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

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shannon and Heather: Lawrence Recalls Meeting the Minstrels

awrence happened to walk past his daughters' chamber and overheard their cascading laughter. He put in his head to see Rory standing in an odd posture, and the twins trying to imitate it. "What have we here, sirrah?" he jested.

Rory straightened and smiled. Elaine bounded over to her father. "Father, Father, Rory was showing us how to pretend to be different animals!"

Caithness was jumping up and down. "Aye, Father, and he was making us laugh and laugh!"

Lawrence grinned, "Aye, I heard that. He must have been making some very funny faces or something."

Caithness' s voice was choked with giggles, "oh he did, he did."

Rory bowed to Lawrence. "Me lord, I know 'tis time for the princesses to settle down to a nap…"

Both the girls chorused, "Noooo! Please Father, let us stay and play with Rory!" Their nursemaid had come in from an adjoining room smiling indulgently. The King said, "Ah good, Mistress Elspeth.. now thou canst be the villain who maketh these poor waifs take their nap…" he gave Rory a significant look and they both beat a hasty retreat and left the nursemaid to calm the girls down.

Lawrence said to the minstrel, "Rory, can thee not come and share a cup of wine with me? We have not talked these many days."

Rory smiled and nodded. "I should like that, me lord."

In Lawrence's privy chamber the two sat to drink the wine that Clancy had brought them. "McGuinness 'tis a mixed pleasure to have thy company, with that third place now vacant." Rory looked at the chair that would have been occupied by Shannon.

"Aye, me lord. 'Twill take a long, long time to become accustomed to that empty chair. Mayhap we can call on one who may fill it and take our minds off the lack?" Rory smiled wistfully.

Lawrence stood, motioning Rory to stay seated as he did. "'Tis a fine plan, and I knowest just the one." He went to the door and spoke to Clancy. The boy came in, hesitating, and reluctantly took the chair the King directed him to.

Rory reached to the boy and put a hand on his shoulder. "Methinks we keep forgettin' how great a loss Shan is to thee, me lad." The King nodded.

Clancy accepted the cup of wine the King offered him, but sat scrunched uncomfortably in Lawrence's presence. "Aye, Rory, and me lord, 'tis hard, but I have me work to do and it keeps me mind off the hurt."

There was a silence between the men and the boy Lawrence sought to fill. "I was just trying to recall how long 'twas that Shannon first came to us here in Christenlande. Was ere we knew either of thee, methinks. Was it when we were still at Ratherwood Castle? Methinks I was not even there when he came with Sean the Scotsman. My lady did tell me of their arrival just weeks before I came home to her."

Rory nodded, "Sure and that is so, me lord. If I recall he had been traveling' with Sean for many a month, and he had just met and wed Heather. And methinks Sean was just wed to Emily also. Yet these two brides agreed to travel all the way to Christenlande." He paused, "No. agreed is not the word with Heather. She was not happy at all at the move."

Clancy tentatively spoke up. "Sire, how did ye come to meet me brother? I mean, sure and he was in your court, but ye became such friends. How did that come about?"

Lawrence took a sip of his wine and smiled, reminiscently. 'Let us see if I canst recall the details. I do recall that the first night ere I was back in Ratherwood I did hear Shannon and Sean both play and sing.. a most agreeable entertainment, at the supper. And aye, Rory, 'tis true. The young brides were there." He seemed to remember something and a slight cast appeared on his brow. In a sardonic voice he remarked, "'Tis strange, this web of people and times, to think that Elerde was there that night as well." He made an effort to dispel that particular memory.

"that night I told my lady the Queen that we needs must convince these minstrels to stay with us. She most enthusiastically agreed, but told me that Sean would not stay.. his pretty wife was with child and wanted to go home to Scotland for its birth.. and they did leave and stay for many years."

Clancy asked, "But me brother Shannon stayed?"

Lawrence nodded, "Aye, and came with us to Lawrencium when we came to occupy this very castle." He looked about the room and smiled warmly.

Rory put in, "But 'twas not long after that Shannon went back to Ireland to bring his young son Seamus back to live with him and with Heather. 'Tis then that he and I fell in company and did not stay long away from each other since." At Lawrence's reminding look, he added, "Save when we were separated in the clan war."

Clancy was relaxing. "Me lord, can ye tell me about your first meetin' with me brother?"

Lawrence appeared to concentrate on old memories. "Aye, let me think. I recall sending for him and Sean to discuss staying with the court permanently as court musicians. Of course Sean disabused me of that hope immediately. I was sore disappointed, as his battle songs were most rousing and well delivered."

"Och, I have ne'er had the pleasure of hearin' those, me lord," Rory interjected. He leaned for the pitcher of wine and refilled the King's, Clancy's and his own cup.

Lawrence thanked him. "Now O'Neill, that was a different matter.. " He chuckled. "I am afraid thy Brehon law and general liberty in Ireland for such as thyself and Shannon.. and thee, Clancy.. made relations between Shannon and me difficult at times." He touched his left cheekbone. "Some times more than other. But even at that time when first ewe met he was saucy at best and downright insolent at worst." The King's smile belied his words.

"Och, 'twas enough to drive Prince Peter mad," Clancy laughed, then looked embarrassed.

"Nay, Clancy, fear not, I knew that Peter found Shannon's familiarity discomfiting." He put his cup on the table, sat back and crossed his legs, one ankle on the opposite knee. "But that was something to do with being young and wishing to be treated as older. For me 'twas different. I had ne'er thought to be King and had just become accustomed to the deference with which I ere was and am treated.. Shannon's … shall we say.. casual demeanor took some getting used to."

Rory observed, "I seem to recall, me lord, that ye dinnae stay annoyed long."

Lawrence grinned, "Nay, 'twas impossible to stay ill at ease with Shannon. Such a lively spirit, his."

After pause Rory said more solemnly, "I think could ye have seen him at war, me lord, 'twould have surprised ye. Ye may not credit it, but Shan was a true son of the O'Neill. He did fight with fierce tenacity for his clan.' Clancy nodded, looking down at his cup.

Lawrence's demeanor had become more serious as well. "Aye, and 'twas a broken man we saw when he returned form war without thee, Rory. He didst believe as did we all, that thou had been executed. And there was little more to him then than a shell into which he poured ale and sought to bury his grief and the sorrow at losing Heather's love in riotous living. 'Twas the beginning of the end for him."

Clancy reached up to hide a tear.

Rory nodded. "Aye, ere I was after arrivin' and findin' your kingdom usurped and hidin' in me disguise to protect the Queen.. 'twas that hard to hide it from the O'Neill. E'en when I could reveal meself, 'twas too much damage had been done." Rory stopped speaking as his voice became uneven.

Lawrence picked up his cup again. "To Shannon O'Neill, one of the finest men who ever lived!" He toasted. The two Irishmen lifted their cups as well in salute to brother and friend.

The King looked at each in turn. '"'Tis my fortune, and that of my lady, that the man graced out lives not only with himself but with thee, Rory and Clancy. I couldst not imagine our lives without thee." He seemed to think for a while, then turned to the boy. "I know I have made thee a servant, thou who has the royal O'Neill blood, and 'tis not fitting thou remaineth such. What wouldst thou have for thyself, Clancy? To follow in thy brother's footsteps? To become a squire and thence a knight? What?"

Clancy was startled. "Do I displease thee, me lord?" he asked.

Lawrence shook his head, "Nay, nay, thou art more than extraordinary a servant, but thou deservest so much more than that." He and Rory looked at Clancy, waiting for his answer.

"I.. I dinnae know, me lord. I shall have to think about it. 'Tis a great decision to make and a great honour ye offer."

Lawrence smiled. "Think on it then, good fellow." He lifted his cup again. "To Clancy O'Neill, a fine fellow on the brink of destiny."

Rory and the King toasted Clancy, whose eyes had already gone vague as he began to think of what he would do.

Next? Not sure. There are at least three story lines I can post next. Two are about what happened after Shannon's departure. I guess you will find out which I chose tomorrow!

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About the author

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