Shannon's and Rory's Journey
Shannon had walked for almost the whole day and was feeling the unaccustomed exertion. He was tired, thirsty and in need of a place to sleep. He only needed to find a cluster of cottages to accomplish this mission, as his lute would earn him whatever provisions and accommodations he needed. His steps still heading towards Nottingham and Sheffield, he soon found a crossroads where there was a well and many small huts. Shannon remembered the name, Buckgate.
As soon as Shannon came in sight, a small child cried out, "Mama, look!" He saw the woman at the well and saw her look up and search with her eyes until she saw what the little boy had seen. She shaded her eyes to get a better look, and her first reaction, caution, melted into a grin.
"A minstrel" she shouted. Others in view looked up and still others put their heads out doors to see. While a man at arms might have made everyone pull their children and livestock inside and bar the door, a minstrel brought them all out to welcome him.
One voice in the cluster of welcoming faces called out, "It's Shannon O'Neill!" A couple pretty heads turned to look.
A man, clearly a leader in the village, but not someone the Irishman could put a name to, came up and greeted him. "Well met, me lad! Are ye traveling or are ye just coming to see your old friends here?"
Shannon and the man clasped hands in greeting. "Sure and I be on me way to Scotland to see me wife Heather." The pretty heads in the group now frowned.
As he was accustomed to, Shannon was ushered to the best house in the village, the one belonging to the man who had greeted him, Berthum. He was given the man's chair to sit on and a bowl of rich soup and bread and ale. He ate gratefully and sipped slowly, not wanting to get drunk. He knew if he emptied his cup it would be filled again and again.
The man's family and the others who could crowd into the small cottage peppered Shannon with questions about where he was going, by what route, whether he had children, what news there was of the court in Lawrencium, what he thought of this that and the other thing. He did his best to answer them even when they came at him all at once. He noticed the pretty heads trying to make their way closer to him, and thought to himself, "Aye, now I shall have to defend me honor." He chuckled.
Just then the crowd at the door parted and much to Shannon's surprise, Rory McGuinness his lifelong friend appeared there. "Rory! Sure and I am that glad t'see ye! Did ye leave just as I did?"
Rory smiled and shook his head. I took a different faster route," he explained. The leader and many of the others knew him too, and called out his name and rushed to get him a place to sit and food and ale. Rory and Shannon clapped each other on the back, wide smiles on their faces.
Berthum was beside himself with pleasure, not only one famous musician in his home but two. "Ye will tell a tale and sing a song tonight at our fire, will ye not, good sirs?"
Shannon winked, "By all the saints, of course we will, but can ye let me friend here and me rest a bit first?" He looked up at the loft - he had stayed in this house before.
Much was made of making the minstrels comfortable on the straw in the loft, then they were left alone with the group downstairs whispering and bustling out.
Rory said, "Ye always get whate'er ye want, eh, Shan old darlin'?"
Shannon smiled wryly, "Nay, of late I do not. But I be after hopin' that will all change. So how did ye get here?"
Rory reached into his pouch and brought out the stone. Shannon's face showed first recognition and then reserve. "I used the Lady of the Lake's stone.. and dropped some things in the chateau on me way. If I could have left the stone and still come here, I would have."
Shannon nodded. "It was a fine gift and we had some good times, but methinks I would rather stick to me own time and land. What will ye do with it now?"
Rory considered, "Well, I wonder if that well is deep?"
Shannon grinned, "If not, there are always rivers and lakes. I just as soon see the end of that chapter o' me life… though I will e'er treasure me time singin' with me old ami and playin' with the lovely Jireen."
Rory filled Shannon in on some of the recent events, watching Shannon's face grow sad. "But can we not put that behind us, O'Neill?"
"Aye, that we can, McGuinness. Now let's get some rest."
In the evening the entire village and people from the environs gathered to listen to the minstrels.. it was like hockey night in a rural Manitoba town. Shannon began with a song he had just recently learned, "The Parting Glass":
Of all the money e'er I had, I spent it in good company; And all the harm I've ever done, alas was done to none but me; And all I've done for want of wit, to memory now I can't recall, So fill me to the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all. Of all the comrades e'er I had, they're sorry for my going away, And all the sweethearts e'er I had , they wish me one more day to stay, But since it falls unto my lot that I should go and you should not, I'll gently rise and softly call, goodnight and joy be with you all. If I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile, There is a fair maid in this town who sorely has my heart beguiled. Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips, I own she has my heart in thrall, So fill me to the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all. Soulful looks and sighs came from many young female fans.
Rory stood and told one of the versions of the Lady of the Lake and Merlin, the accurate one he had heard from the lady herself. He and Shannon exchanged smiles.
People in the circle around the minstrels asked for favorites, both stories and songs, and the minstrels fulfilled every wish.
When the last stragglers had finally gone home to their beds, Berthum brought the Irishmen back to his cottage and got them settled on the straw in the loft again. All settled down to sleep.
"Well, me old son, we shall have a few adventures together, aye?" Shannon said when they were alone.
"Aye, it be good to be on the road again. Puts me in mind of the fine time I had with Bo," Rory smiled as he laced his fingers together behind his head as he lay.
"Fine? I seem to recall ye came home in pretty bad shape," Shannon laughed.
Rory laughed too. "Well the time with Bo was fine.. with Elerde, not so much."
They heard motion on the ladder to their loft and two of the pretty heads popped into view. Rory looked at Shannon, "I believe that is me cue to make meself scarce.." he began.
Shannon stopped him, "Nay, me old friend, I be headin' to me wife. Jireen shall be the last to have me, I vow." He turned to the girls and shook his head, "Sorry, colleens, but ye are lookin' at two men who will keep their faith with their ladies."
The pretty heads pouted and disappeared.
"Shan?" Rory began.
"Aye, old son?" Shannon replied.
"Ye really mean that?"
"Aye," said Shannon with resolution. "That I do."
Rory thought about his misgivings but kept his mouth shut. Besides, Shannon was already starting to snore.
Next: Shannon's and Rory's Journey - Part 4 Broken Resolve