Rory and Ceridwen came through the gate to Ewen’s family’s house as the sky was just starting to hint at pink in the west. “So this was your house, darlin’?”
Ceri nodded. “’Twas really much too big for just myself, and Ewen does so much for me that I wanted him to have it for his large family. I do not want to change that now.”
Rory looked at her, “Nay, certainly not. What should we need with such a large place. ‘Tis an improvement for me just not to sleep on the floor in the Great Hall… a considerable improvement, in fact,” he added, with a grin and kissed her. "Och, I just had a thought.. where will we stay when we are in Lawrencium?"
"Don't worry there's always room at my uncle's. They will move people around to give us a room to ourselves, I'm sure of it!"
Ceri commented, “Why, I think, aye, that is Sighard’s horse.. is he here as well?”
At that the door to the two story house opened and a woman stepped out. “Ceridwen, I am so happy for you. This is the fellow then?”
Ceri smiled and nodded, “Aye, Johanna, this is Rory McGuinness… my husband.” Rory at her side smiled happily and inclined his head to Ewen’s goodwife.
Ceri laughed with delight as the two followed the woman through the door. “Is all of Healing here?”
Rory looked and saw a few people he recognized, Ewen himself, and, aye, Sighard, but also Father Angus, the priest’s housekeeper and her daughter. Along with them there were several young people and some small children. The whole throng was beaming happily at Ceri. Rory gave them his grin and a nod of greeting.
The priest, a cup of ale in his hand, came over to Rory immediately and gave him a pat on his shoulder. “Poor lad, feelin’ every bit a stranger I am thinkin’.” He took Rory’s arm and led him over to where Sighard was sitting at a long table in the main room. “Ye have met Sighard, I understand. This is his betrothed, whom I know ye have met.”
Rory caught Ceri’s eye. The betrothed was Father Angus’s housekeeper’s daughter, Anna! “Sure and that dinnae take long,” Rory said, then blushed realizing how impolite it must be to say such a thing. “Och, I am sorry..”
Sighard laughed and put his arm around Anna’s shoulder. “Do not concern yourself. I asked her today and she said me aye today. You did not waste time, why should we?” Rory smiled gratefully and took Anna’s hand and kissed it.
He saw Ceri’s own smile out of the corner of his eye. She came up and took Anna’s hands in her own. “Oh, Anna, I am so happy for you both. “ Anna’s smile was frankly triumphant.
Angus left Sighard to introduce his own children. It appeared that all the small ones were his. He indicated two boys of about six who looked alike. “My twin sons Redwald and Ricbert.”
Anna nodded to the three year old in her arms. “And this is Ealfled, named for her mother.”
Rory put his finger to the toddler’s chin and tickled it a bit. “And just as lovely as your new mother, I am seein’” he said, winning smiles from both woman and girl.
Then Rory clasped forearms with Ewen. He nodded to two young girls and was introduced to fifteen year old Cynewise and thirteen year old Hilda. Both girls candidly gaped at the very tall handsome and smiling man. Both girls were flaxen haired Saxon girls, like most of the children and young people here, although Hilda was rather plain and awkward. Ewen then indicated a tall young man standing with a pretty young woman. “This is my eldest son, Uthred, and his wife Eaba.” Going on to two more boys, and these are my sons Oswin and Wilfrid.”
Oswin, a stout young boy of about seventeen, broached, “I hear you want to buy a horse.” His older brother Wilfrid nodded towards Rory too. He was taller and much thinner, and Rory was to learn later as he became good friends with Wilfrid, extremely quiet.
“Aye, I am that.. d’ye know someone who is sellin’ one?” Rory asked.
Oswin replied, “Mayhap. I shall find out and let you know.”
Ewen broke in, “Now, lads, let our guests sit and take some refreshment. We have all evening to talk about horses.”
Rory went to Ceridwen and took her arm, escorting her to the table where space was being made by Sighard. Johanna gave Ewen a “see that?” look. Eaba smiled. Anna had a look of satisfaction.
Seated, Rory was addressed by Uthred, Ewen’s eldest son. “Sighard told us you agreed to teach some of us how to use weapons of war.”
Rory was taking a drink of the ale Johanna set before him but nodded. “Sure, and I shall do me best.”
Ricbert leaned to his brother. “He sure talks funny.”
To Rory’s relief everyone laughed rather than being made embarrassed by the child’s innocent remark. “Aye, Ricbert. I come from a strange land where we speak a magical language that ruins our tongues and makes us talk funny.”
Ricbert just stared. Redwald asked, “Can you talk magic now?”
Rory smiled, “Och, aye.” Then in a voice he used in his tales for wizards he started to say something in Irish Gaelic. The little children’s and Hilda’s eyes grew great and round.
Father Angus laughed. “If they only knew what ye said,” the priest chuckled.
Ceri turned to her husband. “What DID you say?”
Rory’s eyes sparkled. “I said, “The cat has got into the cream.” This won general laughter.
Over a supper of turnip and mutton stew and a dark rich bread the conversation at the large table ran to many topics. Rory’s military service fascinated the men and boys, even the twins. The horse was mentioned again. Then Eaba asked about life at court and about the King and Queen. Ewen had broken in then to say that Rory was not the man who was hanged in the song, which drew a puzzled look from Angus and Sighard. Hilda sat enraptured by Rory. Ceri smiled and smiled at all the attention her sweetheart was getting.
After what was left of the supper was cleared away Rory as the guest of honor gave his compliments to Johanna and her daughters on the delicious meal.
Going to sit near the hearth on chairs, stools, and on the floor, the company patted their bellies and sighed. Johanna had sent Eaba out of the kitchen saying, “Go sit with your husband and share you news.” Eaba had come and Ceri had noticed how solicitous of her Uthred was being.
“News, Eaba? Can I guess?” Ceri smiled. Rory looked a t her.
Eaba blushed and looked pleased. “Aye,” she said a little shyly.
Before Ceri could say another word, Uthred, all puffed up, announced, “Eaba will have a child after midwinter!”
Ceri, who was sitting on the floor next to Rory, who had his arm around her waist, clapped her hands in delight. Congratulations came from all the guests.
Eaba beamed. Then she said, looking at Ceri, “It shall not be long ere ye have the same news, Ceridwen!”
Ceri smiled but Rory knew the words stung a little. He squeezed her with the arm that was around her waist and looked into her eyes with love.
Eaba had caught the look from Johannna, who was shaking her head. She looked confused and a little embarrassed. Rory hastily suggested, “Let’s have some music!”
Much to Rory’s pleasure the quiet Wilfrid reached into his shirt and brought out a tin whistle. “Och, ye play?” Rory asked with a broad smile.
Wilfrid nodded and put the instrument to his lips. He played a sprightly tune Rory thought he recognized. And he played it well. Rory heaped praise on him afterwards which clearly delighted the young man. Hilda was still gazing at Rory.
Wilfrid in a small quiet voice said, “Will ye?” and handed the instrument to Rory. Rory nodded and received boisterous encouragement from all, not the least of which was his wife.
He thought a moment then shrugged and started to play. The piece had the unmistakable progressions of an Irish reel. It was not long before little Ealfled pulled away from Anna and started dancing as toddlers do, just flapping her arms and bobbing. Ceri saw Rory’s eyes sparkle with delight. He looked at her and gestured with the whistle towards where the little one was dancing. “Me?” Ceri asked and he nodded.
Ceri got up and went to the little girl and leaned to take her hands. She danced with her, soon joined by Uthred and Eaba and Sighard and Anna. Ewen stood and reached for Johanna who was just coming into the room. She laughed and pushed him away saying, "Go on with you," but he leaned and kissed her cheek. She reddened, but she was clearly pleased. She let Ewen take her hands and they danced.
“Well, now then,” Father Angus said, and he and Magda joined the group. All that were left were Ewen’s two other sons and their sisters. Oswin took Cynewise hands, leaving Wilfrid and Hilda. Instead of taking his sister’s hands, Wilfrid leaned and stretched his hand out to Rory for the whistle. Rory caught on immediately and handed it over. Wilfrid took up the tune quickly and ably.
Rory pulled himself up and went to Hilda, who was looking almost panicked. He leaned into a gracious bow. “My lady?” he invited?
Hilda said in almost a whisper, “But.. but.. I cannot dance.”
Rory smiled and told her, “Neither can I. Just ask Ceri.”
Ceri laughed and for Hilda’s sake responded, “’Tis true! He has two left feet.”
Rory stuck out his left foot, then stuck it out again. “See?” Then he took Hilda’s hands and danced with her.
Later as they walked home arm in arm, Ceri remarked, “Hilda is in love with you, Rory.”
Rory smiled. “I am in love with her too.”
Ceri gave him a laughing look. “Oh you are, are you?
Rory said, “Och, but do ye not think that plenty of me there is for ye both?”
Ceri stopped and turned to him. “Nay, I do not,” she said firmly but smilingly. She put her arms around him, then leaned her head against his chest. He encircled her with his own arms. “I want you all to myself, Rory. All to myself.”
He just answered “Mmmmm…”
A few minutes later as they approached the doorstep to their own small cottage, she stopped and asked him, "Rory?"
"Aye, my love?"
"Please don't scare me like that!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, you will think me silly."
"Telling me you are in love with anybody but me..."
Rory had a horrified look on his face. "Och, macushla, me jokin' is clumsy and I have hurt ye.. I am so sorry. I love only ye, have loved only ye, and will love only ye, or may I die if I am lyin'." He cradled the back of her head with his large hand and planted a kiss of infinite tenderness on her lips.
"Nay Rory, " she said, when at length he lifted his lips from hers, " You are not clumsy! You are the dearest man in the world!"
"Darllin'?" he asked.
"Aye, Rory?" she responded.
"Make love to me."
She smiled her answer and he picked her up and carried her across the threshold as he did the first time they had entered the cottage.
Next: Ceri's Gift
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 http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com