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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Shannon's and Rory's Journey - Part 5: Mary of Nottigham

t had been just as Rory feared. Once in Nottingham, as he urged Shannon to come with him to find a hostel where they could spend the night and find some food, Shannon balked.

"Och, Rory,." He whined. "Those places are always so damp and dull.. let us find some better accommodations.

Rory then suggested presenting themselves to the lord of Nottingham Castle and offering to sing for their supper. Shannon complained that he did not feel like singing and acting the clown,.

Rory eyed him without pleasure. "Sure, and I suppose ye want to stay at an inn."

Shannon gave him a level look. "Aye, and what is wrong wi' that idea, me friend?"

"Shan," Rory replied,. "D'ye think 'tis wise? Wi' ye tryin' to cut down the drink? And stayin' true to Heather?"

Shannon shrugged irritably. "I promise ye I will not drink. And ye can fight the bawds off me if ye like."

"Shan, I dinnae believe ye," Rory challenged.

Shannon flared. " Then the Devil take ye, Rory.. Ye think ye are me mither. I can take care o' meself. So are ye comin' wi' me, or are ye goin' to a hostel to tell ye'r sad tale o' the Queen who loves her husband instead of ye, ye poor pathetic ass. Why don't ye just get ye'rself a lass who can take the edge off once in a while. The noble act is after growin' pretty thin, me lad." Shannon sped his pace and walked farther and father ahead of his companion.

Rory had never seen his friend this bad. The man had egged on the King over the mistress the man had brought home. But he had used mostly cutting humor then. Now he was being nasty. The words cut him to the heart, but he knew his friend was deep in pain himself.

Rory tried to keep up with the red haired lutenist, thinking back all the while to when he had first seen that Shannon was no longer his own master when it came to drink and women. The two seemed to go hand in hand, with the notable exception of the man's wife, Heather, who would have nothing to do with him when he was drunk. The earlier period of his friend's marriage had been rocky, but it had been difficult to see why since Shannon was never really drunk and was completely true to his wife. Even when he and Shan had gone to war for the O'Neills in Ireland, Shannon had worked hard to keep himself true to his wife. Or at least that was what Rory knew until they were separated so violently on that terrible day at the O'Donnell's gallows. When he had seen the O'Neill again his lifelong friend had been devastated by the belief that himself, Rory, had been killed.

Back in Lawrencium Shannon looked older, sadder,- when he was not playing the happy Irish drunk , was puffy and red eyed and seemed to always be either in a tavern or some wench's bed.

When Rory had revealed himself Shannon had of course been joyful.. but the drink had got him then, and it was too late. Rory marveled at how easily drink had won him. Too much grief, too much loneliness he supposed. He knew the King and Queen and others among their friends watched Shannon with trepidation. Heather had long since left him, and Shannon had learned that she had been with their second child before he left for Ireland and not told him. But he was not angry, not Shannon. He was recriminating himself for not knowing how to make her happy and further, for hurting her so. He could not see that Heather shared the blame, and would fight with anyone who suggested it, anyone but the King, that is. At least the man had that much sense.

Through all the slipping into degradation Shannon himself refused to see how low and how quickly he was falling. It had only been in the past weeks that he had become aware that he was a target of humor and seen as pathetic and even repulsive. Chances are he would have gone on the same until the drink killed him, had Heather not written to say she wanted to see him. Shannon had immediately clung to a gossamer thread of hope that it meant she wanted to come back to him, and it was that hope and goal that had made him decide to drink less.

Rory followed Shannon into a tavern ominously called The End of the Road. They took a room and arranged for their meal with the little money they carried. Shannon had made it clear he was in no mood to perform in exchange for their keep. Rory just handed the coins to the innkeeper, and followed Shannon up to the dank, dark chamber.

Shannon fidgeted and paced, looking out the tiny window, and then going back to fling himself on the cot he was to sleep on. When Rory said something about dinner being brought to them, Shannon jumped up and growled, "I dinnae want no dinner in this armpit o' a room." He picked up his lute and flung open the door and took the stairs three at a time down to the tavern proper. Rory sighed and followed.

He found Shannon already sitting at along trestle table, telling a young wench to bring him a tankard of ale and some bread and cheese. He gave Rory a defensive look as the latter joined him and asked for the same. "One tankard can't kill me.. so dinnae even start." Rory said nothing.

He was surprised to see that Shannon did sip the ale slowly. He ate the food put before him. He made jokes to the wench about Rory, saying he was his nursemaid. "He may as well be a woman, since he does not seek their beds like other men," Shannon said cruelly. In spite of the hurtful jest, Rory was beginning to think he was being too hard on the man. Maybe he could exercise some self control.

When Shannon excused himself "to take a piss" Rory believed he would come back. Besides Rory's wish to believe the promise his friend had made, he carried the purse. Shannon could not pay for ale with out him. But as the minutes went by it suddenly occurred to Rory that Shannon had taken his lute with him to the alleyway. Rory stood abruptly, startling those around him, dropped a coin on the table and dashed out of the tavern. Shannon was nowhere to be seen.

Rory struggled between anger and a desire just to leave his friend to his own destruction and a fearful need to find him before something disastrous happened. Nottingham was not a city, by any means, but it was a crossroads town and therefore full of taverns and inns. There were even more on the road to the great Sherwood Forest that someday would be the site of many a romantic tale, and many on the other roads that led away. It took Rory almost two hours to find his friend, as he walked as far as he could down one road, then returned to walk the distance on another. When he found Shannon, he was not in a tavern.

Rory found Shannon in the street near a tavern. He was sitting on the ground, his knees pulled up and his head buried in his arms which rested on his knees. He was bloody and weeping. "Shannon, oh me saints, what happened?!" Rory noticed Shannon's lute tossed into a puddle not far away.

Shannon tried to look up but could not speak. Rory crouched by him and put his arms around his shoulders. Shannon shook with his sobbing and occasional coughs and hiccoughs. He managed to explain how he had come to this state in short bursts of wailing. It seemed he had gone from tavern to tavern, playing his lute for the tankards of ale they gave him. He was in the fourth inn. He vaguely gestured to the one they were outside of, when he was invited by a comely lass to follow her outside for some "lovin'" he said. Once in the street he was set on by two men, who, disgusted that he had no money, beat him quite badly and left him in the street, with his lute where it lay now.

Shannon suddenly turned a tear stained and miserable face to Rory. "Rory, I wish they had killed me.. will ye not finish it? I beg ye to kill me. I cannae take no more. I am no good to anyone, not to Heather, not to me children, not to ye, not to anyone. Heather will not have me.. I am less than a piece of shit." His face twisted in agony and he crumpled to the ground and writhed in the mud crying out in pain.

Rory cast his eyes about for help but there was none. He himself was in despair of knowing what to do. Shannon began to choke on his own saliva, and Rory grabbed at him, trying to right him so the spittle would run down his cheeks and not back into his windpipe. The smell of ale, vomit and worse covered the man.

Shannon started to struggle, to try to stand. He got to his feet, with Rory's help, and stumbled a bit. Then he swung a fist at Rory, missing. Rory caught him and kept him from toppling forward. He felt Shannon grasping at his belt and realized as his friend pulled away that he had Rory's dagger unsheathed. He stabbed at his own wrist, then when Rory grabbed for it, stabbed himself in the neck. He missed important veins but was still bleeding heavily. He muttered something about jumping into the river. As he tried to turn to walk away, Rory grabbed him by the collar and with one carefully calculated blow of his fist on the man's jaw, knocked his friend unconscious. He stood holding him upright in a bear hug unable to think what to do.

A voice came to him from the darkness. "Here, lad, bring him here." Rory turned to see a girl of little more than 16. "My house is just over this way. Ye can bring him there and he can sleep it off." Rory did not quibble but just dragged the man along to the girl's door and inside.

The house was barely more than a room with a roof. There was but one bed, but the girl told Rory to put Shannon there. She ran out the door and came back with water and a rag and began to clean the unconscious man up. Rory just stood and watched her, amazed. He saw that she had brought the lute in too and stood it against a wall to dry slowly.

"Why?" he began.

She looked up and smiled. "It was my sister who brought him out to the thugs. I would have helped him myself, but he was so violently distraught. I was relieved when thee came along and seemed t' know him."

She told Rory her name was Mary and that she sometimes worked in the tavern. She was desperately poor. She was not comely.. her face was covered with scars from the pox. But her voice was soft and sweet and her touch and look were as well. She cleaned Shannon's skin that she could reach, then gave the rag to Rory to clean where she should not. Then she went to a fireplace with a small smoky fire and brought Rory a bowl of steaming soup. "I have no bread. I am sorry." Before he could say anything, she asked, "Do ye have any money?"

He pulled his pouch from his belt and offered it to her. She shook her head, but took it and extracted a coin. "I shall return shortly." She left Rory to watch his friend as he slept.

When she returned she was carrying a small packet. He looked questioningly at her. "A root," she said in reply to his unspoken question. "I will make a decoction that will help him fight the hold drink has on him. And I will pray to my namesake, Mother Mary for him. Are ye a praying man?"

Rory stared at her. "I will pray with ye."

Over the next three days Mary gave the sleeping and then groggy Shannon the decoction she had made drop by drop. She had also made a tea of some other root that she made him drink hot, along with cup after cup of water. He was too sick and miserable to speak or resist and let her do it. She and Rory and even Shannon in a distant way prayed. Rory watched this angel of the street and marveled that beauty could shine from such a sad little creature.

As Shannon sat silent and staring into the fire the last night, Mary turned to Rory. "He is not out of the woods yet nor will he e'er be. He must pray to have the strength not to drink again. It will kill him. I have seen it happen. Some people can stand it, others cannot. I think your friend is sick in more than his body. Until he is healed in all ways, he will not be safe. I hope this wife of his is loving and sweet and a woman of God. That will be what he needs."

Rory could not answer with Shannon in hearing. He just nodded and bowed his head.

Mary caught the clue in his lack of an answer. She said as quietly as she could "If his wife is not that woman, ye will have to be that man, the man who can hold his head up out of the waters of despondency." Rory looked into her eyes, eyes radiating the intensity of her love for all. He tried to smile and nodded.

When the two Irishman were ready to leave on the last morning, Shannon still unsteady but anxious to move on, Rory took Mary aside. "I cannae thank ye as fully as ye deserve, Mary. "

She humbly took the coins he offered. "I shall use these to help others like your friend." She stood on tiptoe and kissed Rory on the cheek. He impulsively took her shoulders in his hands.

"Mary.. Me heart is promised to someone.."

Shannon turned with a sour look. "Someone who does not love him back."

Rory shot Shannon a cautioning look. Shannon shrugged and went back to staring down the road. "He is tellin' truth.. she does not love me as I love her.. she loves another and always shall." He hesitated. "I may ne'er see ye again, angel, but if I do.." He leaned and gave her a short, chaste kiss on her lips.

Mary smiled at him. "Rory, ye are a good, good man. God will lead your steps back here if it is to be."

With that and a look of gratitude, Rory took his leave of Mary and began the rest of the long trek to Scotland with his dearest friend.

Next: The Outlaws of Sherwood Forest

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About the author

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