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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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

ory found the short conversation with the priest offered him much to think about. He had heard what the priest said about the vow.. in past confessions he had always mentioned that he coveted a man's wife, never stating that the man was the King of this country and the wife therefore the Queen. But he realized this was the first time he had ever mentioned the vow. He did not know what to think about the profane nature of the oath he had sworn. He truly had not dwelt on whether the vow could be regarded as anything but sacred.

He most certainly did not think he had compromised Ceridwen. The woman was grown and clearly someone who could make her own choices. He would not insult her by taking responsibility for the two kisses. Those had been something they both wanted. No God could fail to see that.

His stomach started to growl and he wondered "How did the sun get so high in the heavens?" He decided to take some refreshment at the Blue Lady and talk with some good companions.

He strode into the tavern and took his usual seat. The serving wench who had spoken to him earlier that morning came over, gave the seat beside him a sad look, then asked what he might like to eat with his tankard of ale. "Sure, and d'ye have any o' those minced meat pies?"

She smiled and nodded, "Aye, I ere try to keep one or two aside for ye, Rory, knowin' that ye love them so much." She leaned and gave him a kiss on his hair, making him blush.

A few men who had been sitting at another table came over to his and sat down without invitation. One of them, a stout man with a merry smile, grinned at Rory. "McGuinness, I saw thee with that lass in the maypole dance and then wandering off with her in the woods. I wonder if thou hast made a new conquest?" He laughed and reached over to tousle Rory's hair.

"Och, nay, Conn, 'twas not like that at all at all. We just had a fine talk about farms and music." Rory shook his head. Then he remembered the kiss at the bonfire and colored a little.

Conn laughed again, "These Irish, they cannot lie without blushing. I see I hit the mark." Rory refused to comment.

The other man, a spare fair haired fellow named Richard rebuked his companion. "Now if Rory McGuinness says there was nothing to it, there was nothing to it. He is a man of honor and dignity."

"Not like that friend of his,. That O'Neill," Conn replied.

Richard started too chide him for speaking ill of the dead, but Rory interrupted him. "Dignity, och, nay, but honor, aye. His own kind of honor, that is. And at the last, it was the same honor as any of us would be after strivin' for."

The two men nodded and raised their tankards for a toast.

Rory spent a little time with these men and with others who came into the tavern for a late midday meal or to start their evening's drinking early. He had the unusual experience of being nearly the center of attention, impossible when Shannon was there. He did not like it. He received more jibes for being seen with Ceridwen, but most people who talked to him spoke of the O'Neill. This is how a community grieves, by remembering. He got a general send off when he rose from the table to leave the tavern.

Rory knew he need not be back at the castle for the evening meal for at least another two hours, so he resolved to go down to the town's one dock and see if any interesting boats had put in. He strolled down the dirt street to where the boats were either at anchor or pulled up along the shore or the dock.

He found his favorite perch in a nearby tree and hoisted himself up into it, propped his legs against a thick branch, pulled his cap over his eyes and his arms across his chest. He looked out to sea and thought of Shannon. Then the sounds of the harbor lulled him to sleep.

He awoke to the sound of a raven's caw and saw one sitting on the very branch he had propped his legs against. The creature was looking at him first with one side of its head and then the other, as if making sure the same image would appear in each.

"Good fellow," Rory addressed the bird, "Do ye have news of Shannon perchance?"

The bird seemed only slightly startled by the question. It continued to eye him alternately by tilting its head.

"Odin, there you are," said a thickly accented voice. A big Norseman came towards Rory's tree and hailed him. "My raven likes to bother innocently sleeping people, I am sorry sir for him," the man said to Rory.

Rory stretched to right himself and hop down from his perch in the tree as the raven flapped its wings one or two times and then flew - hopped to the Norseman's shoulder. Rory extended his hand in greeting. "Och, I was after hopin' this fine fellow had news of me friend lost at sea," he told the man who gripped his hand in a hearty hello.

"Must be that Irish minstrel who drowned himself, by Hela's two visages." The pronouncement was not a question. "I am Ragnir, by the way."

"Rory nodded, "And I am McGuinness. Aye that is the one, me friend the O'Neill. We were that shocked and saddened that he did such a thing as that."

Ragnir gave him an appraising look. "'Tis no dishonor in my lands if the death is for an honorable cause."

Rory chose not to pursue this and thanked the man for his kindness and winked at the bird, which winked back.

He had slept long enough that he was stiff, but the walk up to the castle help him shake out the kinks in his long limns. He had time for a wash and to change his clothes before the feast of the evening began. He thought about the day and about what he would perform this evening for the King and Queen and all their court. The two lines of thought converged on the priest's comments on his vow to the Queen. He knew the priest was right, but how did one simply stop loving, being in love with someone? He supposed prayer was an answer, but he was not given to it. He was given to thinking things through and to singing and telling stories and learning from the tales and songs.

In the castle courtyard he stripped off his jerkin and shirt and splashed himself with water from the brimming well. One of the laundering women saw him and brought him a fresh white cambric shirt. "Och, lass, I hope the man who owns this shirt minds not ye givin' it to me," Rory laughed.

The woman smiled and said, "He ne'er hath ere this, bless his royal majesty.." She nodded and went on with her basket.

He did his best to wash himself and to wipe down his boots and hose. He would go into the keep to the chest where he and other men of the castle kept spare clothes of theirs, and put on his pied jerking that went with his post as minstrel. He would then catch a small bite to eat and make himself ready to entertain the court's feasters. He took his place near the hearth on his stool along with others on their own who would dance or do tricks or tumbling or sing and play instruments. Again, there was one stool that sat not empty but void of its most beloved occupant. Instead there were flowers on Shannon's stool and other trinkets of remembrance.

Rory looked up at the high table when the King and Queen came in. He thought to himself that their going for a month to Ratherwood Castle might make thinking about his dilemma easier if he did not see the Queen everyday. He saw the accustomed slight discomfort the Queen showed, being somewhat shy and not caring for overcrowded suppers. The King on the other hand, although solicitous of her, was in his element, greeting people, sharing a laugh, listening to whispered conversations in his ear, and generally comfortable and affable in the setting. Rory thought to himself that he and Josephine were more alike and then quickly shook his head and censored the thought, trying to keep the Queen's request and the priest's admonition in his mind.

When it came time for him to take the spot where the performers could best be seen and heard by all in the Hall, he stood, stretched and walked over to it. He took his stance, stretching to his full height and adopting a dignified look as he prepared to start one of his famous stirring tales.

Rory had not done any Norse verse for some time, but seeing the raven and its companion had brought an old tale to mind. So he began in a resonant voice to intone the alliterative and rhythmically beating Norse style which always stirred these Saxons' hearts.

Was a dragon that brought death and doom 'To the people of the peaceful land. Across the world word was sent To find a knight so bold that never would he fail To cleave the dragon dead and live to tell the deed.

This gallant knight, this Greyraven of great girth With his simple servant striding by his side, Did win the king's promise to hold him high And share his crown with no less craven a man than he.

"Bring me the dragon's tooth and I shall know That thou art bravest among the bold And here upon my throne will I thank thee For ridding my land of the wrath of the worm."

This knight ne'er should have ridden there For sore cowardly was he and uncouth. When the way into the cave was found And forth he went, he swooned and had to be carried out.

His servant then did take his sword And with a mighty sweep did sever the dragon's head And from its scalding mouth a most terrible thing A tooth did take to show the king.

Upon their journey home the jittering knight Did take the life of the lad whose luck it was to kill the worm. He laid him in a shallow grave ungrieved by guilt And went to give the king his untrue tale.

The king did make his promise true And to the craven knight a crown did give Though truth was that the knight was false And never should this royal throne misuse.

A boy who through the thicket roamed Found his way upon the forest grave Did spy a bone of unknown nature And did make a flute to play with his wee fingers

Upon his exhalation did the thing Not play a sweet tone like birds a singing But instead came the sound of servant's sighs And the story of the lie it was revealed.

The boy then hied him to the castle hence To tell the king the story of the flute Did play upon the bone whose gentle tone Did reveal the rascal knight.

The king did roar and turned and killed the knight And upon the sweet and just revenge The bone did leap without the small boys grasp And did reform the servant, gather flesh, and alive he be.

The king then took the servant by the hand And to the throne this simple man did guide To place the hero true in honor and high place Did save the kingdom from the dragon drear.

Good people all to thee I give these words That thou remember that the truth will out No deed untrue will trick the honest ear And therefore make thy words worthy of thy honor.

The Great Hall had been silent as his voice rang out, dramatic and stirring. Now there were cheers. Rory glanced up to see the King's broad smile and returned it, then glanced to see the Queen with her quiet smile. He returned that one as well.

He thought of the Scots song he had sung to Ceridwen and waited for silence to begin. He sang "Aignish" without accompaniment. It was a short song, and he repeated the second verse adding more emotion. He heard sighs and then words of approval when he finished.

Next he turned and smiled a question at one of the other musicians, a harpist. The man grinned back and moved up to sit on a stool next to where Rory was standing. They conferred a moment, then took another to compose themselves for the performance.

The song Rory and the harpist did was a cheerful one, a ditty about a sailor who comes home from sea to find himself the father of numerous children, none of whom looked anything like him - or each other! Not at all sad or regretful, the sailor decided he must have somehow fathered the children in his dreams, since they looked like the people of the many ports he had put in. The Hall rang with laughter at the many amusing lines that Rory sang.

He and the harpist conferred one more time, and the next song was solemn and sweet. It was a love song. Rory kept his eyes abstracted, but looking at the Queen at all. Lawrence noted this and glanced at his wife. She had a wistful smile. Just as the King was starting to look unsettled she leaned to him and confided, "There is someone I am hoping Rory is thinking of as he sings."

The King looked surprised. "Who?" he inquired.

Josephine just smiled again and shook her head. "Later, my dearest."

All ears and eyes were on Rory as he sang.

Dancing eyes my true love has, And such a merry laugh. She pierces the hearts of every lad Like an arrow with a golden shaft.

I would she gave me her small hand On which to plant a kiss. And thence to raise her ruby lips To mine. O longed for bliss!

Rory sang two verses in British Celtic now, smiling as if at a private thought. The next stanza he let the harpist play alone.

He finished the song with a sweetness that only he could have mastered.

She is my love but does she know? She's gone and left me here to wonder. Her dancing eyes and merry laugh Are all I have me now to ponder.

He repeated the last stanza with the harp providing a flourish at the end that brought them both, singer and player, loud cheers and stomping of feet. Rory bowed and turned and thanked the harpist, who as well thanked him.

That evening after many in the Hall had gone on to their chambers or for those who slept in the hall to gather around the fire and talk and drink wine, the King came up to Rory and motioned him to stay seated on his stool by the fire. Lawrence looked questioningly at Shannon's stool and Rory nodded and cleared it of its tributes. The King sat.

"My friend," he said, "art thou well?"

Rory smiled. "I thank ye, me lord, I am as well as may be expected."

The King nodded sympathetically. "Thou must go on now, Rory. He would wish that. Thou must do as his message said and make a life for thyself, and find love."

Rory looked up at the King quizzically. He wondered if the man knew what his wife had asked of himself, then nodded, realizing that she must have. "Me lord, I shall listen to all the advice I have been given, ye may count on that.. including your own."

Lawrence clapped the Irishman on the back, smiling warmly. He nodded, stood and went off to his own bedchamber to await the Queen.

Rory lay later wrapped in his cloak and thought about the words of the King. He realized that with Shannon always there and with the odd triangle Rory made with the Queen and the King that he had never really gotten to be friends with the man, not close like the King and Erik. They were rarely alone, the two of them, and had warmth but not a great deal of closeness between them. He resolved to correct the lack.

Then his thoughts turned to Ceridwen and to her smile and her sweet voice. He was just thinking of how he would soon go to see her at her farm when he dozed and fell asleep.

Next: Ceridwen

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About the author

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