Northumbria. Críslicland is on its soutthern border.After a careful detour around the Northumbrian town of Darlington, the scene of Rory’s heroic attempt to free the woman who looked just like Queen Josephine, Shannon and Rory at long last found themselves on Northumbrian roads that would lead them, they hoped, to their goal. Arriving there brought the Irishman almost as far as they had come when they arrived in Connery. The River Humber, the southern border of Northumbria was also the northern border of Christenlande.
Shannon was testy and dark, constantly shaking his head over how they had somehow missed Heather though they had been on roads she could have taken. He hinted on more than one occasion that the time spent in Darlington rescuing the fair Sunshine had been the cause of the misadventure. Rory simply did not respond.
Sean had gone so far as to give his friends the name of a town where they could look for Heather: Newcastle upon Tyne. The tiny village in the shadow of a crumbling Roman fort owed its existence to being at the lowest point in the River Tyne, where the Romans had built a bridge whose timbers still could be seen. The country about it was sheep farming country, and wool would be its chief industry and the reason for its development into a major export point until shipbuilding took over that role in about 600 years.
Coming up from the southwest Shannon and Rory had to be ferried across the Tyne. Shannon took the opportunity to quiz the ferryman about other recent travelers, and he was not disappointed.. at least in the man’s memory.
“Aye,” the ferry man said in his North of England accent, “There was a lass with two little children. She was small and quiet and irritable. The children were a red headed boy and a small.. girl I think. No more than two years old.”
Rory and Shannon had exchanged a look when the man had mentioned that the woman was “irritable”.. it seemed like an odd thing to say even about someone as habitually irritable as Heather.
“Why d’ye say the lass was irritable?” Shannon pursued.
The ferryman scratched his head and replied, “Well, aye, ‘tis just that she said little but when she said anything it was to scold the man she was travelin’ with.”
Rory interjected, “The man she was travelin’ with, ye say?”
“Aye, her husband I thought, with all the shrewish words she had.” The ferryman spit into the river as he pushed the small boat along with his pole.
Shannon grinned. “Cannae be her husband, boyo, for I am that man.”
The ferryman gave Shannon a sympathetic look. “Aye, I see it now… the boy is thine for certain. The same nose, although not broken yet, and the same mop of coppery hair.. but the girl.. well mayhap she is thine. But then I know not who the man I took for a husband was.”
Rory staved off Shannon’s response with a question of his own. “Then not long since the four were after crossin’ into Newcastle?”
The ferryman spat again and nodded. “Aye, they did that.” Shannon’s face broke into a grin. “And then back again, to head for the south.” The grin vanished.
Shannon stammered, “Th-they dinnae come again?”
The ferryman threw a rope to a boy on the north bank of the Tyne to make the ferry fast so the passengers could disembark. “Nay, they have not come again. They were headed, I think, to Christenlande and to Lawrencium.”
Rory took a coin from his pouch. They had already paid for the trip across the river, but this coin was for the information. “I thank ye, good ferryman. Where can we inquire more on the doin’s o’ me friend’s wife?”
The ferryman gratefully accepted the coin. “Ye can find an inn in the village, look see where the roof is tiled, that is it. It is the only inn in the town.. called the Castle and Moon. They will know everything ye want to find out in there.” He waved a farewell as they jumped off and headed up the bank into the town.
Newcastle upon Tyne was barely a town at this time.. more a collection of huts, so finding the Castle and Moon was no challenge. The road and ferry meant that anyone traveling north to or south from Scotland through Northumbria passed here and the village lived on the traveling trade.
The innkeeper was not only well informed about the travelers the Irishman wanted to know about, but was full of so many stories about so many travelers it was hard to see when he had stopped talking about Heather’s party and was on to talking about someone else. This left Shannon and Rory, who decided to stay the night, to try to sort out all the details and try to find the ones relevant to their quest.
As the two sat on their bunks in the room where most travelers stayed, Rory and Shannon attempted to sort out what they had learned. Shannon of course was even more distressed now that they knew they had missed Heather again.
“Sure, and who be this man she and me children are travelin’ with?” he demanded.
Rory tried to keep his voice even as he replied to the question. “I cannae know, me lad. Mayhap she took a friend for protection on the road.. she could hardly travel with two wee ones a woman alone in this day and age.”
Shannon subsided. “Faith, that is true. But did the innkeeper not say she was aimin’ to have a wee farm here in Northumbria? Now why would she do that? And how does this fellow figure in that plan, tell me.”
Rory spread his hands, “I dinnae know if the man even was after talkin’ about Heather at that point. It seemed t’be mixed in with a lot o’ talk o’ the farms about here and who raises sheep and who raises oats and who the hell cares what they raise.”
Shannon frowned, “Well, and ye dinnae have to swear at me, McGuinness.”
Rory just shrugged.
A man reclining on one of the bunks across the room, who had been as far as they could tell sleeping with his hat over his face, reached and removed the hat and looked at the minstrels. “Art thou speaking of the Scotswoman, the one called Heather? The one with two children with her?”
Rory’s and Shannon’s attention shot to the man, and they replied in unison, “Aye!” Rory added, “Did ye see the lass then?”
“Aye, on my way through Newcastle heading north to buy fleeces. That is me cart in the yard piled high with sheepskins. They stopped here, and I spoke with the man while the lass was in their room settling the children to sleep.”
Shannon stared, “In their room, ye say?”
The fleece trader sat up on the bunk. “Aye, I saw them go in together to the room when I came up here later. I am sure they were married.”
Shannon retorted angrily, ‘Now how can that be, me lad, for I am married to the colleen these eight years and more? Those are me own children ye speak of!”
The man shrugged and stood. “Aye, well that may be as it may be but the man called her his wife. Do not blame me, sir, I am just telling thee what was said to me.” He put his hat on his head and left the room.
“Now what did ye do that for?” Rory snapped.
Shannon glared back. “What did I do what for?”
“The man was tryin’ to tell ye what he knows..”
Shannon stood, “He dinnae know shit. Sure and the whole lot of them in this town are mad.”
Rory sat and stared at his friend. “Sure and why d’ye say that? Because they say what ye dinnae want t’hear?”
Shannon grabbed his lute and strung the strap on his shoulder. “McGuinness, I grow that weary of ye’r chidin’. Now how can she be married to the blackguard? She is married to me.. that’s why they call her Heather O’Neill.” His look was challenging.
Rory shrugged again. “I know, Shan, me lad. It makes no sense a-t’all. But..”
“But what?” Shannon interrupted irritably.
Rory sighed. “Shannon, me darlin’ friend, ye may have to face up to it.. the lass may not want ye any more. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, man. Why would she be after takin’ a farm here if she was goin’ back to ye? With or without the man?”
Shannon scowled and stormed out of the room. Rory shook his head. “let him walk it off.. ‘tis no use reasonin’ with the man as he is,” he thought to himself, then lay back on the bunk and tried to nap.
The room was little darker when he felt a small hand shaking his shoulder. He opened his eyes. In the strobing light of the one guttering stub of a candle he saw the flaxen haired girl, still wearing the pale blue dress. She was not giggling this time. She looked serious. “Rory,” she said as she had before. “Rory, go to him. Go now.”
Rory slowly raised himself on his elbows. “But lass, why d’ye come t’me? What help d’ye need?”
The girl urged him. “No time now. Go to him. He needs thee.”
“Will ye come again and talk to me?” Rory asked her.
“Aye, now go.” She pointed to the door. “he’s down there.” And again as in Connery, she vanished.
Rory quickly stood and headed out the door and down the narrow stairs. He looked around the tavern and saw Shannon sitting in a corner by himself with a tankard of ale in front of him. He dashed over to his friend and put his hand over the top of the tankard, “Shan, please, dinnae take a drink.”
Shannon turned a baleful look up at Rory. “Me lad, I have been after just sittin’ here lookin’ into the drink. Go ahead and smell me breath if ye dinnae believe me.” He reached to the tankard and pushed it towards Rory. “Take it away, Rory. I beg ye.”
Rory took the handle of the tankard and carried it over to the hearth, dashing its contents into the flames which hissed when part of the fire was doused.
“Shan, I be that sorry,” Rory said, sitting down across the table from his friend. “I know ye have been hopin’ and hopin’ and findin’ nothin’ but disappointment at every turn.” He had his hand on Shannon’s on the table.
Shannon pulled his hand away. “Nay, ‘tis me own fault. After all I have done to the lass, t’think she would e’er want me back.” His look was vacant. He sat for a while, and then went on. “Rory, darlin’ friend, it was good in the beginnin’, was it not? We fell in love like any other two. She kissed me first. And I made me mistakes but I was true. I really was true to her. D’ye believe me?”
Rory looked constantly into his friend’s eyes. “Aye, I know. I cannae tell ye what went wrong.”
Shannon smiled bitterly. “I went wrong. Somehow. Somethin’ in me e’er disappointed the girl. I told her who I was, a minstrel, a wanderer, a scoundrel and a rake. She took me to husband in spite of it, or so I thought.” He dipped his finger in a puddle of ale and looked at the drop that hung from it when he held his hand over the table. He wiggled his finger and the drop fell. “I surely thought when we settled at Lawrence’s court ‘twould be what she wanted… a home.. to stay in one place and not travel the islands wi’ me.”
Rory interjected, “Shan, she dinnae want a home.. she wanted her home.. the cottage in Connery.”
Shannon shot back, “Well she left it well and truly when it suited her.. to go with .. with this man.”
Rory did not reply.
Shannon narrowed his eyes and then went on. “’Twas at the court she grew ever more short wi’ me. I thought at first ‘twas that she wanted Sean and not me. But when she said she’d take me son Seamus I had hope. When she was cold to him after ye and I came back from Eire, I was surprised, but she warmed to him just as she continued to cool to me.” He sighed deeply. “Ye know the rest. We two went to do our duty by our clans. Then the hangin’. And when I came back to Christenlande she was gone and I was in sore grief. Sure and I barely remember that time. I was drunk for all o’ it, of no use to Lawrence or the Queen when Gaylorde took the throne. ‘Twas not until after and I learned ye were not dead I could get a grip on meself… ‘twas not a strong one though. The drink was stronger. I lost me darlin’ Heather then.. and I cannae blame her. What fool I be to think that could e’er change.” He put his head into his arms on the table’s surface.
Rory put his hand on Shannon’s head and stroked his hair. “Shan, ye cannae be blamin’ ye’rself for all.” At Shannon’s muted protest, he went on, “I shall not deny ye bear the greatest part o’ the blame, but the lass made choices in spite of what she knew about ye. I ne’er could ken why she married ye.. she hated minstrels, she dinnae want to leave her home, and she kept sayin’ all was well, all was well.. Then when ye needed her love the most, she gave it not.. she left ye more than once, me lad, and both times when the love of a good hearted woman would have cured all ye’r ills. I could see that, the King and Queen could see that, all could see that but Heather.”
Shannon turned tear stained eyes up to Rory. “Nay, ye cannae excuse me. I bedded many a wench and drank me fill and then some.. and I ne’er thought o’ her. I ne’er e’en thought o’ her as she lived lonely and sorrowful away from her cottage by the shore.”
Rory reached to wipe away the tears with a thumb. “Shannon, there was love there.. remember it.”
Shannon looked thoughtful. At last he said, “Aye, there was. There is now, wi’ me for her. I remember the times we were alone and there was not a one in the world but we two. ‘Twas a sweet and smilin’ Heather I knew in those times.” He sat up. “I ken not what we shall find in Lawrencium, me lad, but I want to ask her to give me one more chance, God willin’.”
Rory tried to smile. “Unless she’s gone on to London this time.”
Shannon looked at him. Then a small smile touched his lips. “Or mayhap to Dover.”
“Or to Calais?” Rory smiled.
“Or Rome!” Shannon declared in his best orator voice. Then in a quiet voice, “Or to the ends o’ the Earth…”
Rory gave him a sad, fond smile. “To the ends o’ the Earth. And shall I go with ye there to find her, Shannon, me beloved friend.”
Next: Shannon and Heather Finally Meet in Lawrencium