Rory from The Great Hall yarn painting.
Rory McGuinness watched as the dragon ship pulled away from the dock into the dim light of the early morning. The tide was just at peak and starting to ebb, working with rather than against the rowers seated in pairs along the outside of the ship. The ship was long, low and sleek, and the sail was not up while Erik and his crew pulled away to skirt the peninsula and head out into the North Sea.
Rory thought to himself, “And now young Clancy O’Neill is part of that crew.” He remembered himself at fifteen or sixteen. That was about when he and Shannon O’Neill had run away from home, Shannon to escape his father’s violence and Rory because he felt his life was with Shannon and not his aunt and uncle. He remembered that part of that decision was his own wanderlust. He and Shannon had roamed every acre they could, looking for adventure. They had had to scramble to keep body and soul together until the day they met the master musician Ishaq. The thought of the Andalusian brought a fleeting smile to his lips, and he wondered if the man had made it home and whether he was well and happy and had found love.
Rory also remembered that Ishaq’s and his own parting had been a bitter one. It was only when he came across Shannon again a few years later he had learned what had happened to Ishaq. He had been older in more than a few ways then and regretted the ill feeling that had been part of his decision to go off and leave the man and Shannon and to become a soldier. He wished he could have apologized to the Andalusian, said he had been wrong to condemn him, and that now he himself knew the value of love however it presented itself.
Or did he? He had thought so for many years. His own words to Ishaq came back to haunt him now, how the love of the body was only lust and that one should strive to overcome it to love purely. And see where that simple philosophy had gotten him, Rory.
The dragon ship was now lost in the weakening gloom, and Rory, saying a fond farewell in his heart to his dear friend’s brother, turned to walk slowly into the town. His steps led him, as they always seemed to these days, to Ceridwen’s uncle’s and aunt’s door. He was unconscious of it at first, just strolling the more or less empty streets thinking about Ishaq and did not know about it. When he saw where he was, he stopped and said aloud exasperated, “What am I doing here? Why do I find myself here every time?”
He heard a faint voice in his ear, a soft and beloved voice. “Because ye are home, me darlin’ friend.”
He did not spin around to look. He knew Shannon was not really there. He knew it was his own mind.. or maybe heart.. that was speaking to him both in his dreams and awake in his dear friend’s melodious tones. “Am I going mad?” he wondered.
Gitta happened to come out to sweep the stoop just as Rory slowly wandered away. She saw him and shook her head. “He shall be back,” she said assuredly.
Rory wandered aimlessly, feeling somehow apart from his surroundings. The town was empty without Shan. The Castle was empty without Josephine. He wondered if his steps took him to Cedric’s and Gitta’s because in the company of the other Celts and Gaels he felt the least alone. Certainly that was it, and the chance to see the woman, the couple’s niece. He smiled at himself for thinking of her, marveling that his mind’s eye had added a new face to his reveries. Josephine’s and Ceridwen’s. What did it mean?
He was walking idly towards the monastery when he saw a familiar face under the tonsure of a stout, red faced man. He hailed him, “Och, Father Angus! What brings ye to Lawrencium this day?”
Father Angus was a Scot with a merry heart and ready wit. Rory remembered with a start that Healing was his parish.. Ceridwen’s own. The man hailed Rory heartily. “McGuinness, ‘tis wonderful to meet ye. How are ye, my son?”
Rory’s sunny smile came out just as the real sun came up on the eastern horizon. “Well, Father. Very well. Although me young friend Clancy O’Neill has just left to be a sailor.”
Rory fell into step with the Scottish priest, heading again for the town. “Clancy O’Neill, he has left us? He will be missed in the circle, I am afraid. And there will be more than one sad lass I will warrant in this town.”
Rory nodded. “I almost feel as if me own brother is the one who has gone.”
To the priest’s following question, he shook his head, “Nay, no brothers or sisters. Me father died of sickness when I was but a babe, and me mother never remarried and died when I was small as well.”
“An orphan boy then. Poor laddie.” The priest said. Then he went on, “Ye asked why I am in the town today. I have an old friend at the monastery who is unwell.. I came to visit him.”
Rory looked concerned, “I know the brothers well. Who is it? Is he very ill?”
Father Angus nodded. “’Tis Cuthbert, the Anglian. And aye, I think he will die soon. But he is at peace with it.”
Rory looked very sad. “Och. Brother Cuthbert, such a good man he is. He will be missed, though he will be after bein’ welcomed in God’s mansions.”
The two men walked along somber but companionable. Rory at last looked at the priest, his head cocked sideways. “Where are ye bound now, Father?”
“Just for some air and to meditate a bit,” the man replied.
Rory stopped and asked, “Och, then I am interferin’, for which I be that sorry. I shall leave ye in peace.” He started to turn.
Angus stopped him, “Nay, McGuinness, I am glad that ye are here. I have wondered how ye are doin’ after the loss of the O’Neill. Methinks the brother leaving to go to sea must stir it all up for ye again. Am I right?”
Rory smiled ruefully and the men began to walk together again, just now reaching the outermost cottages of the town, which was up and stirring now. “Aye, it did that, but I am as well as can be expected, mayhap better than that.”
Angus put a hand on his shoulder and left it there as they walked down the streets. “Then I will ask ye the same as ye asked me. Where are ye bound this fine morning?”
“I was up ere dawn to see off the young O’Neill. I have no destination now.. just wanderin’ with no purpose.” Rory flashed his famous smile again.
“Ye have the look of a man walking off his troubling thoughts, my son,” the priest said, leading. “Are they not about Shannon’s death then?”
Rory laughed. “So is it now the job of priests to read minds? I have been much concentratin’ on a riddle of late.”
Angus stopped, leaving his hand on the tall man’s shoulder. “If ye mention it to me, ye wish to talk of it.”
Rory laughed again. “Och, I have been talkin’ to so many about it I am that surprised ‘tis not common knowledge. I should like to talk, aye, but where can we go that is private?”
Angus grinned, “So privacy is what we need? Must be about a woman then.. and all know there is but one woman about whom ye think, McGuinness.”
“Aye, well that be what I thought too, Father. Shall we take a tankard of ale at the Blue Lady then? We can sit apart. Most of the customers will be passed out and snorin’ at this hour anyway.”
Sitting well back in a corner away from the kitchen door and the few customers that were still awake or just awake, Rory and the priest broke their fasts and had ale to accompany their bread and cheese.
Father Angus started the conversation, “So what is it, the great lady has a rival?”
Rory chewed on the dark bread thoughtfully. “Not a rival.. that is not the thing.. or I think it is not. I have been thinkin’ and talkin’ with people about the… well,.. story I have been tellin’ meself for years.”
Angus looked up interested. “Story ye have been telling yourself? Well as fine a teller of tales ye are, McGuinness, it must be a wonderful rich tale.”
Rory nodded. “Too full of wonder, methinks.”
“So, tell it to me, then,” the priest invited.
Rory chuckled. “Mayhap that is just how I should tell ye, as a tale.” He sat back a little, as if composing himself, then spoke.
"A long, long time ago. If I were there then, I would not be there now. If I were there now and at that time, I would have a new story...or an old story...or I might have no story at all..."
Rory stopped abruptly.. “I have not started a tale like that in many a moon. ‘Tis how me mother started all her tales..” Then he went on.
“There was a young man once who believed in High Things. He knew the love of the flesh, but he thought that ‘twas base and unworthy. He dinnae seek love because he never could find the lady whom his heart could love purely, serenely, divinely."
“Then one day he came to a great king’s court. He saw a beautiful lady there who struck a chord within him, and he recognized her as the lady who lived in his dreams. Only now instead of insubstantial mist she had taken a solid form. He swore to her never to love another but she. But she could not go to him, for she was the wife of that great king.”
Angus listened intently, munching on bread and cheese and washing the food down with sips of the excellent ale.
“He was content to love this high born lady, to keep himself true to her and never stray. For many years he served her well. Then one day the lady begged him to release himself from his vow to love only her. He was desirous of doing as his lady asked, but he did not know how to release himself. So he spoke to many men about love and chastity and High Things.”
“And what did those men tell the fellow?” Angus put in.
“First he spoke with a mighty warrior. The mighty warrior knew of the vow and that the lady did not wish it. He told the man he knew nothing of real love, the love that blends the love of the flesh with the love of the heart and soul, and the love that endures through tribulation and joyous times, side by side, yoked through soft soil and rocky.”
Angus smiled, “Ye do have a lovely way of saying it, McGuinness, and I think I know the mighty warrior, at least by reputation.”
Rory gave the priest a skeptical look. “Then the man,” he went on, “spoke to a godly man who told him his vow was a sin.”
“Then ye are not skipping ahead in your tale, as I should not have put it quite that way..” Angus interrupted.
Rory went on as if he had not spoken. “The godly man said that promising to love another man’s wife was transgression against the very Commandments that Moses gave the people of Israel.”
“Well, then, I cannot argue with that.”
“Do ye wish to hear me tale or not?” Rory was smiling. The priest nodded, and the Irishman went on.
“Then in a dream the man spoke with the spirit of a Poet. That poet said what also the mighty warrior said, that the man deserved a real love. The spirit said that the man’s love for the beautiful high born lady was no more than a tale he was telling himself, and nothin’ real."
“When the man then told another fellow, a man of the sea and a wanderer, about what the spirit had said, the man of the sea laughed and said that he knew few men who loved this lady who truly knew her. He said that I.. I mean, the man in my tale, and the others did the lady a wrong to love her without seeing her for who she really was, a warm, loving, intelligent, vibrant woman with much passion."
“So the man thought about all this and consulted his Muse and his Heart and came to understand that aye, it had been a tale he told himself and not a real love, not the love a man and woman may have on Earth. He came to understand that he could love the lady in many ways, but that his vow had never really existed, never really been bound as an oath in his, in the lady’s and in God’s eyes."
“He realized then, that though he did not understand why he had bound himself to the ideal in the first place, he was no longer bound to love the great lady. And he was free.”
Rory ended and called for another tankard of ale for them both.
Angus stared at him. “Truly? Your storied love for .. the lady.. it is no more?”
Rory smiled, “’Tis hard to become accustomed to it, but aye, I love her, but ‘tis not the love I thought I had. I grieve but I am happy.”
The priest put a hand on one of Rory’s. “Of course ye grieve. This vow has been part of ye for many years. And its’.. death.. comes so soon on the heels of Shannon’s. I am guessing the spirit you dreamed of was he?”
Rory took a swallow of ale and nodded. Angus went on. “I am afraid the characters in your tale are rather transparent, Rory. If ye tell the tale to others, ye may have to embellish some on the plot.” He grinned.
Rory laughed heartily. “Och, do I not know that. I am afraid that a very transparent fellow am I.”
Angus looked long at him. “I do not know. Methinks ye will be a bigger puzzle than ever.”
Rory looked at him frankly. “Me? A puzzle? To whom?”
Angus smiled. “To all, but I must say to the fairer sex in particular.” Seeing Rory’s surprise, he added, “Aye, my friend, you are the talk of the women and girls of this town. About half are in love with you. The other half simply find you a challenge. Ye touch their souls with your fine songs, but ye touch somethin’ else with your fine countenance. Then ye also touch their hearts.”
Rory, “How do I touch their hearts, Father? I thought ‘twas Shan’s allure, not me own.”
Angus chuckled. “Not every woman liked Shannon, my friend. He drew the wantons and the ones not wanton but easily won. But the lasses with higher minds and hearts.. well, they are all for ye, McGuinness. They see the lost boy in the man.”
Something about what Angus had just said appeared to strike Rory. “The lost boy..” he said in a dreamy voice.
Angus looked at him hard. “Rory, now that ye have cast aside your vow.. aye, I know ye let it slip away, not cast it.. will ye look for love now?”
Rory was brought back to the here and now by the priest’s words. “I dinnae know, Father. I fear I shall not know how to woo a woman now. And I fear to let me heart go lookin’ on its own.. it may not be ready yet.”
Then for no reason he could think of he asked, “The metalworker’s niece who has a farm in your town.. Ceridwen. She was at Beltane.”
Angus put his tankard down and considered Rory. “Aye, a fine woman. A strong one. Although when I last saw her she was forced to sit and watch other’s work.”
Rory looked up alarmed, “Wherefore?”
Angus cast his eyes down and hoped Rory did not see his humorous smile. “Poor lass, she fell off her roof and hurt her ankle.” She is lucky stout Sighard was there to catch her or she should have been much worse injured.”
He saw Rory’s frown out of the corner of his eye. Rory did not speak, but Angus knew the naming of the man had brought this frown about. “Oh, do ye know Sighard? Do ye not care for the man for some reason?”
Rory looked startled, “Sighard? Nay, I dinnae know him, I know not why ye ask it. How could I not like the man. Havin’ never met him..” he prattled.
The priest just shrugged and let the matter go.
Rory sat frowning for a while. “This Sighard, who was there to catch her, he is not married then?”
Angus could barely suppress his smile. “He is a widow. With children. He told me he hoped some day to ask me to post the bans for him and Ceridwen.”
“Hoped.. someday..? But not now?”
“Nay, it seems the lass has not said him aye yet. But he thinks it is just a matter of time.. when she grows tired of running her farm all alone.” Angus put down his empty tankard and started to rise. “But McGuinness, what is your interest in all of this?”
Rory looked up at him sharply. “Interest? Meself? Nay. Just curious. That dinnae have to mean I have an interest, does it now?” His brogue had gotten thicker with the energy of his response.
Angus smiled at him, started to reach for his money pouch, then accepted Rory’s insistence the breakfast was on him. “Of course not, McGuinness. Go with God, my friend.” He left Rory with a look of consternation on the Irishman’s face.
Rory paid the serving wench and headed out the door. He muttered to himself off and on, “What meant the man? What foolishness.” Then again he found himself in the master metalworker’s street. He made an impatient sound and went back to the castle.
Next: Dreams and Memories Part II