Up and dressed and their fast broken in the morning, Rory resplendent in his new shirt, the two prepared to walk up to the castle.
“Why do we not ride?” Ceri inquired.
“So I can delay every possible moment…” Rory said.
Ceri looked concerned. “Are you having doubts about leaving the Queen’s service? I mean, as a minstrel?”
Rory had smiled at her amused when she had said the first part of her question, then shook his head. “Not at all, macushla. I leave both Queen and service more than happily. I mean, I should like to see her and the King and the others as often as we can, but that other attachment.. that is well and truly over.”
Ceri smiled broadly and tucked her hand in his arm. “Well, let’s get it over and done, then, shall we?”
The guards at the gate of the castle hailed Rory with pleasure. “Ye have not been gone long, lad. Where did you go? Their nibs have been asking.”
Rory introduced them to his wife. They knew her well, but the news came as a complete surprise. The hoots of pleasure could be heard all around the courtyard.
Attracted by the sound and curious as to what the hullabaloo was about, Josephine was standing in the window of the King’s chamber looking out on the warm sunny day. “Lawrence, my dear, hurry here.. take a look at who is coming into the courtyard.”
Lawrence looked up from something he was reading and smiled. He came over to the window and looked down. “Rory, God be praised, and is that..?” He looked at his wife.
She smiled and nodded, “Aye, the woman from Beltane. Ceridwen is her name. The master metalsmith’s niece.”
Lawrence put his arms around her from behind. “The one you made sure was thrown together with him every chance you got..”
Josephine put her hands on his arms where they crossed on her growing belly. “Only the maypole, sweetheart. They managed the rest on their own it seems.. I wonder what they are coming to tell us.”
Resting back against him she watched with him as Rory, his arm around Ceri’s shoulders, walked with her towards the keep.
“Shall we go down and meet them in the Hall?” Lawrence asked.
“Aye, let us do,” Josephine answered.
Rory took Ceri over to the hearth where he and Shannon had sat together and laughed and talked and sung together hundreds of times. Ceri put her hand to her mouth in surprise and not a little sorrow when she saw that the stool Rory said was Shannon’s still had a tiny memorial of flowers on it. “He was much, much loved, even here in the castle,” she observed. “She looked at her husband, “As I am sure are you..”
She had been about to say that he would be much missed here when the King and Queen swept into the Great Hall, a magnificently well matched pair for their good looks and presence. The royal couple were smiling and greeting Rory while Ceri tried to stifle a sudden rush of shyness. She may have lived in the same city with them for years, but she had never had occasion even to speak to either one of them, although her uncle had the King’s ear on a number of matters. She did remember, however, that it had been the Queen who had insisted she be allowed to inherit her husband’s property. She looked into Josephine’s face and smiled as she dipped in a curtsy to the Queen and King.
Josephine was smiling at Rory, but then turned her gaze on Ceri. “Ceridwen, we have never spoken. My lord, this is Cedric the master metalsmith’s niece, Ceridwen.”
Ceri’s eyes were wide as the tall strong and handsome man with the piercing blue eyes smiled and took her hand to kiss it. “I am enchanted to meet you, Mistress Ceridwen,” he said in his arresting voice.
Rory was grinning like a fool at the pleasure of seeing the King and Queen so kind and friendly to his wife. He beamed at her. She looked up at him waiting for him to take any further responsibility for talking to these people from her hands.
She was not disappointed. He said, drawing himself up to his full height, which Ceri noted with satisfaction topped the King by at least an inch, and putting his arm around her shoulders, announced to the King and Queen, “Me lord and lady, sure and I want ye to meet Ceridwen of Brewood Farm,” and pausing turned to smile into her eyes. “Me wife.”
The Queen gasped, her hands going to her mouth. “Married?! What amazing, wonderful news! Ceridwen, my dear, I am so happy for you both!” Ceri was so relieved at the Queen’s reaction that she hugged back.
The King had at first looked surprised, then a smile of some inner satisfaction crossed his face. He smiled broadly at Rory, showing straight white teeth in that smile, and he first clasped Rory with his hand on his forearm, then pulled him to him in a great happy embrace, slapping Rory on the back as he did. “My dear man, that is the happiest news I have heard in a while!”
The King called for wine and directed the couple and his wife to chairs near where they were standing. It was a warm day so they sat a bit away from the hearth with its smaller than usual fire.
The Queen kept smiling so happily at Rory that he and Ceri exchanged some rather abashed looks. Josephine had sat near her and took her hand and held it until the wine came and she was forced to let Ceri have her hand to hold her goblet. Ceri looked at her as candidly as she dared. She had seen Josephine many a time, but this was the first time she was close enough to touch her. She could see what Rory had seen, the fairy princess, the perfect beauty, the very radiance of her. She perfectly understood how the lonely, romantic man had taken this woman as his ideal love. But glancing at Rory’s face now she could also tell that his love now was all her own, and that he loved her in ways never considered with the Queen. She felt almost faint with the revelation.
Rory took a deep breath and said, “My lady, I must ask a boon of ye.”
Josephine looked up smiling. “Of course, dear Rory. Anything.”
Rory looked over at his wife and took her hand. “My lady, Ceridwen and I will be livin’ on her.. on our farm near Healing.. so I must beg your leave to give up me post as court minstrel, if ye will be so kind..”
Ceri caught the look of disappointment that shadowed the Queen’s face for a moment. So did the King. He looked down and had grown more serious. But the Queen recovered immediately. “Rory, of course, I understand. But you will be missed sorely.” She cast smiling lips but sad eyes at Ceri.
Rory’s face was more serious now too. He reached for the Queen’s hand and in a way that let Lawrence and Ceri know he was speaking directly to Josephine, said in a quiet voice, “I shall e’er be your friend, me lady. And Ceri and I will come to town as often as we can.”
Now Lawrence and Ceridwen exchanged looks. They both understood that beyond the fabled attachment between the Queen and her minstrel was an abiding friendship built and strengthened through years of joy and sorrow. It was something apart from whatever other loves and friendships there were within this quartet of hearts. It was something to honor and she and Lawrence smiled and nodded at each other.
Lawrence said, “You will indeed be missed, Rory, but you know you are greatly loved here and always have a home with us, you and your beautiful wife. We shall not stand in the way of your happy life together.” He looked over at Josephine, who was smiling at him. He reached and took her hand and kissed it.
Lawrence went on, “Now my lady has given you your freedom for a wedding present, so I must ask what I can give you?”
Rory grabbed the opportunity. “As a matter of fact, me lord, I did want to be speakin’ to ye about somethin’..” He went on to describe the small home guard he was helping to train in Healing. He asked the King for help obtaining real weapons. “The lads are workin’ so hard with their wee wood swords and all.. ‘twould be grand to give them somethin’ they can really use.”
Lawrence was thoughtful. “You know, I actually had been thinking about just such a plan, to arm men in the smaller towns.. should we need to defend ourselves. Mayhap I will make Healing my first gift of arms.. and some more training help for you, Rory.”
Rory was beside himself with gratitude.
The four spent some time just talking, and Ceri accepted an invitation to feast with them that night. “But no singing this time,” Josephine coached. “We want to celebrate you!”
Ceri and Rory later thanked the King and Queen for asking them to stay at the castle but explained that they were staying at her uncle’s and aunt’s house in the town.
As they were leaving Josephine went to Ceri and embraced her. “Ceridwen, I am truly happy for you.. your marriage is the answer to a prayer of my own. All I have ever wanted for Rory is happiness. I am glad he has at last seen where it lies.”
Ceridwen took the Queen’s hands. “My lady, thank you. That means much to me.”
Josephine smiled. “You know that you have a treasure there, do you not?”
Ceri smiled and nodded. She glanced at Lawrence, who was taking his leave of Rory. “I think we both have treasures. I did not know the King was such a warm hearted man. And he adores you.”
It was Josephine’s turn to smile and nod. “He is, he does, and I love him with all my heart and have since the moment I laid eyes on him so long ago.”
Walking with their arms around each other back to her family’s house, Rory asked, “So then, what did ye think of the two of them?”
Ceri considered, "I think that they are both very very special people. I understand now why you love them and I think I have already begun to love them myself..." And she threw her other arm around his front and squeezed him in happiness.
Next: Meeting Ewan
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