Erik from The Great hall yarn painting
In the old stories and in the tales that did not make it into the novel there is a character, a Danish merchant ship captain, named Erik who is Lawrence's best friend and confidante. He represents the worldly view of affairs.. and in the Juliana series you will see what I mean by "affairs".
Rory McGuinness sat slouched in a chair near the large hearth in the Great Hall, his feet up on a stool. In spite of warmer weather the hearth was always ablaze. It was late in the evening. The King and Queen had left for Ratherwood Castle a couple days before, and the castle was relatively quiet considering the courtiers tended to be on their worst behavior when Lawrence and Josephine were away, especially the knights.
Clancy for once had not gone with the King. His page days were over. Erik the Dane generally first appeared in mid-May and the King had left a parchment to be given to him on Clancy's behalf in case he had sailed away with the Dane before the King returned. The boy and his master for so many years had had an uneasy farewell in anticipation. Neither wanted to show their emotions.
Rory let the fire warm his feet. He faintly heard the murmuring from others in the Hall, as well as the occasional burst of laughter or the gamers' triumphant cries. He was starting to doze. He stared into the fire, then saw a spectral shape form on the stool Shannon usually sat on when he had been alive. As it materialized slowly Rory recognized the shape and posture.
"Shan!" he said, amazed. "Are ye really here?"
The figure did not solidify but remained transparent. The voice was the same however, "Och, nay, I be not here, Rory. I be in your lovin' heart."
Rory had been about to glance back to see it others heard and saw the apparition, but now he just nodded. "Ye are ever there, me darlin' friend," he said.
The eerie figure grinned the old familiar grin. "Aye, I know that."
Rory straightened a little. "Then why are ye sittin' there?"
The spirit cocked an eyebrow. "Ye are troubled in your heart, me friend. There be no room for me with all that bouncin' and frettin'."
Rory smiled to himself. "It seems me troubles are troubles for all around me.. the Queen, the King, ye, and Ceridwen too."
Shannon's image smiled. "Ceridwen, is it? The metalworker's niece? How is she troubled by ye, as if I dinnae know.."
Rory shrugged and directed the conversation somewhat away. "The Queen has asked me to release meself from me vow to her. The priest says the vow is a sin. The King says I know nothin' of love. I know what ye will say."
Shannon picked up an invisible lute and started to play on it. "I understand ye better than ye think, Rory," he said. "I too have loved the Queen.. sure and 'tis hard not to. There be no one more beautiful.. and there is always somethin' about her.. "
Rory looked a bit wistful. "'Tis hard to describe. She is somehow.. well, not fragile, not helpless, just.. I don't know."
Shannon sang the next thing he said, "She is the parfit mysterious lady.."
Rory slowly nodded. I suppose that's it. She is so like the damsels in the tales.. she is almost not real."
Shannon looked up sharply. "Nay, Rory, she is not the thing that is not real."
Rory's eyes grew wide. "Sure, and what d'ye mean, Shan?"
The apparition just shook its head.
"Well then if ye will not explain that, then tell me now, how did ye… ah.. stop lovin' her, the Queen?"
The ghost put his finger to his chin as if thinking, but there was a phantom sparkle in its eye. "I found a real love with a real woman."
Rory frowned, "Och, and ye see where that got ye."
The spirit looked offended. "Well, boyo, ye see where this vow has got ye.. alone, pathetic, a shell of a man."
Rory shook his head. He watched the flames flicker through the insubstantial form that resembled his childhood friend. "That's because ye are gone, Shan. Why did ye leave me." There were tears in his voice.
"I dinnae leave thee. I am right here.. can ye not ken?" came the response.
"Then tell me what to do, Shan. Tell me how to fall out of love," Rory begged.
The figure was fading. A faraway voice breathed, "Not out, me friend, in. 'Tis time your heart found a home."
Rory woke with a start and realized he had slept all night in the chair before the fire. Fortunately it had died down a bit or he expected his boots would be scorched on the bottom. He pulled himself to a sitting position, stiff and sore. He remembered the conversation with Shannon's ghost.. or had it been a dream. A dream more like.
It was then he realized he had been awakened by shouting. Others asleep in the Hall were stirring, most wrapped in their cloaks on the floor, many grumbling and complaining, but some of the younger knights leaping to their feet and grabbing their sword belts.
The cry came again, "A sail!" Clancy burst into the huge room. "A sail! It's Erik!" The boy's face was bright with excitement and anticipation. He ran up to where Rory was just pulling himself to his feet. "Rory, 'tis Erik! I shall know soon if I may go with him!"
Rory smiled affectionately at the boy. "Aye, so ye shall, me lad." He tousled Clancy's fair hair, an action that for once did not irritate the boy. "How far out?"
Clancy grinned. "Just comin' in to the mouth o' the Humber. I saw the sail. 'Tis definitely a dragon ship."
Rory raised his eyebrows, "Och. Let's hope it is Erik then!" He turned and saw that the knights had heard and were worriedly getting their mail and arms together. He turned back to Clancy. "After getting' used to bein' met with steel shall Erik have to be these days. Let me get a mite to eat and drink. We have time if it is truly Erik."
Rory and Clancy joined the knights and men at arms at the quayside but were h held back along with people from the city until the ship was close enough to recognize. One of the knights called out, 'Tis the Dane!" The crowd exhaled together, and there was a sweep of motion as many hearts were blessed with crosses.
"God be praised," Rory breathed as he crossed himself too.
The long low dragon ship came right up to the dock, and Erik jumped from the deck on to it deftly. He looked about, then asked Rory, who had pushed his way through the knights as they dispersed, there being no danger, "Lawrence?"
Rory and the Dane grasped each others' arms. "The King is at Ratherwood with the Queen for a moon."
Erik smiled with a knowing look. "Well, then, good, that means things are better since I brought her from Calais."
Rory nodded. "Much, much better, me friend." They both turned to see Lorin coming towards the dock on horse and leading another for the Dane. Clancy was hanging at Rory's elbow waiting a chance to speak to Erik. The ship captain continued to glance about. "I suppose this one's brother is off with a wench or a tankard.." he began.
Rory and Clancy exchanged looks. The older man replied, "Nay, Erik, then ye have not heard. Shannon killed himself."
Erik was startled into silence for a moment. "Killed himself?! How? When?" Then "Why?"
"We can speak later, methinks the boy here has somethin' he wants to ask ye.." Rory replied solemnly, but just at that point Lorin called to Erik and the latter nodded to the two Irishmen and excused himself.
Rory turned to Clancy and said, "Dinnae worry, lad, ye will have your chance soon enough." They watched as Erik mounted and accompanied the Duke through the town.
When they arrived back at the keep Clancy was relieved when a servant came up and told him the Duke want =ed him to join himself and Erik in the Duke's offices. He cast an excited glance at Rory who made the thumbs-up gesture.
Some time later Rory was pleased to see Clancy dashing into the Hall towards him, his face lit up with a huge smile. "Och, Rory, he said he would take me!" the boy called out.
"I am not surprised. But we shall miss ye. When shall ye sail?" Rory was smiling warmly. Inside he felt the pain of one more loss.
Clancy was oblivious. "When the tide is right in four or five days!"
Rory put a hand on the boy's shoulder,. "Lad,, sure and ye already sound like a sailor."
Clancy beamed up at him gratefully.
It was a fine night that evening and Rory had finished his own performance before the assembled feasters. He had sung a Danish song he had l earned from Erik in his honor. He went out to the courtyard for some air and to be alone. With Clancy leaving soon, he revisited his grief for the boy's brother.
Rory went into the stables where the horses nickered in greeting. A stable cat came up and rubbed against his legs, and Rory reach down and picked it up. "Sure, and well met, Crowder," he said in a soft voice. He went to a bench and sat down with the cat, letting it get comfortable on his lap as he scratched its ears and chimp. It was a black and gray tabby and not overlarge for its age. Rory seemed to recall it was a female.
"Wee one, what can ye tell me about love?" he said, almost seriously. The cat just half closed her eyes and presented her chin for another tickle.
Rory sat stroking the cat and thinking of all the things people had said to him about his lofty vow to the Queen. She herself had told him it was a pledge he should never have made. The priest had echoed this and added that it was in itself a double sin. One cannot make a vow to spend one's life coveting another man's wife, so it was not even there to withdraw, from her, from himself. Rory was surprised to realize that this piece of information made him feel calmer, less in turmoil about it. He did not need to renounce the pledge he had made as it was null and void to start with. He thought to himself, "I can let that go, at least."
He smiled at the purring cat in his lap. "Sure, and with no vow to keep, am I the less bound to love her?"
He had not heard Erik come into the stables. "Less bound to love whom, Rory?" the Dane asked.
Rory and Crowder both looked up at the man. Rory held the cat in place as he shifted to make room on the bench for him. "Now, that is a tale for a late night…" Rory began.
Erik sat on the bench and leaned back against the wall, his fingers laced behind his head. He laughed sardonically. "Even so," he remarked.
Rory looked at him. "Methinks I have heard that assessment of the matter before.."
Erik looked sideways at him. "No doubt. Thou art speaking of thy legendary love for Josephine, are thee not?" His Saxon was heavily accented but clear.
Rory just stared at him evenly.
"I thought so, McGuinness. Do thee not think now that the lady has come home and vouchsafed herself again to her husband that it is time to give up the fantasy? And just what doth thou think killed thy friend if not such notions as romantic love?" To Rory's questioning look he said, "The Duke told me. Drowned at sea. 'Tis a terrible sorrow and waste."
Rory nodded solemnly. "Aye, that it is… but his great love for Heather.."
"Bullshit," the Dane interjected. "His own foolish notions of love. Like thy own about the Queen. And Lawrence's. At least with the King there is some hope of placing his feet firmly on the ground."
Rory turned abruptly, dislodging the cat, who dashed away into one of the empty stalls. "Sure and have ye ne'er loved a woman, sir?"
Erik made a scornful noise. "Loved a woman? Aye. An actual woman. Not like the three of ye, loving a perfect painting on a wall or woven into a tapestry."
Rory started to ask Erik what he meant, but then he realized he k new. "The King said somethin' like that."
Erik's eyebrows went up. "Thou spoke to Lawrence about this?!" He sat up and punched Rory in the shoulder. "Ye have more balls than I should have thought." He laughed with pleasure. "So what did the man say?" Erik was chuckling.
Rory regarded him bemusedly. "He said I dinnae know what love is."
Erik guffawed. "And I suppose he thinks he does." He turned to Rory. "Sometimes I feel sorrow for the poor woman. What a burden to have to live with, all ye noble fellows creeping about her as if she would break… she is a strong and stalwart woman. If any of ye looked long enough and hard enough, thou wouldst know that. But all thou sees, and this goes for my friend the King as well, is some shimmering seraph. He told me once she was like a child more than a woman… I'll warrant he knows better now." He laughed again and shook his head.
Rory put his chin on his hand and thought. He said aloud, "She is not the thing that is not real."
Erik looked sideways at him. "That is the truth. So thou might have some sense after all."
Rory replied, sounding distant, "Nay, that is what Shannon's ghost said."
Erik's smile vanished. Not being a Christian, he did not cross himself, but he did make a gesture Rory assumed was meant to ward off evil. "His ghost?"
"Or a dream of his ghost, I dinnae know." Rory looked at Erik frankly. "Last night I saw or dreamed I spoke with him. He said he lived in me heart but that it was so troubled that he had had to move out. I asked him how one falls out of love with someone. He told me I dinnae need to fall out of love, but in. I dinnae understand."
Erik looked as though he debated whether to say something, then just cleared his throat and went on. "Thou had Shannon appear to thee out of thy heart because thou doth not trust thy own heart to speak for itself. I think thy dream is telling thee that thy own heart wants thee to let it go home.. to where it wants to live. It doth not wish to live with a dream of a woman, but with a real one."
Rory looked at Erik amazed. "Erik, sure and ye have the soul of a poet."
Erik sat back again. "Not a bit of it. I'm just not blind like the rest of thee."
Rory cast down his eyes. "Your meanin', then?"
"There are women in the world, many women, who will let thee fawn and pamper them. But women worth loving are not like that. Where I come from women are strong and know their minds. Maybe not the vain or the simpleminded, but when thou winnest their hearts thou knowest thou hath a love that shall keep the for a lifetime." Erik looked hard at Rory. "This fantasy thou hast of loving the Queen. 'Tis straight out of one of thy tales.. and clearly thou hast listened to thine own nonsense for too long. That is for children, those tales. Tell the princesses, but do not believe them thyself."
Rory just stared at Erik, a dawning realization coming to him.
Erik went on. "Thou and Lawrence and others like thee.. thou doth the lady Josephine no justice. She is a woman of spirit, a woman of intelligence. She is strong and were she in some other station in life, she would be quite different that the woman thou knowest. But she is shut up here in this castle treated like some fragile thing. And thou and Lawrence and that fool Elerde go on treating her that way. "
Rory turned a surprised look at the Dane. "I think ye are in love with the lady yourself."
Erik snorted. "Not a bit of it. I just know there is more to Josephine than any of thee know. I believe that Lawrence may finally be figuring this out. I love the man, but he can be as big a fool as the rest of thee. He shook his head, "One might think thou wert all young girls instead of m en."
He stood. "Look to thy heart, Rory, and let it come to know a real woman.. not one out of one of thy tales of romance." He chucked Rory on the shoulder and walked out of the stables.
Rory watched him go, then sat back himself, puzzling. "Och, did I never truly love Josephine?" he thought. Have I just loved a dream of a woman? Was me bow made to nothin' more than a carved image?" He tried to think about this and think about the Queen. "Nay I do, I do love her… but.. I am not IN love with her… I am in love with an idea."
Rory stood abruptly, then threw up his arms and let out a whoop that made the horses whinny and prance in alarm.
Next: Dreams and Memories Part I