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 9, 2010

Shannon's and Rory's Journey Continues -

If Shannon had been morose and silent earlier in their journey, Rory found him almost too animated and chatty as they neared Connery, the Ayrshire village where Heather lived. Traveling along the coast of Scotland Shannon began to recognize some of Heather’s favorite scenery, happily pointing them out to his friend and telling stories of his and his wife’s sojourns to the location. Rory shook off a headache, just too pleased to see how happy Shannon was.

“Rory, old, son, sure and will she e’en recognize me. I may look as much as 5 years younger with the drink out of me system,” Shannon asked hopefully.

Rory smiled, “Aye, five or even ten. She’ll see ye as ye looked when she first saw ye. And fell for ye, saints be praised.” He did not say anything about Shannon’s misshapen nose from when it was broken.. or the remaining scar visible on his neck from a self inflicted dagger wound. He prayed that Heather would not notice or would kindly overlook them.

Rory had many misgivings about the goal of their journey. Shannon had convinced himself Heather wanted him back. It was hard not to be infected by his excitement, but Rory had told the Queen just a month before that he saw nothing in Heather’s message that indicated her desire for rekindling their old affection for one another. As fragile as Shannon’s recovery from drinking was, any slight disappointment could damage his resolve and worse. And what Rory knew about Heather was that she could disappoint with a vengeance.

Rory did not meet Heather until she and Shannon had been married for a good year or more. Shannon had traveled to Scotland after meeting Sean the Scotsman in his travels in Britain. There he had met the small serious woman who had won him, a feat no woman in four countries had accomplished. Rory had had the misfortune of meeting her after Shannon had taken off to travel back to Tyrone more or less on a whim. He had come back to a resentful wife, unhappy to have been left with people she had never wished to live with, who were to her the ones in fact that had made Shannon bring her away from her beloved home. To add insult to injury, Shannon had shown up back at Ratherwood with a bastard son, two year old Seamus, in tow and expected her to embrace the child as her own.. with no child of her own expected just yet. Shannon earned his wife’s bitter recriminations, but strangely never seemed to believe she really meant them or could stay angry with him. His blindness confounded all who knew them both but the O’Neill steadfastly refused to believe the situation was hopeless.

The little village came into view as the two Irishman crested the very hill that Heather had longingly turned back from to see her home for the last time, or so she had thought, a good many years before. Shannon’s face was radiant, even flushed, as he quickened his pace. “Look, me lad, the path there.. it shall take us to me darlin’s wee cottage.” Rory sped to catch up as Shannon took off at a run down the path.

Rory could hear the crash of waves as they came nearer the cottage. Shannon sprinted ahead and was lost around a hedge before Rory could overtake him. When he did he found his friend standing puzzled in the little dooryard. The kitchen garden was not tilled for spring planting. No chickens scratched in the dust, and no goat was penned in the small bier. No smoke rose from the squat chimney above the thatch that Shannon himself had patched many a year ago. Shannon dashed to the door of the cottage just as Rory came up behind him.

“Heather, me only darlin’, where are ye?” Shannon called into the dark of the cottage. He went in. Rory followed.

As their eyes adjusted from the bright sun to the inner gloom, the two men stood shocked. It was obvious the cottage had been cleared out. Heather was not only not there she had left permanently.

Shannon said in a flat voice, “Sure and she left more here when we left for Christenlande these many a year ago.” He moved about the room, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes almost unfocused. Some of the furnishings were still here. The bed lay where it had been but was naked of any coverings. “This be where me darlin’ and me made love for the first time.” He looked a thousand miles away when he said to Rory, “She was a virgin, ye know.” He continued to pace around the room. “I fixed where the daub and wattle was after crumblin’ here. The hearth stones were loose here.. I made that right as well.”

Rory noticed a sack shoved under a low shelf in the kitchen area. “What be this lot?” he wondered aloud. He went over and picked it up. Shannon took it and pulled it open. He reached in and pulled out various items of clothing, a toy flute, some other items. His face went pale.

“These all be things o’ mine. The flute I made to please her.” He took out a large shell. His voice faltered as he explained, “This was s-something I found when we w-walked upon the shore. It was… a love token…” He looked around at Rory. “She must have forgotten these things when she left.” He wandered to the doorway and stood in it, stroking the wood of the doorframe. “She kissed me for the first time here.”

He wandered out into the dooryard listlessly. Rory followed him.

“Me lad, d’ye not have a friend here, who is a friend o’ Heather’s as well? Mayhap he knows if she just moved into the village or where she hath gone.”

Shannon brightened, “Och, aye, Sean and Emily. D’ye not remember him, Rory? He was the fellow who sang those wonderful battle songs at Ratherwood Castle.”

Rory smiled, “Aye, I remember the man. A good fellow, strong deep voice. I think he was a friend to the King. Now I remember he returned here to become a crofter.” He put his hand on Shannon’s shoulder. “Let’s be after goin’ to see Sean, me lad.”

Sean’s and Emily’s cottage was just as Shannon recalled. Small but well kept, with a warm light coming out into the dusk. There was still a table out in the dooryard. Children’s wooden toys lay about. The smell of soup and baking bread hung on the air. As they approached a man came around the corner of the cottage with an armload of firewood. He stopped to see who it was.

“Sean, be that ye?” Shannon called.

The man stood a moment, then dropped the wood and exclaimed, “O’Neill! Can it really be ye? “ He rushed up and took Shannon by the shoulders, looking into his face. “Aye, ‘tis Shannon, and it looks like ye hae been in more than a few scrapes!” He looked over at Shannon’s companion. “Could this be…Rory McGuinness?!” He called to the cottage, “Emily, lass, come out into the yard. It be Shannon O’Neill and his friend McGuinness.”

A tiny raven haired woman came out of the cottage door wiping flour from her hands with an apron. Several small children of various sizes gathered about her legs to look out past her at the visitors. Emily’s eyes lit up. “Shannon, as I do live and breathe!”

She rushed out, the children remaining shyly by the door. She threw her arms around Shannon, “I am that happy t’see ye, O’Neill. And though I hae ne’er met ye, McGuinness, ‘tis a bonny pleasure to do it now!”

Shannon beamed at the cluster of children in the doorway. “Why, Sean,, ye old rascal.. sure and it looks like ye have been busy these many years.”

Emily twinkled, “And so ye assume these are all his, d’ye?” Sean put his arms around her shoulders.

Shannon laughed and remarked, “Well they are all after lookin’ like the man.” He turned to Sean again. “Sean, me lad, where is Heather?”

Sean stopped smiling and looked at Emily, whose own warm smile had faded a bit. “She’s left, Shannon. She went to Christenlande t’ see ye.. did ye not get her message?”

Sean ushered the men into the cottage where they were seated at a table and given mugs of ale. Shannon waved his away, causing Sean and Emily to exchange looks again. “Sure and I gave it up, me friends. On account o’ the beatin’ ye see I got. And for the reason that if me darlin’ Heather wants me back, she will want a sober man.”

Rory caught a frown on Emily’s face, which only he could see as she turned from the table. His heart skipped a beat and a sense of dread came over him.

Shannon answered Sean’s question, “Aye, I did get a message sayin’ she was comin’ down but then another that said she would be delayed. I thought we should be after findin’ her here or meetin’ her on the road. “

Sean shook his head, “Nay she left when she planned to, but methinks the lassie took another route, as she planned to go by way o’ Northumbria.”

Rory looked up at the Scot. “Northumbria? That be a wee bit out o’ the way, be it not?”

Shannon broke in, “And did she have me children wi’ her?”

Emily smiled and put a gentle hand on his arm. “Of course, aye, Seamus and Deirdre are wi’ her. They are her bairn too, ye know.”

Shannon shook his head, “Och I know, ‘tis a wonderful thing how she took in me bastard son Seamus as if he were her own.”

Rory’s own memory was that Heather had taken some time to warm to the child, but had come to love him as if he was her own, even after little Deirdre had been born. Shannon seemed to be making many changes in his own account and memory of his life with his wife.

“Now why would she be after goin’ to Northumbria?” Shannon was not really asking Sean and Emily this which was a relief to both of them. They let his thoughts go unanswered.

The two old friends reminisced, exchanged news and had a fine meal along with Rory, Emily and the many quiet fascinated children. When Sean took Shannon out to show him some small building he had been doing Rory took Emily aside. “Beg pardon, Emily, but what goes on here? Why is Heather gone? Why is she in Northumbria?”

Emily wrung her hands in her apron and looked miserable. “Och, Rory, I cannae say. I am sworn to keep her confidence. But ‘tis not good news.” She saw Rory’s stricken look. “He truly expects t’see her again and to be reunited?”

Rory nodded. “And he is that fragile now. He hath been in a bad way for a long time, since he believed I was dead and since Heather left him once and for all he has been worse. “

“The drink?” Emily asked.

“Aye, and women. Lots and lots of women. He has given both up in hopes o’ winnin’ Heather back, but methinks this shall not be… and I fear sorely for what it shall do to the darlin’ man.”

“Och, Rory, the man is a merry one… ye dinnae think he can weather this storm?” Emily prompted.

Rory shook his head. “Nay, the merriment be not the real man. The real man is broken hearted, a broken man. He wanted to die just a fortnight and more ago and even tried to do the deed himself.”

Emily crossed herself, “Nay, dinnae say it. Be that the scar on his neck?”

Rory answered, “And the scars on his wrist.”

Emily hung her head, glad that the children were out following their father and the O’Neill about. “God forgive him. The poor man.”

The old friends appeared at the door. Shannon asked brightly, “What poor man?”

Rory answered, “I was just after tellin’ ye’r wife, Sean, about the King and Queen and their separation this past year.”

Shannon laughed, “And were ye speakin’ of Lawrence or o’ the beatin’ I got from him?” He winked.

Sean laughed and slapped his friend on the back. “Sounds like ye hae been none too choosy in who ye pick fights with, me friend. I have to hear that tale.”

Shannon and Rory resolved to set out again in the morning to retrace their steps and then to veer towards towards Northumbria.

In the morning Rory went out into the cool, misty dawn to breathe the clear air of a Scottish morn. He walked to the edge of the dooryard and stood, with his back leaning against the gate post. He was looking out at the distant Irish Sea and thinking of home when he heard a rustling near him. He glanced over to see the flaxen haired girl in the pale blue dress standing looking at him with a mischievous smile and again, one finger in her mouth. She giggled. “Rory,” She said.

Rory moved his leg from where he had crossed it over his other as he leaned back and stood to face her. “Colleen,” he said, mystified. “How came ye here?”

She just stared up at him and said again, “Rory.” She twisted back and forth as if she was dancing.

Rory smiled. “What can I do for ye, wee one? How come ye to me these many a time?”

The girl started to turn, but looked back at the tall man. “Rory,” she repeated. “Help me and I shall help thee.” She turned entirely away and vanished into thin air.

Rory gasped. Just then Emily found him where he stood, gawking at no one. “Have ye seen a ghost, McGuinness?”

Rory looked at her. “I dinnae know, Emily, I dinnae know.”

As they left Connery on the path on which they came Shannon’s step had lost its buoyancy. Rory prayed for guidance, for a way to stave off whatever grief was awaiting his friend at their long journey’s end.

Next: Shannon's and Rory's Journey - Northumbria

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About the author

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