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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rory and Cerridwen Series: Lawrence and Rory on Friendhsip and Love

Left: Lawrence at sword practice.

Rory heard the familiar sound of swords clashing from the courtyard. He went to see if it was the King practicing as he did almost every day. He had been thinking how, with Shannon always the dominant personality of the two of them and with the tension of the odd triangle between himself, the King and the Queen, he had never really developed much rapport with the man. He had resolved to correct this error and took the opportunity now to start.

It was in fact the King. Lawrence often used the practice area in the courtyard to exercise with weapons, but now he had a sparring partner, a knight named Sir Lucullus. The men were squared off, each in fighting stance with a broadsword in one hand and a dagger in another. Rory came to the edge of the circle set aside for this use and watched. He was fascinated by the intensity visible in each man's eyes. He was used to Lawrence somber or merry but this was something quite different. The King's face displayed concentration and determination. There was a ghost of a smile on his lips.

As Rory watched Lawrence stepped back slightly, then thrust forward with his broadsword. Lucullus blocked the blow with his own, but then Lawrence whirled around and caught Lucullus in the small of the back with the flat of his blade. "That is a kill," the King said without emotion.

The younger knight pulled off his helm and smiled and nodded. He was breathing as heavily as the King. He bowed slightly. "For thee, my liege."

Lawrence pulled off the chainmail hood he wore and went to Lucullus and clasped his hand. "Well done, Lucullus!"

Lawrence then noticed Rory standing watching. "Have a go at it, McGuinness?" he said in a jesting manner.

Rory smiled, "Och, me lord, ye forget that a soldier I was ere I became a minstrel."

Lawrence stood and regarded him. He grinned, "Nay, I have not forgot. But I thought thou wert a lover not a fighter."

Rory shrugged. "Neither, me lord. 'Twas Shannon who was the lover, not I, in faith."

Lawrence cast an odd look at him, then indicated where some arms were stacked against a stone wall. "What is thy weapon?"

Rory went over to the stack and selected a long handled axe. "'Tis almost a gallowglass.. I can handle this, methinks."

Lawrence regarded Rory with new interest. "An axe man, is it? Thou surprises me. Now for armor.."

The Irishman bowed slightly. "No need of armor, me lord, this shall be a friendly fight."

Lawrence nodded and glanced up at the keep. "Let us hope the Queen is not watching this.." he thought to himself. "She may think I have contrived to rid us of this admirer." He grinned a little sardonically and then took a powerful stance. He watched with new respect as Rory took his place on the practice ground and hefted the heavy axe. The minstrel put firm hands on the shaft and gripped it, weighed it in his grip for a few moments, then turned to Lawrence with a smile.

"Me lord, have at me." Rory was ready.

The King kept his eyes steady on Rory's face. He bent forward and moved, starting to circle. He looked for advantage and thought he'd found it. He darted forward, sword outstretched to loose McGuinness' s grip on his weapon by making him jump backwards. But Rory parried swiftly and deftly and the King's sword was blocked.

"Very good," Lawrence remarked approvingly. "Thou hast not lost thy skill for battle."

Rory replied, "Sure and I try to keep me hand in, sire." Then he took a quick step forward himself, bringing the axe in a swinging arc to catch Lawrence's sword. The King avoided the blow nimbly.

The two kept on, alternating blows, until the King managed to sidestep a blow from the Irishman's axe and came at Rory from his left or weaker side. Again he slapped his opponent with the blade’s flat side. "That is a kill," the King stated.

Rory laughed, "That it is, me lord. That it is."

The two men clasped hands, then went to the stack of weapons. Rory put the axe down again, but Lawrence sheathed his sword and dagger and just stood looking at Rory. "I had no idea thou wert such a skilled fighter, McGuinness."

Rory just smiled at the King, then followed him over to where a trough was full of cool water. The King stripped to his waste and started pouring water over himself with a bucket. Rory did the same.

Lawrence, whose muscular chest and arms were gleaming with sweat and the water from the bucket, now gave the red haired man an appraising look. "Now that I have seen thee fight, I want to know.. thou didst not hold back, did thee? I will not countenance my partners to hold back."

Rory stopped toweling himself with his shirt and looked at the King. "Nay, I dinnae hold back.. I am just the weaker." He went on, "Ye risk injury with the others, the knights?"

Lawrence grinned and turned to show Rory a wound just under his armpit on his right side. It was long since healed but still showed a scar. "I had this one from Percy. It does me no good if no one dares wound me." He touched his left cheekbone and looked at the other man. "Thy friend the O'Neill did not hold back."

Rory smiled and laughed, "More fool the darlin' man, from what I have been after hearin'. I am that surprised ye dinnae kill him."

"I thought about it," the King said, unsmiling.

Pulling a cloak around his shoulders Lawrence gestured to some barrels sitting nearby. "I shall call for ale. Wilt thou sit and drink with me?" Rory bowed and nodded, and the King called a servant over and sent him for cups and a pitcher of ale. The King sat on a barrel, then also did Rory on another.

"Me lord," Rory began as the King continued to towel the water out of his hair and beard. "Ye have been friends with the Dane for many years is it?"

Lawrence smiled. "Erik? Aye, many years. Why?"

Rory searched for words. "Ye dinnae generally seem drawn to such friendships, if ye dinnae mind me sayin' that."

Lawrence draped the shirt he was using as a towel over his lap, and looked at Rory. "Nay I am not these days much of a man for friendships. 'Tis.. difficult.. in my position. For several reasons."

Rory nodded, and waited while the servant came and poured cups of ale for himself and Lawrence. "It seems fair amazin' that ye can keep such a good companionship with Erik, his bein' gone most o' the time."

The King took a healthy draught of the ale. "Aye, I had not much thought of that. It seems when Erik arrives we twain just start back up where we left off on his last visit. 'Tis companionable, that is a good word for it."

Rory put one foot up on the barrel and clasped his bent leg with one hand. "How comes it then that ye have such trust in the man?"

Lawrence looked surprised at Rory and laughed, "What is this, man, that thou art so interested in Erik? Well methinks 'tis just that Erik is so much his own man.. he is not my subject. If he tires of me or is angered by me, he just sails away."

Rory appeared to consider this. “Then ye can be natural with him. Ye need not guess at what he is thinkin’.”

Lawrence raised his eyebrows considering and then nodded. “That is it, aye. ‘Tis not so easy with other men.”

“His Grace the Duke?”

Lawrence smiled, took a drink, then shook his head. “That is entirely different. He is my brother in law. And I could hardly talk about personal things with my wife’s brother.” Lawrence wanted to redirect the focus of the conversation. “And thee with Shannon.. what was it there?”

Rory sighed and put his chin on his knee, looking pensive. “Och, ‘tis… ‘twas a long, long friendship, almost from the cradle. He was e’er the wild one, was Shan. I followed the boy around like a puppy.” He looked off at nothing at all. “Me clan are subject to the O’Neills. He was, in a manner of speakin’ me lord and master. So ‘twas loyalty as well as love. And regard.. for his music.”

Lawrence lifted his cup to toast Shannon. “Aye, that was a rare one. More than that, though, ‘twas his spirit.. what a spark he had in him. We shall ne’er see his like again.”

The two men sat a few minutes in silence.

Lawrence finally reached for the pitcher and refreshed both their cups. “Thou must miss him sorely, Rory,” he said softly.

Rory just nodded.

Lawrence’s face took on a look that was both hopeful and guarded. “This is not something thou and I might speak about, but thou needest a love in thy life, Rory. A real one.”

Rory glanced up, surprised. “Me lord, I.. I..”

Lawrence cast his eyes down and pursed his lips. “She told me about her request of thee…” he began, then trailed off.

Rory searched agitatedly for something to say. “Me lord, aye.. and she is right. But ‘tis not so easy..”

The King raised his eyes to Rory’s face again and gazed at him evenly, his jaw set. “Let me be frank with thee a moment, McGuinness. Thou thinkest thou love her.” His voice took on a harsh timbre. “What dost thou know of love?”

Rory went pale. “Me lord? I dinnae understand…”

Lawrence put down his cup and stood. He stepped away a bit and turned to look off in another direction. “I owe thee everything, McGuinness.. thou knowest I know that. Thou hast preserved my lady for me on many occasions. Thy loyalty to her is almost without equal.” He turned to face the Irishman. “But thou knowest not truly what it means to love her. Only I know that.. I and perhaps one other. But not thee. Thou may come in and be the rescuer, but thou art not the one she cleaves to, not the one whose children she beareth, not the one who dies at the thought of her merest sorrow.. not like.. not like I do.”

Rory was unable to look at the King. All he wanted to do at this moment was shrink so small he would fall through a gap into the barrel he sat on. He now sat with both feet on the ground, leaning forward with the heels of his palms on the edges of the barrel. He stared down at the ground. He could not speak.

Lawrence stood and considered him for several moments. Then he spoke in a low, stern voice. “Thou must give up this notion of a bow to her, McGuinness. ‘Tis fit for nothing but one of thy tales.”

Lawrence reached down to grab up his shirt which had fallen on the ground when he had stood abruptly. Rory flinched slightly as the King’s quick movement startled him. Lawrence saw that and softened slightly. “Do it for thy own sake, McGuinness. Thou deserves to know the love that I have known.”

The King turned and strode away towards the keep.

Rory stared after him, dumbfounded. He had never heard the King speak like this, so intimately. He did not move from the barrel until the servant came to retrieve the cups and pitcher. Then Rory stood and put his shirt back on, then his jerkin, and turned and left the castle.

Next: Rory Talks with Erik the Dane

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About the author

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