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

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rory and Cerridwen Series: Beltane

Decision made... let's continue with Rory.

I am looking for a chat that laura and I did between Josephine and Rory where she begs him to release himself from the vow to love her all his life.  It was an interesting experience.  Laura played Josephine well enough that Josephine's own tendency to hang onto an old love came through and she had to stop.  I'll keep looking for it.. but in the meantime, let's mnove Rory along.

Rory McGuinness came over the rise and saw the Beltane festivities spread out in the meadow and already underway. He saw the many trestle tables laid out with food heaped high on them. Then he noticed in the center the maypole with its garland of spring flowers and its colorful ribbons hanging down waiting to be woven by the may dancers. Off to one side he could see the pavilion set up for the May Queen, traditionally the real Queen as she was part Celt. He smiled at the thought of Josephine as the Queen of the May.

Rory looked about, seeing quite a few people he knew from the castle, the Blue Lady, and Cedric and Gitta's. Many people, men and women, were bustling about bringing more food. The bonfire was being built as well. He waded into the hubbub to see who he would run into.

Then he literally was run into.. by Ceridwen. She had just come from between two other people with a tray of small loaves and stopped just short of dumping them on Rory. They both stopped, laughed, and he said, "Ye are that busy, lass! What can I be doin' to help?"

"Oh, Rory, you don't need to be doing anything. How are you, anyway. Isn't it a fine day?"

He pulled his hands back from where he was about to take the tray from her. "Aye, 'tis a perfect day for maying.. and it's a good day to be among friends." He smiled enigmatically. "Where will ye be sittin'? If I may be so bold as to invite meself."

"Actually, I am not sitting, I would rather be moving, so I'm serving."

"Och, well then I be wantin' to sit at your table. Which will it be?"

"There it is, yonder, do you see my uncle? I'm sure there's always room for another!"

Rory looked over. "And there I see young Clancy O'Neill arrivin'. The King has let him take time off from his gruelin' work.." Rory jested. "I shall corral him and see if we can find places at your uncle's table."

"And I shall see if I can find thee the best of the the roast pig," she said smiling and hurried off with the tray.

Rory watched her until she disappeared into the crowd, then sauntered over to where he saw Clancy looking around at all the activity. The boy's face brightened when he saw Rory. "Och, Rory, me lad, I have so much to tell ye!"

Rory came up and threw an arm around him. "Let's see if Cedric has room for a couple o' Irishman, what say ye?"

Clancy nodded distractedly. He followed Rory over to the table and let the older man negotiate for a couple seats at the end of the table. Rory was on the end, with Clancy perpendicular on the long side. They were greeted by people they recognized from the Celtic gatherings. A man to Rory's right passed down the pitcher of ale, and Rory poured himself and Clancy brimming cups.

"So what's the news, Clancy?"

"Sure and I think I have chosen a trade for meself!" the boy effused.

Rory looked at him from over the rim of his cup as he drank. "A trade, is it then?"

Clancy grinned. "Aye! Methinks I shall see if Erik the Dane shall let me apprentice on his dragon ship."

Rory put his cup down and reached over to slap Clancy on the shoulder. "A fine idea! A fine idea!" he congratulated.

Clancy asked, "Do ye think he will take me on?"

Rory nodded enthusiastically. "Och, aye, and with the King's word behind ye, who is Erik's closest friend, there be no doubt!'

Ceridwen arrived at that moment with a huge platter brimming with roasted pig, and put it at Rory and Clancy's end of the table. She exchanged a smile with Rory, and then went off again. Rory smiled after her.

When the feasting was nearly done several people at different tables struck up singing with all present joining in. One Irishman that Clancy and Rory knew started up the song "Bog Down in the Valley" with its repeating lines, which caused enough stumbling over the lines to reduce many of the singers to laughter.

As the plates and cups and the rest of the food were being cleared away, musicians struck up the melodies near the pavilion that told everyone that the real maying was about to start. Rory threw his arm around Clancy's shoulders and led him over to where a few couples were dancing. As they watched the dancers, Rory glanced up and saw the Queen take her seat in the pavilion.

The Queen was dressed in the gown of the Queen of the May, a simple dress with her hair crowned with a circlet of spring flowers. She wore a small bunch of the same flowers at her belt and her right wrist was adorned with a bracelet of the same. It was a beautiful day and Josephine also looked beautiful.The twin princesses were on either side of her.

Ceridwen came up to Rory and Clancy where they stood waiting for the festivities to begin. Rory, who was turned to look at the Queen, caught Clancy's welcoming smile as she approached, and turned to see who it was. Ceridwen had noted where his look had rested. She wondered if he still loved the Queen and felt a twinge of disappointment at the thought that he might, but she resolved not to let it ruin the simple enjoyment of the day in company with good friends, including this enigmatic man.

Rory smiled broadly when he saw her. "Ceridwen! Have they released ye from your servitude?" He had a twinkle in his eye.

She smiled back. "Nay, I just decided I had helped quite enough and 'twas time I came and had a good time with the rest of thee."

Rory gave her an approving look. "Lass, I do like your spirit!"

Ceridwen's eyes were twinkling in response.

Josephine, now settled in the pavilion, was surveying the scene with excitement and pleasure. Her glance happened to fall on Rory with his red hair, standing so tall above the crowd. Standing beside Rory, Josephine recognized Clancy whom she knew well, but she saw there also a woman that she did not recognize. That the woman was attractive, Josephine could see even from a distance; and by the way she held herself and the attention she paid to Rory, Josephine also guessed that she admired him.

The musicians looked to the Queen for the signal and she nodded. They broke into a spritely melody meant to attract the attention of all who attended. All fell silent and stood to watch and hear.

Josephine stood in the pavilion and stretched her arms out in front of her: "Bright blessings of Beltane to thee all!" she called to the crowd.

The crowd responded in unison, "Bright blessings of May to thee, Queen of the May."

In spite of centuries of Christianity, the Pagan sabbats still held the hearts of the Celtic peoples. Even centuries after this festival people with no active memory of Pagan rites would still observe many of the Beltane traditions. The maypole, the bonfire, and especially the pairing off of young couples would stay part of going "a-maying".

Rory listening found himself called to by a manservant.. "Her majesty requests that thou attend her to sing the song of May". Shannon had done this for years, but Rory often shared the honor with him, so although he did not want to do it he had not been surprised. He looked at his two companions. Ceridwen was smiling sharing the honor with him but was surprised when he muttered "Damn". He looked up and gave her an apologetic look. "Ceridwen, me apologies. Both for the oath and for taki' leave of ye.. "

Ceridwen followed him with her eyes as he slumped away. She asked Clancy, "But why does he not wish to sing?"

Clancy shrugged, "I dinnae know. Mayhap he just dinnae wish to sing without Shan."

The musicians struck the opening melody, and Rory began to sing in his fine resonant but crystal voice.

Give way the cold, let the thaw begin As Winter transforms to Spring again. Let all creatures of cold slumber rise And feathers on wings fill the skies.

Brooks and streams are babbling All harken to the song they sing. The Crocus and the Daffodil Casting off their Winter chill.

Bare boned trees show signs of life For they've withstood cold Winter's strife. Sodden fields soon to color green As life returns where death once seen.

A tiny babe born one Yule Nurtured through many Winter's cruel, Has now grown to a maiden fair Let the joy of Beltane fill the air.

From a child the maid she grew With an innocence known only to a few, Sheltered by her purity As to fulfill her destiny.

In linen gown with golden thread A crown of flowers round her head, Was taken to a secret place Where her lover could behold her face.

Now the maiden sweet with raven hair Her soulful eyes and skin so fair, Chance for to meet her lover's gaze As he peers at her through his forest maze.

The Green Man Cern in gallent stride Has claimed her for his maiden bride, And from their love the two shall bear A babe at Yule with raven hair.

Now the maiden has become the Crone And she spends her time mostly all alone, With sweet dreams of the Summer Land Where she'll soon return to once again.

Old and withered when the Crone she died No tears for her left to be cried. Though the cycles of life sometimes seem cruel, Still a babe is always born at Yule.

We will celebrate into the night Our passage into this Pagan Rite, Let all hear the drumming sound For the seeds of Beltane have gone to ground.

Our heritage passed hand to hand And shoulder to shoulder we will stand By the water's edge for all to see Sending love to the Universe, Blessed Be.

Ceridwen had heard Rory sing before and she had heard the song, but never had she felt so moved. Rory himself seemed transformed to her, his voice, his features, seemed achingly compelling.

Josephine, listening to Rory sing from the pavilion, turned her glance to Ceridwen and smiled to herself.

Rory's song over, the huzzahs and whistles offered him the revelers thanks, and they were rewarded with a sweet smile from him. He made another slightly less perfunctory bow to the Queen, catching an odd smile in return. He stepped down from the pavilion, but rather than going back to his companions, stood at the edge of the crowd uneasily. He realized suddenly just how much being one of two, that is being Shannon's companion, had become habit for him. He almost did not know how to be in company without the other man.

As the maypole ribbons were loosed from where they were tied so they could hang and be taken by the chosen dancers, Josephine rose and whispered in the ear of the person who was officiating the event. Then the names of the couples were read out: "Rowena of Cleethorpes and Liam MacDonnel! Brigid Terfel and Owen! Maggie MacKay and Dermott O'Cardle!" naming seven of the eight couples for the dance. If there was an eighth couple that had had expectations of joining the dance, those hopes were dashed as the last two names were called out, "Rory McGuinness and Ceridwen of Brewood at Healing!"

Ceridwen appeared startled. Rory looked up at the Queen surprised, but she only smiled in return. He went over to where Ceridwen was standing looking embarrassed and took her hand. "Ceridwen, sure and I will not hold ye to this if ye dinnae want to be me partner in the maypole dance."

But Ceridwen, though still blushing, had already recovered from the surprise. "Oh no, it shall be fun! Unless," she added with concern, "you do not wish to..."

Rory bowed elaborately and smiled up at her. "'Twould be an honour, me lady!"

The eight men and eight women lined up around the maypole, each man facing the woman he was paired with. Each person took a ribbon. Rory stood facing Ceridwen, who would be dancing in the opposite direction he did, and smiled. "Och, I have ne'er been chosen for a maypole dance ere this!" he laughed.

"Nor have I," she replied, smiling.

The music struck up and the dancers took their cue to start skipping around the pole. As each woman met each man she either passed to his left or his right so that the ribbons would braid together. The ancient meaning of fertility was lost by now in the fun and laughter of the spirited dance in which the dancers stamped their feet on the ground, who were however aware that they were "waking the sleeping Mother".

As original partners met again, occasionally one or two of the men would lean and steal a quick kiss. All but Rory and Ceridwen, of course, and it did not take too long for this to be noticed, and as the ribbons twined and became shorter, the chant went up, "Kiss her, Rory! Kiss her, Rory!" After several times, he looked a question at Ceridwen as they came up to each other, and she shrugged "Why not?" They both laughed, and Rory leaned to plant a brief kiss on her mouth. A cheer went up. Rory and Ceridwen laughed.

But that was the last kiss. The ribbons were so fully twined on the pole now that it was becoming difficult for the dancers who passed on the inside to duck under the arms of those on the outside. Tall Rory was forced to lean as his ribbon came from where it was wrapped low on the pole. Of course, the difficulty getting around each other and the necessary physical contact was part of the point of the dance, and Rory was blushing to the roots of his red hair with the passage of each pretty girl, a couple of whom made little pretense of not pressing against him. Ceridwen, more self-assured, just danced and pretended to scold the young men who were too bold with her.

When the ribbons were only a few inches long, the dancers stopped and as Queen of the May, Josephine came to the pole to take them and tie them into the ritual knot. She had to touch Rory's hand as she took his ribbon. As she did so, she whispered to him, "Rory, I hope you will take to heart my advice", and smiling only but without allowing him to answer, she went on with her duty tying ribbons.

Rory stared after her, open mouthed. Ceridwen, appearing at his side, saw the Queen's smile and his look of consternation. She wondered at these things, but said nothing.

He shook his head as if to dislodge cobwebs, then looked at her and smiled, "Shall we join the dance?"

A line of couples had formed to take part in a sort of Morris dance. Rory and Ceridwen took the last position and stood holding hands waiting for the dance to start. "Sure and I must warn ye, I am no dancer," Rory said, giving her an abashed look.

"Doesn't matter, it's all just for the fun of it," she answered him, and squeezed his hand lightly both as consequence of her excitement but also to give him encouragement.

That Rory had been telling the truth became quickly apparent. He had the tall lanky man's clumsiness, tending to mix up his legs and even trip on his own feet. Ceridwen laughed in spite of herself and quickly squeezed his hand again as if in apology.

But the dance was filled with merriment and it seemed the more mistakes Rory or anyone made the more fun was had by all.

As dusk approached the dances continued. Both Ceridwen and Rory had danced with each other again and with other partners. Rory seemed to be getting a little better. Couples were beginning though to drift off together and the number of dancers thinned out.

Ceridwen found Rory at her side as she was sitting out a dance. "Och, I am that done in. I cannae dance another dance."

Ceridwen thought how much she liked his Gaelic brogue.

He went on, "I was after wonderin if ye would like to take a little walk?" He looked a little shy.

"Oh, yes, I'd love to...", she replied with warmth, rising from her seat in anticipation.

Rory's expression was pleased and a little.. well. . grateful. "Och, good, well, then, let's go." He started to reach for her hand but pulled his own back shyly. He put his hands behind his back and clasped them, and with a little lift to his step, smiled and gestured in the direction of the meadow with his head. "This way?"

"Of course," she said, and stepped quickly to catch up with his long stride and so be beside him. As they left the dancing behind them, the music receded, and Ceridwen cast about in her mind to find a topic to break the awkward silence between them.

The man walked along smiling slightly and alternately looking down and then around at the scenery. He seemed to be reaching for a topic as well, and he suddenly started to speak, had to clear his throat, and said, "I had ne'er been in a maypole dance ere this, as ye said too. I dinnae know how we got chosen." He glanced over at her, noticed she was struggling to keep up and slowed his pace. He smiled, "I am glad though. 'Twas merry."

"It was, wasn't it?"

"A little embarrassing at a couple o' points, but we seem to have survived that, eh, lass?"

"Have we?" she said, teasing just a little.

He stopped for a second, stared at her, gave her an uncertain half smile, and just went on walking at her side.

Ceridwen regretted her teasing tone. Did she even know what she had meant herself? Perhaps it was that she would really have liked to know if Rory would have ever kissed her without the pressure of a crowd egging him on. Did he care for her? If not, why had he paid her so much attention today and expressed an interest in her being at Beltane at all? Why did she find herself walking with him now? Did he yet love the Queen? For just a moment the thought threw her into a misery. She suddenly feared that she was making a fool of herself .

But they came to a place where the path narrowed and descended steeply for several steps. As the dusk was deepening, it was becoming a little difficult to see where to step. Rory went a little ahead of her and gave her his arm to steady her as she descended. A feeling of pleasure at his touch suffused her. She counseled herself to suspend all thought and simply wait for the mystery that was Rory to unfold.

For his part the Irish minstrel was dealing with numerous thoughts of his own. The everpresent feeling of only being half there without Shannon clouded most every thought. He chided himself for allowing this thought to rule all others.

Then there was the conversation with the Queen the other day and her comment to him at the maypole just hours before. It was not a mystery. He knew the Queen was trying to encourage him to move on and make a life of his own, not tied to his love for her. Something told him she was right, that his hopeless, idealized devotion to her came from some place.. from where? He knew he would need to consider this long and hard before he would understand it. He was at a loss to know just how and where to start.

Then finally, and least well formed of his thoughts, was the simple pleasure of this moment and the woman who was his companion. If he had been asked outright by anyone why he was walking with Ceridwen now, why he had been so pleased to know she was coming and so happy to see her.. and truth be told, so delighted to have been matched with her in the maypole dance, he would have had to struggle for an answer. The usually articulate storyteller would stumble over his words. "Och, well, then, she is so comfortable to be with.. nay that is not the word, she is.. well.. I just like her. Admire her. Enjoy being with her." But no one was asking so he had not had to form even so incoherent a thought.

Rory was coming to much the same decision as she. He would try to let his thoughts calm, like the concentric ripples caused by a stone thrown in a pool, growing ever less visible until the surface again is smooth and sparkling. He would let the moment .. this one, the next, and many more to come.. come and be its perfect self, however it might. Deep inside him, below the level of his consciousness, something told him the woman he was with was the key.

Rory helped Ceridwen down the steep slope and then without really thinking about it, put his hand on hers so that when they walked side by side her arm was tucked in his. Even in the dusk, she could see that his face had relaxed. "Sure, and I would like to hear much more about your farm, Ceridwen. Brewood near Healing, is it not?" He looked down at her from his height and smiled.

Their eyes met as she returned his smile and a feeling of happiness passed between them. She savored this a moment before turning her thoughts to what he might like to know about her farm.

"Well, I have about 40 acres, but half of that is worked by a tenant; actually they are distant relatives of my husband, so I don't collect any rent. The rest I farm with the help of my neighbors. They have only four acres to support their large family, so they do most of the work for me, and I keep a little of the harvest and profit from what we sell, but I leave the rest to them. Ewen is this farmer's name; he and I make all our decisions together. Also my house was too large for me alone, and so I had a cottage built for me, with a pretty view, and I let Ewen's family stay in mine. We grow mostly barley, but also a little wheat, and peas, and oats. There is an orchard, mostly apples and pears; and half an acre of garden which I care for myself. I grow vegetables and all kinds of herbs, also flowers, which are my favorite. Ewen keeps the animals so that I don't have to bother, except that I keep a few chickens and geese. I think that's about everything.." she made a mental catalog of the farm and then added with a smile, "except my cats, that keep me company."

Rory had been listening attentively. At this last he brightened. "Och, I do like cats! Such independent spirits. When they come to ye, ye know they do it for love of ye. There are so many dogs about the castle that they ne'er come around. I had a cat in Ireland when I was a boy. Her name was..." He paused here with a look of amused surprise on his face, " her name was Brigid." The smile remained.

Then he turned his full attention back to Ceridwen. "Your farm sounds lovely, peaceful. Good hard honest work. And so much kindness in ye, lass, to give so much to Ewen's family..." He stroked the hand tucked in his arm.

"Oh, but they do so much for me, you see," she replied, trying hard not to be distracted by the touch of his fingers on her skin. "I guess, the lesson is that no one can really live without other people, and in farming you learn that sooner rather than later...oh, but I am glad to hear you like cats. I don't think I could like a man that didn't like cats..."

Rory laughed. "Nor could I, man nor woman, but especially man. I have observed that men who dinnae like cats also dinnae really like women." He did a double take. "Ye like me? Och, I am that glad ye do, Ceridwen. " He cast down his eyes and said, "I was just thinkin' a little earlier how much I just like bein' with ye. But please -- dinnae take offense. I.. I .. mean no dishonour." He looked worriedly at her. "I sometimes say things ere I have thought whether I should."

They had stopped walking but he still held her arm tucked under his and so they were standing very close, her shoulder against his arm. She shook her head that was tipped back to look up at him, smiling, but was too taken aback by his last statements, for a moment, to speak. At last she said, "Offense? No Rory, I'm not offended. I'm very...glad...if you like being with me. I also like being with you...very much."

Rory read the emotion in her voice, and a broad grin spread across his face. Then something seemed to cloud it for a moment. He was reacting to an old habit, the vow he had made to the Queen. He started to turn away, but then the cloud cleared. Was this what Josephine had meant? Of course it was, to let his heart be free to find its own home. Could that home be with someone like Ceridwen? He looked at her speculatively for a moment, then the grin returned. "Och, Ceridwen," was all he could say, in a voice thickened with the tension of the moment. "But what ye must think o' me, a mere idler, a teller o' tales and singer o' songs, a wanderer at best. And ye'r man havin' been a farmer, a hard worker..."

She contemplated the comparison with her husband, "Yes, he was that, a farmer, and a hard worker, and a good man as well. But I was never in love with him, for all that. I always thought that I could only really fall in love with a man of my own race. Someone who could dream the dreams of our people. Someone who remembered the tales of long ago and who could sing the songs..." she left off there, leaving Rory to draw his own conclusions as to where he fit in that. "But come, let's walk a little more, to the top of the rise, perhaps? Then we can see the view..." She had extracted her arm from his as she said this, and with just a light touch to his arm, pointed up the little hill.

He did pay attention to the comment about songs, but her sudden change in energy gave him an out so he would not have to deal with the emotions she had stirred in him.

He laughed, "Och, well then, lead on! What are ye waitin' for, lass?"

Ceridwen dashed up the hill, holding her skirts out of the way of her feet, and he watched her go. Then he dashed up after her, always staying enough behind so she made the crest before him. When he caught up to her, she was gazing west over the land towards the last trailing wisps of the sunset. He thought to come up begind her and put his hands on her shoulders, but thought better of it and just came alongside her and looked where she was looking. He glanced sideways at her and saw her color and the rise and fall of her breasts as she caught her breath. He smiled and looked back at the sunset.

"Och, like the view o' the glowin' shores o' Tir na Og, the westerlands." He hummed a few bars of a mystic sounding Irish tune.

"That is such a lovely tune", she commented. "Will you sing a bit of it for me?"

"Sure and I shall sing the whole thing for ye. 'Tis a Scots lament." Rory took her hands in his, facing her, and began to sing in his fine high baritone.

(The song is Aignish by Capercallie.)

An ciaradh m'fheasgair 's mo bheath' air claoidh Mo rosg air dunadh 's a' bhas gun chli Stiuir curs' an lar leam gu Eilean ciatach Gu Aignish sgiamhach far an d'araich mi

An sin gun cairich sibh mi 'san fhod A measg mo chairdean 'smo shinnsrean coir Ri tonnan barr-gheal a' bualadh traghad 'Sri machair Aignish nan laoigh 's nam bo

He let the last note trail off, still looking into her eyes. "'Tis a sad song about wantin' to be buried in a sacred place by the sea near one's family and friends. That is what I think about oftimes when I look west. But from now on I will instead think 'Ceridwen's farm is that way' and be happy, not lonely."

Ceridwen smiled at this last comment, and was grateful to return to a lighter-hearted mood. She had been completely swept away by the song. To hear this achingly beautiful melody delivered by Rory as he gazed into her eyes had been almost more than she could bear. His beautiful voice and his delivery seemed to invite her to open her heart to him, but at the same time the song reminded her of the bittersweet sorrows of life and love. Still if any man had ever wanted to find the way into Ceridwen's heart, Rory had surely found it.

"It's a fair beautiful song." she said. "It made me think of everything that ever broke my heart."

Rory, still holding her hands, looked into her eyes with recognition and nodded sadly. "Aye, 'tis a hard life sometimes. I cannae tell sometimes how we take it." He was thinking of Shannon, but also thinking she meant the loss of her husband. Interestingly, his hopeless love for Josephine did not cross his mind now in the context of what Ceridwen had said.

They stood and looked at each other a few minutes. Then something caught Rory's eye. Rory had caught sight of a torch being set to the huge woodpile. "Och, they are lighting the bonfire! Let's hurry!"

He took Ceridwen's hand and pulled her along with him, pausing at rough spots to take her arm and guide her.

They arrived in the meadow a bit breathless. In the growing light of the bonfire Ceridwen could see Rory's eyes were dancing. He shot her a boyish look of excitement.

It did not take long for the fire to engulf all the wood. The flames were immensely high. In the castle Lawrence and Josephine looked out of the window in his bedchamber and saw the licking flames. Lawrence put his arms around Josephine from the back and held her tight. She leaned back against him, pensive but smiling.

The faces around the sides of the bonfire themselves looked aflame, with the darting lights and shadows. Rory stood with Ceridwen, thrilling as all do at so much energy in the huge fire. All around them the power of the flame was taking over people's senses. Rory saw several men turn to the women with them and kiss them, not a sweet peck but a fulsome kiss.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement and realized with a start a man was coming towards Ceridwen and meant to kiss her! He could not quite fathom his own reaction to this knowledge, for before he could make sense of it, he had acted.

Rory turned suddenly to Ceridwen and enfolded her in his strong arms. He looked hard into her eyes, which reflected the dancing flames. He put his lips to hers and kissed her. He felt her lips respond. The sound of the crackling fire rose to a roar in his ears. He felt intoxicated. He did not want to be anywhere but here, now, with his arms tight around her, hers encircling him, and their lips hungrily seeking each other's.

Next: Rory's Day, Part I

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About the author

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