Note: If you had previously noticed the stories had become increasingly more accurate for the Saxon era and have been puzzling over the regression in this series of tales, there is an explanation... I actually wrote these and the soon to be posted Juliana series before I started rewriting the stories to create the novel.
The door to the big brightly lit house was always open. He stepped through, threw his cloak on the pile on a chest by the door. He passed through to the main room where the music and the sounds of many voices came from. In front of him was a large table, crammed with men and women and piled high with food and drink. He could see past the table to where two couples were dancing to the sound of Celtic music, while the people around the table and standing watching the dancers and the musicians were smiling, laughing and clapping their hands in time.
A few faces turned in his direction and the cry went up, "Rory McGuinness!" Other voices chorused his name in response. Three men got up from the table and came over to him. They threw arms around his shoulder and led him to where two guests moved aside so he could sit.
"Och," said a man near him, "give the man a tankard. How are ye, McGuinness? We have all missed ye sore these days since we got the news of the O'Neill."
Rory took a tankard that was passed to him and drank long and thirstily of the ale it contained.
The master metalworker whose house this was came from an old British line. His people and his people's people had been living in the area of the mouth of the Welland since long before the Saxons landed and took their lands. Some of the British artisans had managed to retain some of their holdings, and the skill of the men of this family in working with all kinds of precious and other metals had kept them at the forefront even under Saxon rule. The family that produced the Kings of Christenlande and whose current representative on the throne had been good and fair to the original peoples of this area. Lawrence, that King, had married a woman from another kingdom, but it was known that she had Celtic blood in spite of her Saxon fair looks.
This particular house was a meeting place for every kind of Celt that made their way through Lawrencium. Besides the native British Celts, travelers from Brittany, Wales, Cornwall and Scotland could find food and companionship, and of course so did the Irish. An artistic people, the Celtic gatherings at the master metalworker's were famed for their music, storytelling and other arts. Shannon O'Neill had been a favorite here, the best among so very many strong talents. When the news of his drowning had come to this table, the tears and the toasts to his memory had been strong and sincere. "We shall not see his like again," the master metalworker had said.
So it was natural Rory McGuinness would come here to find the good company that could heal him best. He would never be alone so long as this house stood and these people were here to embrace him, literally and figuratively. Now as he downed his ale he looked about at the familiar faces, solicitous of him, but full of laughter and love for the memories they shared of his dear friend.
On one side of him was Dermot, an Irishman who played the Irish pipes. On the other was Angus, a Scotsman who had been rewarded with another chance at an honest life by the King who had called on outlaws to come forth and fight with him against the usurper Roland. Next to Angus was Anchored, a Welsh woman who had come to Christenlande to work in the weaving trade and was famous for her fine wool cloth. The voice of the Breton philosopher who spoke openly of the need to resist the tyranny of the Saxon invaders could be heard across the room. Down the table Rory saw the lass from Tintagel who had attracted Shan's eye and spent some months with him as his lover. Even the Breton knight, Elerde,. Had been known to come by for the relaxation of being with people who shared his cultural outlook on the world and life. Though all Celts they spoke the language of the Saxons, as there were as many languages and more than there were lands of origin. In ancient times all of Europe had been Celtic in people and languages. The languages heard spoken in this house were almost all that were left.
A man down the long side of the huge table was laughing and telling a story about one of Shannon's escapes from the wrath of a cuckolded husband. Everyone, men and women, laughed with him. When his story was over a woman took the lead and told her own story of a time when Shannon had engaged in a drinking contest with a man who bested him easily, and how Shan had just shrugged it off as a chance to get his drink for free. Another fellow told the now famous story of how Shannon had talked one of the castle servants into stealing the King's feather mattress when he had ordered it burned, so Shannon could have it in his rooms over the Blue Lady and could lie in it feeling and smelling the Queen beneath him. Someone jibed, "Methinks old Rory should have had first chance at that one." Rory smiled self deprecatingly.
The company simply did not give Rory a chance to think or be alone. Even when he went outside to relieve himself at least two other men came out too. These friends and even the strangers among them understood Rory and his ways and the need for companionship. They did not become uncomfortable when others grieved publicly, and many of them had been among those outside the church after the funeral mass who had keened their grief for the troubled soul they had all loved.
A hand touched Rory's shoulder and a kind voice was at his ear. "McGuinness, how are ye? I am that glad ye are here among ye'r own people."
Rory looked up. It was the master metalworker's niece, Ceridwen. Her face was kind and sad for his sake. She held a pitcher in her hand and refilled his tankard. He said, "Thank ye, Ceridwen. I am as well as can be expected." She smiled and patted his shoulder. She moved on to the next tankard that needed filling. He watched her, so tall and straight and confident. She had attracted Shan too, but had been more than a match for him. Shan had covered his failure by telling Rory that she was one who cared for no man. That it was true he did not know.
Ceridwen's father had been the master metalworker's older brother, and her mother had been of noble and pure British birth. Both had died when the girl had been just sixteen. She had married a Saxon farmer and moved out to his farm far outside the city farther up the Welland. The husband had died too and Ceridwen had chosen not to remarry. She had petitioned the court for the right to inherit her husband's farm, and since he had no local kinsmen and the fact that no one less than the Queen herself hearing her story had interceded on her behalf meant she had the document with the King's seal to prove her right to live on and farm the land.
Ceridwen was beautiful and many men of the farming village near where she lived and many here in Lawrencium had sought to wed her for herself and her land, but Ceridwen had refused. It was said no man was good enough for the lass. And there was truth in that as well.
She came to her uncle's and aunt's home regularly for the larger market days and to spend time with the musicians and artists who were always to be found there. She was an exquisite needlewoman and her embroidery was sought after far beyond even the shores of Christenlande. The Queen herself had had her work done on some of her most formal gowns. Ceridwen's table at market was always crowded about with women of all ranks and classes, seeking some treasure or just a look.
Ceridwen had noticed the O'Neill's friend, so quiet, especially by contrast, and so sweet tempered. Like everyone else in the Celtic community in Lawrencium, she knew of his devotion to his childhood friend, and Rory of course had the best stories of Shannon. Just now he had been called upon to recount their close call with the outlaws of Sherwood Forest, to the happy cheers and laughter of his audience.
Ceridwen had inquired as discreetly as she could about McGuinness. She admired his height and his easy bearing. She found him more than attractive. Who wouldn't? Red hair, kind blue eyes, a ready smile. And a talent all his own for bringing tales to life, whether noble and heroic adventures or sweet and painful love stories or funny little tales of animals that talked. If Shannon could make a room fall silent with his singing, so could McGuinness with his way with a story.
But when Ceridwen had learned that McGuinness was pledged to of all people the Queen, a sad and unrequited love it was to be assumed, and that he quite seriously kept himself celibate and true to the lady, she had shaken her head, breathed what all women said, "What a waste!" and put him out of her mind.
When Ceridwen had heard at her farm of the suicide of O'Neill her first thought had been for Rory, and she had decided to join the company of poets, singers, outlaws and rebels at her uncle's and aunt's house, to be with others of her own kind in such a terrible time of loss, and to be there for McGuinness whose heart was sure to be breaking.
Now she stood in the corner with the pitcher, now empty, in her hands, her back leaning against the wall. She looked at Rory over the heads of the company. He smiled and laughed with the others, but she saw that when even the briefest lull allowed it, his eyes went vacant. She felt an unaccustomed urge to go to him and wrap her arms around him. The pain was so tangible, so undeniable. It hurt to think of how much he was in anguish. She resolved to find a chance in the few days she would remain in Lawrencium to talk to him.
Next: lawrence Recalls Meeting the Minstrels
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 http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com