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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rory and Cerridwen Series: Rory's Day, Part I

ory was up before even the hounds. Curled up in his cloak near the hearth in the Great Hall, he was never sure what woke him every morning. But still as he lifted his head all the other men sleeping in the rushes and the big dogs that lay piled in and among the clumps of men were always still asleep, many still snoring.

He sat up and stretched, yawning. He stood, shook out his cloak, and slung it over his shoulder. He was used to Shannon not being somewhere near since like as not his friend had slept the night in some wench's arms if lucky or in the storeroom of a tavern it not. So without a glance at the spot where the O'Neill might have lain, still dozing, Rory went out of the Hall and the keep to the middens to relieve himself.

In the courtyard there were people stirring, the farmers carts beginning to arrive, the washerwomen already out and taking bundles to launder. Children were up and dashing about. Rory went to the brimming well and leaned into it, getting his whole head wet, then standing and shaking it so the water flew in all directions. Several children ran to him calling "Rory!" He scooped up a small one and held him on his hip, giving him a big wet kiss on the cheek that the boy delightedly wiped ohf with a dirty fist. Rory pretended to dump him in the well, then as he shrieked mock protest, Rory put him on the ground and the children scampered away laughing.

Rory glanced up at the pair of windows, one below with glass and one above without and wondered in which one the King and Queen had slept, never apart at night unless the King was away. He smiled at the thought of them, so much in love with each other, but the smile was wistful. They would be going away soon, to Ratherwood Castle, to be alone together. That was as it should be, the Irishman thought.

Looking away from the windows a thought of the young woman he had spent time with at Beltane the day before came to his mind. Ceridwen, so fair and yet so strong. And she had said she would love only a man who could sing the old songs. And at the bonfire they had kissed, his first real kiss in over eight years since the fateful day he had made his vow to the Queen never to love or kiss anyone but her.

Now the Queen had begged him to release himself from that vow. He was at a loss as to how to stop loving someone he had worshiped for so many years. But she herself had told him how.. simply let his heart go where it will. And Ceridwen had said he would see her again.. if he wanted to. Oh aye, he did.

Rory thought to go back into the keep and find some bread and ale, but instead turned towards the castle gate and started walking across the courtyard. He heard someone call to him, and he looked over to where one of the women who worked in the laundry, a girl really, Rowena was waving and smiling. He smiled back and went over to her. He took her small hand and kissed the water-wrinkled fingertips.

"Rowena, lass, has that Sassenach Stepan been payin' ye the attention ye deserve?"

Rowena laughed. "Nay, Rory, never enough. I despair of him."

He put a hand on her shoulder and reassured, "He will be after comin' 'round in time, just have faith." She smiled and nodded, and he waved as he set off for the gate again.

At the gate one of the sleepy eyed guards called to him. "Out as early as ever, I see, McGuinness!"

Rory glanced up at him. "Aye, more nightmares o' ye comin' after me with that pike, Aldred!"

Aldred laughed and pretended to poke down at him with his pike from the higher level where he stood his post. Then he stood and looked sad. "Rory, the night holds no more pleasure for Hengist and me with no Shannon tryin' to sneak back into the castle after a drunk."

Rory smiled sadly and nodded. "Och, and that I know."

Outside the castle gates Rory could turn and look down off the bluff at the sea below. As he did every time he glanced that way, he quietly said a pater noster for his friend, drowned in the North Sea. Then he turned to the uneven road that led down into the town and headed to see what and whom he would run into there.

The town, unlike the castle, was in full swing. He headed first for the baker's stall in the town marketplace. There of course was Gillian at her father's stall calling out to those who browsed what she had for sale that morning. "Hot loaves!" she called. Rory reached into his small pouch which hung at his belt and pulled out a penny. He lifted it to Gillian, who waved it away. "Thy money is trash here, McGuinness, and thou knowest it. Put that miserable coin back in thy pouch."

Rory laughed, "Och, lass, can I at least give ye a wee song?"

Gillian was a merry stout woman in her late 20s with the Saxon's fair hair pulled back in a knot. Her simple homespun gown was covered with a meticulously clean apron. She dusted flour off her hands and said, with a smile, "I thought thou would ne'er ask."

Rory thought a moment, then began to sing. The song he chose was a familiar one for the Saxon' in Lawrencium.

Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing, cuccu! Groweth sed and bloweth med And springth the wude nu. Sing, cuccu!

When he had finished the whole song he received cheers and whistles from all the stalls that had been set up. He smiled and waved and took the warm bread to go sit at the base of the market cross that stood in the center of the marketplace to eat. A serving wench came over to him from the Blue Lady with a tankard of ale. "Mind ye bring the tankard back inside, McGuinness," she scolded. She gave him a longing look.

He nodded, "Aye, I miss him too."

While he munched on the tender brown bread and sipped the ale, Rory cast his eyes about the marketplace.

The square was made up of both small permanent shops and numerous temporary stalls. Not being a High Market Day the number of stalls was fewer than the space could bear. There was lots of room to walk even though the remaining vendors had taken the opportunity to spread out a bit.

He looked around the outside of the square at the many small shops. The baker's ovens and small counter were there. And of course the butcher's could be found on one end of the block away from some of the other foodstuffs. The actual butchering happened elsewhere, but the smell of the meat could get overwhelming anyway. The farmers who sold produce did not have a stall or shop but instead went through the streets with their carts or directly up to the castle.

Atop the aroma of the baker's wares Rory caught the scent of the apothecary's wide range of scents.. the bitter herbs along with the sweet, and even the mysterious. The chandler's shop had the smell of tallow. Similar was that of the stall of the oil vendor. The fishmonger had a stall rather than a shop, with North Sea fish and shellfish caught that very morning.

The craftspeople were less apparent than the food and household shops as their wares were more likely to be called for on the High Market Days. There were carpenters, metalworkers, weavers, tailors, most still in their tiny shops waiting for on foot custom, but they would be out with colorful awnings in stalls along with the craftspeople who came in from the surrounding areas with untold treasures to share with those with a few coppers in their pouches.

Rory glanced to where he thought he'd noticed Ceridwen's table covered with finely embroidered items. He knew she would not be there, since she no doubt was packing her things up to head home in the next day or two. He thought he should try to catch her this morning before she had left the town.

On a whim Rory went over to where a young girl of no more than twelve stood calling out the names of the flowers she was selling small nosegays of. "Violets! Snowdrops! Daisies! Buttercups!"

He asked her for a bunch and paid her the farthing she requested. Then he turned his steps down the street for Ceridwen' s house.

He stopped in front of the door to the master metalworker Cedric's house and took a deep breath. He was letting his impulses take him today, but he did not have to guess why he was here. Although the door was always open, he knocked. He heard voices inside, and a heavy footfall. The door swung open and Cedric himself stood gaping at Rory.

"Rory McGuinness," he said, puzzled. "Thou knowest thou need not knock. Come in!"

Rory doffed his cap and gave a short bow. "I was after wondring' id your niece Ceridwen is within?"

Cedric eyed Rory and then the flowers and then gave Rory a speculative look. "Nay, she has gone home to her farm this morning. Are those flowers for her?"

Rory felt his heart skip a beat, then he stammered, "Och, nay, uh, they are for your lady wife, Gitta."

That very woman came up behind her husband wiping her hands on her apron. "For me? Whatever for?"

"For your kind hospitality t'other night, Gitta," said Rory smiling, having regained his composure.

"Can thee come in for a while now?" Gitta asked, taking the nosegay with a little blush.

Rory shook his head, "Och, nay, though I thank ye. I am on me way.. to.. church," Rory explained.

Rory had not actually planned on going to confession that morning, but since that was all he could think of to say, he thought he might assuage the sin of a lie by making it true. So he ambled over to the squat Saxon building whose bell demarcated the day for the people in Lawrencium and up in the castle. On the way he returned several hails and waves from the many who knew him.

He went into the cold stone church and genuflected when in front of the cross on the altar. The last time he had been in was the day of Shannon's funeral mass. He said an Ave for his friend and then went into one of the confessional booths after catching the priest's eye.

"Bless me, Father for I have sinned," he repeated the ritual.

The priest asked him when he had made his last confession, to which Rory replied, "Before me friend's requiem mass, that would be last week."

Prompted to confess his sins since his last absolution, Rory thought a moment. "Well, Father, I yet covet another man's wife. She has asked me to release meself from a vow I made many years ago never to love any woman but her. I ken not what to do."

The priest said thoughtfully, "My son, thou canst not make a vow to commit a sin and expect it to be anything but a sin to keep it. Thou mayst not covet another man's wife. How can one make a vow to God to do so?"

Rory laughed to himself, "Well, aye, but I made the vow to her, not to God."

"Then that is idolatry, my son. That is a sin of high order. I suppose thou didst go to the heathen festival yesterday and watch the lewd dancing around the maypole.. that is idolatry as well." The priest clucked his tongue.

This time Rory did not keep his short laugh to himself, "Father, I not only went, I danced in the maypole dance."

The priest was shocked. "Then thou didst consort with a woman of loose morals?"

Rory discovered he took great offense at Ceridwen being described this way. "Nay, nay, she is a good and proper woman."

"Then thou hast treated a virtuous woman scandalously by showing thyself with her in such a dishonorable act."

The only thing Rory could think to say was, "I shall ask God to forgive me for that."

The priest responded, "And ask the young woman for her forgiveness as well."

Pressed to list other sins he spoke mostly of struggling with his faith after his friend's death, then of many small sins. The priest told him, as he expected, to pray for strength and to perform an act of contrition. He absolved Rory of his sins and sent him on his way with the admonition to "sin no more."

Next: Rory's Day, Part II

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About the author

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