Ceri had gone back to the cottage to get some bread, cheese and ale for the three of them as they hoed the turnips in the root crop field. That left Rory alone with Wilfrid, Ewen's second and silent friend. It occured to Rory that now he knew what Shannon had felt when in company with his friend, Rory himself, who next to Shannon was almost mute.
Wilfrid was about eighteen or nineteen, tallish, slender, pale, with a long but not unpleasing face and blue eyes. He always seemed to have something between a half smile and a grimace on his face. When he spoke it was in single words or at most a single phrase.
Rory had wondered since meeting him if Wilfrid would be more forthcoming if he was not constantly in the company of his loquacious younger brother Oswin. But this whole morning as he and Ceridwen worked alongside the young man that theory had been proven false.
The Irishman stood and wiped sweat from his forehead. "Och, I can see ye are more accustomed to this work, Wilfrid. I have lived a soft life as a minstrel."
Wilfrid looked up and made a noise that sounded more or less like "No." He gestured to Rory which made the latter understand that Wilfrid had meant to say Rory had had less of a soft life than he had just intimated. Wilfrid added, "Walk far."
It was possible some people thought Wilfrid was slow somehow, but those who knew him knew it was just shyness and feeling no need to say more than necessary. Rory, an Irishman, had known many a man like Wilfrid back in the old country, and in fact had been rather like that himself. If he had stayed on his uncle's farm the two may have bbeen almost indistinguishable from one another in terms of their demeanor. "Bachelor farmers" is what they were called in Ireland. They often never married and the farms were passed on to younger brothers' children.
Rory nodded in affirmation of the compliment. "Will ye be thinkin' me a sluggard if I ask that we sit a while, then?" he said to the young man.
Wilfrid gestured with a sweeping hand towards the ground and breathed the same "No."
Rory lay his hoe down carefully, and Wilfrid did the same. He followed the former minstrel over to the shade of the stone wall that surrounded the patch of root vegetables, and they sat down with their backs to it. Rory stretched out his long legs and sighed.
Wilfrid said, "Ceri." Rory looked up to see his wife coming back with a basket for their midday meal. He quickly stood and went to take the basket from her.
"Oh, Rory," Ceri said, as she always did when he did things for her she could easily enough do herself. Rory knew there was no chiding in it, and he always answered it with a quick kiss. She smiled.
Rory took the basket over and set it by Wilfrid, then drew Ceri to sit next to himself. Wilfrid opened the basket and brought out a loaf of hearty bread and broke off a piece. "Thanks," he said to Ceri in his soft voice. Then he took out the cheese and with his belt knife cut off a small piece. He nodded to her.
Rory reached for the basket next and took out the pitcher of ale and poured three cups, handing one to Ceri and one to Wilfrid. He took the chunk of bread and section of cheese from Ceri, and the three sat back in the shade and ate happily.
"Och, I am thinkin' I may soon be accustomed to all this work.." Rory said, stretching. He looked sideways at his wife and smiled.
She smiled back and said, "You are already showing it in your muscles." She put an admiring hand on his upper arm.
Wilfrid said, "Oswin," then touched his own upper arm and shook his head.
Ceri responded, "How does he get out of doing the work?"
Rory looked up to see the answer. Wilfrid smiled but said nothing. After a moment, he laughed shortly. Rory thought, "That will have to remain an enigma.."
The three sat on. Rory put his arm around Ceri's shoulders and sighed. Wilfrid smiled over at him.
Then Wilfrid said, "Work," and they all stood and got back to the hoeing.
As they walked with their arms around each other back to their cottage, Rory remarked. "I am after really likin' that Wilfred.. he is such a kind soul."
Ceri smiled and nodded. "He reminds me of you."
Rory was raking out the chicken coop when Sighard walked up with a large cloth sack with some heavy object inside.
"Sighard, neighbor, sure and 'tis good to see ye," Rory greeted hearttily. "Ceri is out in the back with some washin' of the cloth she sews.. d'ye want me to call her then?"
The strongly built Saxon farmer clasped forearms with the Irishman. "Nay, nay, 'tis you I want to see, Rory. I have brought you a wedding gift methinks you shall both enjoy."
Rory's interest was sharply piqued, though he started to say something about no gift being needed. Then he saw what Sighard had brought in the sack and stood and stared unbelieving. It was a fine old lute, clearly well-loved by its owner.
Sighard looked at the instrument he held up in his hand. His look was nostalgic, fond. "This instrument belonged to Ealfled, my late wife. It just sits in the corner and reminds me of happier times. I want you to have it so that its soul need not languish without her dear hands on the strings."
Rory took the instrument from the man with reverence. He cradled it in his arms. "Och, I.. I .. dinnae ken what to say... "
Sighard replied quickly, "Say nothing. Just take it."
Rory looked up with infinite gratitude. "I shall... but if any of your children ere express a wish to have it.."
Sighard just nodded. He put his hand on Rory's shoulder and gave the lute one last longing look. "She would have wanted the thing to sing. You can make it do that." He gave Rory a tearful smile and hurried away.
Rory stood in the dooryard and just stared incredulously at the instrument in his arms. Very gingerly he put his left hand fingers on the strings of the neck and his right over the strings where they crossed the sound hole in the rounded body. He positioned his fingers to make a chord and picked out a few notes. The instrument gave a discordant sound.
Ceri heard the sound as she came from around the back of the cottage. She saw Rory just standing holding a lute in his arms. "Why, that's Ealfled's lute, is it not?"
Rory answered distractedly. "Aye, Sighard did come just now and give it us. As a wedding gift... What a kind and good man he is."
Ceri put her hands on her hips. "He did not need to do that!" she protested.
Rory looked at her. "That be what I said as well. But that the instrument needs to sing he said. I told him if the children.."
"Of course, if they want it someday," Ceri agreed. "But Rory what a wonderful thing. You can play, can you not?"
Rory nodded slowly. "I learned long ago. From Master Ishaq. A master of the lute ne'er I was. But 'twill be a way I can carry on for me darrlin' Shannon..."
Ceri watched and listened as Rory tuned the instrument. It took him some time, but she reveled in the rapt expression on his face. When he finally seemed satisfied he paused, then piced out a tune. It came out sweet and melodious. "'Tis in good condition," Rory marveled.
Ceri nodded. "Ealfled worshipped the instrument.. and she was a fine player. Methinks losing the hearing of her playing was as hard on Sighard as losing Shannon was on you." She put her hand on Rory's arm.
He looked at her and smiled narrowly. "Methinks much more."
Ceri asked, "Play a few things, Rory, would you?"
They sat on the bench alongside the table with their backs to it. Ceri sat close to Rory on his left so his hand would have freedom on the neck of the instrument. He started to play a quiet tune, then grew more confident as he found he could still play, if only simple pieces. Ceri swayed with sweet songs, and smiled happily at more spirited ones. Rory added his voice to some of the songs, including Lark in the Clear Air. Ceri looked enraptured. Rory's lips held a small sweet curl on each end.
After their supper that night, Ceri found Rory missing from the dooryard. She looked in the loft, then outside around the cottage, calling his name. She finally brought a lamp into the shed where Gringolets was stabled. She came around the corner of the stall to see Rory sitting on the floor there, his knees drawn up and his back to the wall. He held the lute in his arms, but his hands were loose on it. His head was back and his eyes closed. Bedwyr was curled against him on the straw.
Ceridwen looked at him tenderly and then crept quietly near and curled up next to him.
He opened his eyes in surprise and looked down at her. She saw that the glint of the lamp's light shone on streaks of tears on his cheek. He looked apologetic and hung his head. "Och, macushla, I dinnae want ye to see me like this."
She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Tis the lute has made you think of Shannon.." Her eyes were full of care for his mourning.
Ceri felt his nod against the top of her head. "Aye. It may take a long while to accept that he is gone. Sure and I think I have come to peace with it, then happens a thing like getting this lute..."
Ceri said quietly, "Rory, do you remember, on our hilltop, you said to me that you never wanted me to hide tears from you?"
He nodded again. "och, I know. But t'other day ye said I was such a happy man.. I dinnae wish to disappoint ye with seein' me sad."
Ceri sat up and looked hard at him. "Rory, I love you, I want to share everything about you. That includes tears. You are a rich tapestry of things, of feelings, of talents, of surprises and comforts. I want to experience all of it."
He looked up at her. His lip quivered. He nodded sadly.
Ceri's eyes were soft and concerned. "Rory, you told me some time ago when you and I spoke at my family's house.. before Beltane.. you said you grieved that you should never hear Shannon's voice again. Do you rememver?"
Rory looked at her sadly. "Aye."
"Do something for me now?" Ceri entreated. He nodded, and she went on.
"Close your eyes for me." He did this without hesitation, then as she asked him to relax, he tipped his head back again and tried to release the tension in his arms. Ceri rubbed them and his shoulders and he at length seemed to calm. Bedwyr looked up at him for a moment, then settled back to sleep, purring.
"Rory, where was your favorite place to listen to Shannon sing?"
He thought for a moment. "I think when we were on our travels, in the woods, as we sat and took rest."
Ceri's voice was sweet and mellow. "Imagine you are there, with Shannon. What do you see? And what do you hear?"
Rory's concentration was clear on his face. "I see trees and flowers. There are light clouds. Also a light breeze in the treetops. I can hear birds singing and insects buzzing. And I see Shannon with that bright smile of his, dressed in his colorful coat. He has his lute in his hands, his back to a tree."
Ceri sat back again and watched his face from beside him. "And is he singing?"
Rory's face was focused. She could see emotions playing on it. His forehead suddenly cleared and he smiled. "Aye, Ceri, he is! He is singin' in Gaelic, a sweet song .. only he could make it even sweeter. Och. macroidhe... listen to that, 'tis like heaven."
Ceri smiled to herself. "You see, Rory, Shannon is still here with you. Whenever you need him. Just call him and he will come and sing to you."
Rory's eyes were still closed. He nodded almost imperceptibly. His lips were still curved in a smile. "But, nay, there is one thing missin'.." he said.
Ceri looked at him, "Aye, adn what is that?"
Rory pulled his arm up and around her shoulders, pressing her head against him. "Ye are missin', Ceri."
Ceri smiled and sank into him. "Well then, put me there."
Rory sighed. "Och, there ye are, lass, all smilin' and with your hair in braids as it is now. And Shan just winked at ye and ye smiled. Then.." adn as he continued, he did just as he described. "Then I leaned and kissed you and Shannon's smile spread a mile wide." He opened his eyes and leaned to kiss her. "My Christ, Ceri, ye are a treasure. Who else could have brought Shan back to me? I love ye dearly, but I ken not how it is I can continue to feel me love grow every day and every knight."
Ceri's eyes welled with tears of happiness. "I know not, Rory, for I too wonder at that, at how one day I was alone, then the next here you were.. and my life is full and my heart joyous."
They sat there, on the stable floor on the straw. Guenevar strolled in looking for them and came over. Unperplexed by the unaccountable behavior of himans, she put a paw on Rory's knee. He set the lute aside and she curled up on his lap.
Ceri's heart sang when he said softly, "Why, our whole family is in here together." Gringolets blew out some breath sounding contented.
Next: I have no idea at this point...
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