken crockery a thought came from nowhere into her mind, "I will go back to town as soon as the last of the garden is planted." She looked about the kitchen and found that her sense of well-being and sense of humor had returned to her. She began to laugh.

On a farm the work is never done. Ceridwen was in a hurry to get everything in order so that she could return to town. It was frustrating not to be able to work much at all for several days, but there were many hands on the farm, even as there was much work. Ewen's daughters fed her chickens and geese as well as their own. Sighard's men made short work of planting the rest of her garden. Ceridwen worked on the farm books and brought them up to date. The trees in the orchard and the berry vines had been pruned earlier in the spring. Ewen and his sons had planted the summer wheat and barley and the oats. Ceridwen had planted the peas. Now it was mostly a matter of keeping the weeds down so that the young plants could grow, and of praying for enough rain but not for a storm that might wash away some of the seedlings, and drown others.

At length she decided that things were in as good of shape as could be expected. Let the weeds grow in the garden and she would get them when she returned. She prepared to return to town in the morning. It had been three weeks since she had come home from Beltane; her ankle was almost healed, and she was tanned from being outdoors.

Her spirits were much better riding back to town than they had been on the ride home three weeks previous. The landscape was greener, the sea bluer, and the leaves now covered the trees densely and luxuriantly.

She tried not to think of Rory, but with every step of the horse she felt happier to be returning to the place where he might be. She did not think of her hopes, however. Her head would have counseled her to stay away from him; but she was following her heart. Her heart, if it could have spoken in words, would have said only, "Go where he is."

When she arrived at her aunt and uncles' house, her aunt was quick to tell her that Rory had been there looking for her the day after Beltane, and he had brought flowers, for Gitta, he said, but surely he had meant them for Ceridwen. And Rory had been constantly turning up, sometimes arriving to the doorstep as if he was surprised to be there.

All of this Ceridwen heard with intense gratitude, but she set herself to the household routine to keep her mind busy, There was always activity in this household, so this was not difficult to do. She found that she had to take a fair amount of teasing over Beltane, since she had not been seen since that day. The crowd seemed to have a particular interest in match-making this day and there were many winks and comments about Rory. She began to dread that he would show up and they would both be embarrassed. At length she found an excuse to go on an errand and she escaped the hall with some relief.

Next: Rory and Lawrence on Friendship and Love

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About the author

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