Old drawing from about 1967.
The King and Queen rode side by side along the sandy shore, followed at a discreet distance by a small company of men at arms and servants. The morning had been misty but not cold, and now the sun had started to burn through. The ride on a misty morning had made Lawrence and Josephine feel like they were in a magic fairyland and from time to time as they rode he would lean far over in his saddle to take her hand and kiss it. The pleasant sun broke that airy mood but replaced it with a simple cheerful companionability. Lawrence reveled in the sunlight of his wife’s loving smiles. They turned their horses to head slowly back to the castle. “’Tis been a sweet happy morn, my love,” Josephine said as the gates of the castle that bore her affectionate childhood name came into sight.
Lawrence smiled warmly at her. “Aye, that it has, dearest.” He reached over as far as he could and lay a hand on her forearm and gave it a squeeze.
The Queen smiled back, but then he saw her attention jerked away. He turned quickly to look in the same direction. To both their astonishment, Shannon O’Neill shot out of the shrub obscured path up the hill and by them without so much as a glance in their direction.
“O’Neill!” the King called after him, but the Irishman did not react. Lawrence looked at the Queen. “I did not know that he and McGuinness were back.”
Josephine shook her head. “They were not as of this morning as far as I know.”
Lawrence thought a moment, then reached and took her horse’s reins. “Let us make haste and find Rory,” he said, spurring his horse forward and leading the Queen’s along at the same quickened pace.
They dismounted in the courtyard, Josephine, an able rider, not waiting as she usually did for the King to help her down – which she did to please him and for the feel of his strong hands and arms as he supported her – and they hurried into the keep, the men at arms and servants taking their time now that the pair were safely in the castle. Just inside the keep they found Rory coming out.
“McGuinness!” Lawrence cried.
“Sire, and me lady, I must hurry.. Shannon has run from the keep in a state.. I know not what has happened!” Lawrence had grabbed his arm to stop him. “Me lord, I beg ye, let me go!”
Lawrence released him. Rory shot past the Queen with barely a glance.
Josephine went to her husband and took his arm. “Alas, it must needs be that Shannon hath seen Heather,” she lamented.
The King looked sadly into her face, “Aye, it seemeth so.” She had told him about her conversation with O’Neill’s wife.. former wife. It had saddened them both greatly. They clung to each other at the thought of Shannon’s pain when he returned with Rory from his long no doubt frustrating journey to find her.
“I know not what to do, my darling,” the King said. “’Tis not in kingly power to repair this hurt.”
Josephine nodded. “Not in earthly kings’ power, but there is Another who can.”
“I pray He can bring the poor man peace.,” agreed Lawrence. He put his arms around her and held her while they prayed together silently.
Rory returned sometime later and sought the King and Queen out in their chambers. He was dirty, sweating and clearly had been weeping, tears of panic and frustration. He stood before them wringing his hands and weeping afresh. “I cannae find him, me lord and lady. I have looked all places. No one has seen him leave on the roads. He has not taken a boat. I thought to find him in a tavern, or in some wench’s bed.. beggin’ ye’r pardon, madam.. but he has gone to ground somewhere. I fear for him..”
Josephine had moved closer to her husband and put her hand on his arm when Rory had entered. She looked at Lawrence now. He nodded, and she went to Rory and held him. Lawrence rose from his own seat and put strong arms around them both. The royal pair held Rory together as he wept miserably.
When his tears subsided and he stirred, they loosed him so he could stand straight again. Josephine took the King’s arm. “Oh Rory, why fearest thou so much? ‘Tis a terrible blow, but surely Shannon hath the spirit to overcome his own grief?” She implored Rory to ease her own fears with her eyes.
Rory wiped his tears with a handkerchief Josephine had pulled from her girdle and handed him. He smelled the fragrance and found it comforting. Lawrence called for wine and bade Rory sit, which he did as soon as the King and Queen themselves had taken seats. “’Tis been a terrible time, sire. Shannon hath been a hair’s breadth away from comin’ to grief this whole time we be on the road. E’en when the darlin’ man was still in hope for his Heather, ‘twas but one slight disappointment away from drink and despair he was.” He gave the Queen a weary look. “My lady, I have tried so hard, sure and I have been with him always, to keep his head above water. He has so relied on this vain dream of a second chance with Heather. ‘Tis all that has kept the man alive.”
Lawrence leaned forward and put a hand on Rory’s shoulder. “We received thy messages, about the beating in Nottingham and his shock in Connery.” His voice was soft and gentle with sympathy. “And that he asked thee to kill him and tried so himself.”
Josephine too leaned forward and touched Rory on the knee. “Rory, our dearest friend, Shannon will come out of this. I promise thee,” she said, masking her utter lack of conviction in what she said.
Rory nodded. “I pray ye are right, me lady.”
Josephine nodded. “That is what thou must do, Rory. Thou must pray for him.”
The King looked at her. “Aye, my love, and so shall we.”
Rory confronted Heather in the corridor outside her and her children’s chamber. She was taken aback when her smiling greeting was met with a harsh tone she had rarely heard from her husband’s lifelong friend. “What have ye done, Heather?” he demanded.
She shot a bitter look at him. “What have I done, ye ask? Ye may well ask what Shannon has done. But ye need not since ye know, havin’ been there with him when he did.”
“That be unfair, Heather. Shannon has wronged ye terribly but ye have wronged him too.” Rory’s look was as full of grief as anger.
Heather started to move past him but he took her arm and stopped her. She gave him an angry look. “How dare ye, McGuinness?” she snapped.
He did not release her. “How can ye break his heart so utterly? Have ye no kindness, no memory of the love he has for ye, colleen?”
She wrested her arm away. “Aye, Rory, that I do. Now ‘tis ye bein’ unfair. How am I to live with my wee bairn married to a man like Shannon? I need a husband who can be there and help me. Answer me that.”
Rory glared at her. “Heather, ye knew who Shannon was when ye took him to husband. He was e’er frank wi’ ye. I ne’er did ken why ye did that.”
She turned and walked to look out a narrow slit in the outer wall. Her voice was softer when she replied, “Rory, he swept me off me feet. Me mind and heart were not in unison. I thought.. I thought he would change and stay wi’ me. Especially when I took wee Seamus into me arms. But Shan will e’er be Shan. I couldnae hold him.”
Rory softened but only slightly. “He was true to ye that long time, lass.”
She turned with a sharp look, “Was he then? ‘Tis difficult to warrant that.”
Rory nodded grimly. “Aye, until he returned from Ulster after the clan wars, when he was alone.. then his grief took hold and he sought peace howe’er he could.”
She made no reply.
He continued, “Since the man got ye’r message these weeks past he hath been true again to ye.. and he has given up the drink.. it nearly killed him but he did that.. for ye.”
Heather did not look at him. “Rory, I am free of him. I am remarried.”
Rory took a shocked step back. “Remarried? Then ‘tis true?! How can ye break the sacrament?”
Heather turned resignedly to him and explained how she had convinced the priest who had married them that the wedding had been a sham.
“And ye told Shannon about this? And about ye’r new husband?”
Rory went on, “What o’ his children? We met Seamus in the courtyard. ‘Twas a joy to see the two so happy to be in each other’s company. Shall ye take them wi’ ye too, and break the man’s heart completely?
She turned on him with a defiant glare. “His children, ye say? He had not e’en seen them for years. How can ye call them his children?”
Rory’s reply was low and fierce, “Ye forbade him, Heather. He respected ye’r wishes.”
“For once he did,” she sighed bitterly.
“But Heather, Seamus is not e’en ye’r child.”
“Dinnae ye think I know that more than anyone? But he is now mine more than Shan’s. He left the poor lad with me and I raised and loved him and wiped his tears when he dinnae understand why his Da was nowhere to be found.” Her own voice held the threat of tears.
Rory gave her a desperate look, then just turned and left her standing in the corridor.
For the two days until Heather left again with her husband and children, Rory searched for Shannon. Everyone in the castle and the town was solicitous of his feelings and tried to help. The Queen took him aside and said, “He is just staying away until she leaves, Rory. Thou knowest that?” He nodded but did not look up at her.
Rory visited a copse that he thought Shannon might go to in order to watch his family’s departure, but Shannon was not there. Rory sat with his back to a tree and looked out over the fields, the road, the forest in the north and the castle stalwart and silent to the south. He buried his head in his arms on his knees and wept.
The soft voice of the flaxen haired girl he had seen everywhere along the journey to Scotland and back came from beside him. He looked up at the gentle, “Rory.”
“Och, lass, ye said ye would help me if I helped ye,” he pleaded into her face. “Please tell me, as the saints love thee, what I may do so I may ask ye for that help.”
The girl in the pale blue dress smiled sweetly at him. Then a radiant light started to shine from her face and then from her hands. As Rory watched in wonder, the girl seemed to grow. As she grew the radiance came from all about her, like a halo around her whole body. Rory gasped as the girl transformed into a tall and beautiful woman. He saw her put out her hand and a flame appear in her palm.
“Brigid!” he breathed, recognizing her from all the many tales he himself had shared with listeners over the years.
She glowed from every part of her. “Aye, Rory,” she said in Gaelic. Her hair was no longer flaxen but the color of morning sunlight. The pale blue dress was a morning sky, complete with clouds that drifted through it as he watched. “I be that one ye call Brigid.”
Rory still sat, unable to move. “But the priests..”
She stilled his words with a touch of the hand not holding the flame on his head. “The priests may say what they like. They may call me saint instead of goddess. But I am here with ye in any case. “
Rory finally found the strength to move, but only moved to kneel, not stand. He bowed his head and put his palms together in prayer. “My lady, why came ye to me these many times?”
The radiant goddess leaned to take his praying hands and lifted him to his feet. “Walk with me, Rory, and I will tell ye.” The touch of her hands on his was like cold fire. He felt that he floated up, not stood. He fell in step with her as they strolled the copse. He waited for her to speak.
“Shannon is a special spirit and has my particular interest. He has spent his life both using and denying the gift I gave him at his birth.”
“Music?” Rory inquired, then added, “me lady?”
She smiled, and her words themselves were musical. “Aye. Ye are blessed of me as well, McGuinness. I am the goddess of poetry and music, as I know ye know. I gave the O’Neill a gift beyond mere mortals. But he has squandered it in self destructive ways. I have e’er sought to bring him around again to dedicate himself to me, but he is heedless of it. It touched my heart greatly when ye sought to heal him with his own music, Rory.”
He nodded and continued to walk with her. “Aye, and I thought me inspiration was me own.”
“It was, Rory. It was ye’r own. I may be the goddess of light and poetry, but I am also that of healing,” she replied. “And ye are a paragon of all three, my son.”
He looked up at her in wonder. “Ye need me help, me lady?”
Brigid nodded seriously. “Aye,. There will be trials for ye and others who care for Shannon soon. I need a promise from ye.”
Rory stopped and exclaimed, “Anything at all, me lady, and I will do it!”
She smiled sweetly at him and nodded. “Aye, I know that. I need ye to promise ye will stay constant, stay here in Lawrencium and not leave. ‘Tis important that ye remain here. Will ye do that for me?”
Rory dropped to his knees and took her glowing hand and kissed it. The moment his lips touched her hands he heard the sweetest music he had ever heard. Somewhere in with the harps and flutes he heard a voice.. Shannon’s voice, resonant and full of lyrical joy.
“I shall me lady. I swear on the love I have for the man I will.”
The goddess leaned and kissed him on the head. “Then when ye need some boon of me, I shall come to ye and grant it.”
With her words and the kiss, he found himself suddenly back where he had been sitting in the copse, with his head in his arms. He looked up and put his fingers to his lips. Was it a dream? He could not say.
Rory had found Shannon on this spot just as he had thought he would when Heather set out for Northumbria. The man had been stiff and emotionless, and had not been drunk. That is, until he had turned and spat vitriol on his friend and ordered Rory to leave him the hell alone. Rory had stood rooted on the spot at Shannon’s remarks.
He did not see Shannon when the man came in to ask leave of the King and Queen to return to Ireland and to his family. They had respected his wish not to say anything about the meeting, and neither did Clancy tell Rory of it.
It was not until a servant came and gave him the message Shannon had written him that he knew anything of Shannon’s plans. He had been sitting morosely in the Great Hall, staring into the hearth and trying to clear his mind of his worry and grief. The King and Queen had tried to get him to spend the evening with them but he had thanked them and gone to sit alone.
When he opened and read the message of Shannon’s decision to end his life, something already torn in Rory ripped completely apart. His mind was empty of anything but the pain of loss. He put the letter down and lifted his face to the ceiling and just wailed.
Next: A Futile Search