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

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Trial by Battle: A Murder Mystery - Part the Third

Shannon doubled over laughing. "Saints preserve us, if it isn't some sort of steel scarecrow."

Rory stood just outside the smithy dressed in his armor, such as it was. It was old, dented, stained and although the rust was off, in places it looked too corroded to stay together. The helm looked like an upside down bucket. Rory's parti-colored leggings stuck out from under the frayed skirt of chain mail.

Shannon fell to the ground, still doubled over and shrieked with laughter.

Rory's tolerance for his friend's antics was at an all time low. "Shan, I be after askin' ye to remember that ye may be laughin' at me for the last time."

Shannon, with difficulty, stopped laughing. He pulled himself to his feet, and with little sobs of laughter, wiped tears from his own eyes. "Me lad, ye have nothin' to fear.. ye shall scare the man to death."

Rory was not feeling in the least like laughing. He was seriously questioning his decision to do trial by battle for the fair Sunshine. Sure, and she was the spittin' image of the Queen, but she was not Josephine, and he was not Lawrence. Though a soldier once he had spent the past few years wandering the British Isles telling stories and singing with his minstrel friend Shannon O'Neill, who was now only sniffing in the aftermath of his hilarity..

Rory had been somewhat relieved that while he was practicing with the sword the smith had lent him he discovered there were still a few good tricks in his repertoire. He still had the powerful lunge that had saved his life more than once in the clan wars. His stance was still solid, his swing with both arms was still there. He thought to himself, "Aye, and at least I have a wee bit more chance than a snowball in Hell."

He had been appalled by the armor, but had high hopes the smith could work his magic and make it at least presentable. Alas, he had no comfort there. He had not needed Shannon's reaction to know that.

"Aye, well, then let's be getting' on with it." He thought, "I have to die some day.. at least this will be an honorable death." He cheated death once on the gallows… he did not expect to have that chance again.

Thinking of that gallows, reminded him why he was standing in the smithy yard in ridiculous armor. An innocent woman was to be hanged. It was up to him to "prove" her innocence by defeating the sheriff's chosen champion. Shannon had tried to find another way, and although he learned that the likely murderer of the woman Beatrice was that champion himself, Leofu, the one person who no doubt could prove that would not budge. Rory was just going to have to fight.

While his armor was being prepared Rory had an opportunity to visit the prisoner in the gaol one more time. He sat in her cell just gazing at her. She looked puzzled and asked, "Rory, thou looks at me as though thou hast seen me ere this? But more, with a sense of wonder? What does it mean?"

Rory looked at Sunshine and replied as best he could. "Ye remind me of a fair lady who hath my heart in thrall. She is a Queen, and I have served her well these many years."

Sunshine smiled. "But this Queen hath a King?"

Rory nodded, "Aye, a noble King who is me liege lord as well. Her happiness is with the King. Sure and I know that.. Whether she loves me or no, it cannae e'er be, e'en were she not a Queen."

The woman gazed into Rory's face. "Thou art a most noble man thyself, Rory. What sorrow that thou hast no love of thy own."

"Aye, well, that be me fate, I think. To have loved the Queen shall be me testament." He tried to smile.

She stood from her rickety bench and walked to the bars of her cell. "God give thee strength and grace, sir knight."

He started to protest that he was a mere soldier, and not a knight. She stopped him with a gesture. "There may be no more noble knight than thou, Sir Rory."

He had stood when she did, and now she had come to him and planted a soft, chaste kiss on his lips. His face flushed and he drew in a sharp breath. The kiss from Josephine's double was almost more than he could bear.

The woman said, "I shall pray for thee, good sir," and she knelt and began to tick off the beads in her slender rosary. Rory bowed unseen and was let out of the cell by the guard.

Next: Trial by Battle concludes

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About the author

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