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, March 7, 2010

Rory and Ceridwen Series: Leaving for Healing

The hanging story in the novel is considerably different from the old stories. Bear that in mind when you read this story, which I wrote before getting to that part in the writing of the novel. You can guess Rory's emotions and Ceridwen's reaction would be quite different.

As they came into the town a young boy dashed by them on his way to some
predawn errand. Rory called to him, "Jack, me lad. Come over here a moment,
if ye please."

The boy's face lit up when he saw Rory and Ceridwen. "Up ere the dawn as
usual, I see, Rory!" he said as he veered off in their direction.

Ceri greeted the boy as well, having known him since he was born.

Rory asked, "Would ye take a message to the castle for me?"

Jack looked from Rory to Ceri and back again, speculatively. "Aye, I will
take a message.. what is it?"

Rory reached into the pouch at his belt and took out a silver penny. He
handed it to Jack who started to protest, then remembered that Rory would
insist and slipped it into his own pouch. "Just tell a servant to tell the
Duke that I shall be away some time.. I dinnae know when I will be back in

Jack looked hard at the two adults. "Is that all? Is there nothing else you
want them to know.. about where you are going and why?" A grin was starting
to spread across his face.

Rory pretended to look stern. "Now, that's enough of that, young man. Ye
have your errand.. and now go and be quick about it!"

Ceri was regarding Rory with a little smile. "Now I know you are a farmer
and not a minstrel. Whoever has heard of a minstrel who was up at dawn
everyday unless he just had not gone to bed yet." She looked questioning,
"But Rory, do you not have anything you need to bring with you from your
things at the castle?"

He smiled back at her. "Nay, not much and nothin' that willnae keep. All I
own is me belt knife and these clothes.. och, and me minstrel garb, which I
shall not need any more. Me tin whistle will wait for me.." He thought a
moment, then asked, "Do ye have a comb I can use?"

She reached and combed her fingers through his hair. "Aye, and you need the
use of it badly. " Then she touched his chin and made a small noise like
"Oof." "I suppose you use your belt knife to shave? You need that too."

He rubbed his own chin, grimacing. "Will ye marry me anyway?" he said
jocularly. She just smiled.

Arm in arm, the two went to the backdoor of Ceri's family's house. "Shall I
come in with ye?" Rory whispered.

Ceri took his hand. "I shall not let you out of my sight, my love. Just be
very quiet." She carefully opened the door into the kitchen.

As she had expected, the scullery maid, a girl of thirteen, was just stoking
up the fire in the hearth and putting water on to cook the morning's
porridge. "Kate," Ceri said, "Good morrow to you. I need you to do me a

The girl, who was still blinking the sleep from her eyes, yawned. "Aye,
Mistress Ceridwen?"

"I am going home to my farm. Will you tell my aunt? I do not want her to
worry about me, being gone suddenly like this."

The girl looked questioningly at Rory who just smiled back. "D'ye want some
ale and some food ere you leave, Mistress?" she asked.

Ceri looked at Rory and replied, "Aye, that would be nice, Kate. And could
you pack some bread and cheese for us.. I mean, me.. for the journey?" She
gave Rory a rueful smile at her own slip of the tongue and he returned it.
"Rory, I think I do have to go into the rest of the house alone .. I do not
want my aunt awaking and finding you in my chamber." She looked reluctant to
leave his sight. She looked warily at Kate, who was now standing mouth
agape. "Oh well," she breathed and leaned to kiss him quickly on the lips.
Kate's face broke into a smile.

Rory watched Ceri as she opened the kitchen door cautiously and slipped out.
He looked over at Kate whose face was beaming now. He smiled back.

Ceri retrieved the things she had brought with her on this visit to
Lawrencium, shoved them in a sack and smiled over at her young cousin who
remained asleep in the other bed.

When she came back through the kitchen door Rory stood from where he had sat
at the small table and went to her. He whispered in her ear, "Och, macushla,
it felt like ye were gone forever." He kissed her above her ear.

Ceri smiled and nodded at Kate. "Do not forget to tell Aunt Gitta I am fine.
I just went home early. Is that all right?" Kate nodded back, her fingers
crossed behind her back, already planning to tell all. The kiss had cinched

In the household mews Ceri swiftly went to the stall her horse was in and
spoke quietly to it in Briton while she stroked its neck. She slowly turned
its head and led it out of the stall. Ceri led her horse into the
stableyard. Rory watched with pleased surprise as Ceri grabbed the horse's
mane and deftly pulled herself up onto its back. Rory cast an admiring look
at her bare legs. "Tanned, I am seein', so ye must ride thus a good deal."
He smiled approvingly up at her. "Like an Irish lass, one with your horse.
Beautiful legs too, but then I have reason to already know that."

She patted the space behind her. "Well, Rory McGuinness, will ye be after
joinin' me then?," she said in an imitation of his brogue. She took the sack
from him and tucked one end in front of her.

He smiled up at her and holding her by the waist carefully, boosted himself
up on the horse's back from a barrrel nearby. He wrapped his arms around her
waist. She pushed her heels into the horse's flank and said, "Get up."

Rory's arms were plenty long enough to reach the latch on the gate, open it
and then close it from his mounted position. Ceri turned the horse's head
west and they set out towards the west road out of the town. A few people
were out now, and all looked up and hailed Rory and Ceridwen as they rode
by, and not a few of them had smiles on their faces. Rory murmured, "Ye
cannae keep a secret in this town." But he was smiling.

Ceri set the horse's pace at a good walk, not wanting their combined weight
to overtax it. Rory held and caressed her as they rode, his face in the side
of her neck, and she occasionally turned her head so they could kiss. "Mmmm,
I like this," Rory murmured.

The clear air of the countryside refreshed them both, in spite of a
sleepless night. The smoke from chimneys and the sour smell of the town grew
farther and farther behind. Rory could not help but sing, his lungs felt so
cleansed. He began with "Lark in the Clear Air".

After several songs and enjoying Ceri's warm response, he asked her, "Have
ye a song ye would like to hear, darlin'?" He quickly added, "And please, if
ye love me, not 'The Ballad of Rory McGuinness!" He grinned.

"Oh, no. Anything but that!"

Then she asked, "Will you tell me about the hanging now?"

Rory chuckled. 'Tis not as harrowin' a tale as Shan's version, but 'tis
still sad. But I will tell ye."

He went on to explain that the tale Shannon told of their efforts to annoy
the O'Donnells was true and that Finnegan O'Donnell had truly taken Rory off
to hang. He himself had not known that hanging was never O'Donnell's
intention. Rory had been taken away from the fort and imprisoned elsewhere.
He had managed finally to escape. What he learned later was that Finnegan
had intended to exchange him for a hostage held by O'Neill. The hanging had
been a ruse to give Shannon and his brother pain. In that, O'Donnell had

Ceri listened to his tale. "Shannon was devastated when he returned, I
remember. We were all devastated, to hear of it. If you had been my husband
then, I would have had my revenge on this Finnegan O'Donnell, if he is a man
like any other!" she asserted with flashing eyes. "I hope you stay a farmer,
Rory McGuinness, and never take up again the sword. But if ever you must go,
I'll not be left behind. I never want to be your widow!"

Rory squeezed her tightly. "I shall not go to war. And I hope war never
comes to us. I shall be ready to fight for us if it does." He went on,
"Methinks this O'Donnell would be a dead man ere long if he set foot in
Lawrencium. I think e'en I should like to see him harmed, and I seem to be
the one least vexed about it all. Spyin' is a bad business. It falls too
often on minstrel's shoulders as we.. I should say, they may travel so
freely without suspicion. I am just happy to be here, alive, with ye."

The midday heat began to tire the horse, so Ceri proposed they stop a while
near a brook so the horse could drink and rest and so they could do
likewise. Rory slipped down, then started to reach for her. She smiled and
slipped down by herself, but let him take her in his arms when she had led
the horse to the brook and tied it to a sapling on the bank. They stood
holding each other in the cool of the shade, just enjoying the peace, the
sound of the breeze, and the feel of each other.

As he did the previous night on the hilltop, Rory found a soft cool spot and
spread his cloak out for them to sit on. Ceri doffed hers, but this time she
used it as a cushion for their backs against the tree he had chosen. Rory
retrieved the packed meal Kate had handed him in Ceri's family's kitchen and
came to sit by her. "Och, we have no ale.."

"Water from the brook will do. It tastes as sweet..." Whereupon she found a
leather pouch among her things and knelt at the bank of the brook to fill

They ate in silence punctuated by smiles and quick kisses. Both enjoyed the
rest and the soft breeze. When they had done eating, Rory held up his arm as
invitation for Ceri to lay her head on his chest. She snuggled in happily,
and he curled that arm about her. With his other hand he stroked her
shoulder and arm.

"This air! One forgets how it feels to be in the countryside. Why ye come
back into Lawrencium at all, I dinnae ken. " Rory looked into her upraised
face. "That glad I am though, macushla." He kissed her.

When Rory opened his eyes a few hours later, he realized he had not even
known he had fallen asleep. There was Ceri in his arms, breathing slowly and
deeply. He tried to determine how much time had gone by with them asleep in
each other's arms, and going by the sun it was no more than three hours. He
was torn between letting her sleep for her own sake and for the chance to
just sit and enjoy the feeling of peaceful togetherness, and waking her so
they could be on their way to be married.

He let her sleep a while longer and was rewarded when her eyelidsfluttered
and and opened on their own. She looked up at him and sighed happily. He
leaned and kissed her. She stretched alongside him, stirring his longing for
her. He gave into the feeling and gathered her up for a long, ardent kiss.

She wrapped herself around him and succumbed to that blissful state of mind
that had led her to encourage his passion the night before. But suddenly she
recalled their mission. She separated herself from his kiss and exclaimed,
"How long have we been sleeping? It's getting late!"

They picked themselves up from their sleeping spot and gathered up the
remnants of their meal. Ceri went to her horse and untied it from the
sapling, stroking its neck all the while and talking quietly to it. Rory
watched her with a feeling no less than bliss.

They were on the road again in no time, this time Rory leading the horse
while Ceri rode. He needed to stretch his long legs and the horse needed the
relief. He entertained her with songs as they steadily made their way.

Eventually they made it to the fork in the path, the smaller of which led to
Brewood. They kept to the main path, knowing that their destination was now
less than a mile away.

Both were tired and anxious to be done with their mission and were therefore
happy to see the first signs that they were approaching Healing. Ceri
pointed out numerous landmarks she was well familiar with: a little bridge,
a mill owned by a woman she knew, an old ruin of a church, a large oddly
shaped stone, a sudden view over a dale.

When they were on the High Street as it would someday come to be called of
the little village of Healing, meaning, as Ceri explained, "Haegel's people"
for the Saxon people that had originally settled there, Rory stopped and
looked to her.

"Do we go to the church?" He asked, glancing over at the most prominent
building in the town, a small country church made of stone but without a
spire of any kind. There was a large stone cross in front of it, and in the
back there was a churchyard with its many wooden crosses.

Ceri replied, "Yes, we can see if Father Angus is about. If we don't find
him ourselves, someone here will know where he is to be found."

Rory nodded. Ceri slipped from the horse, came up to kiss Rory quickly, then
took the lead from him. They walked themselves and the horse up to the
church door. Many villagers looked up from chores and errands and called to
Ceri, looking with undisguised curiosity at the man with her. A couple of
the Celts recognized him and greeted him by name, looking no less curious to
see him here.

Just as they came up to the church Father Angus appeared coming around the
corner from the churchyard. He caught sight of the pair and his face broke
into a broad smile. "Ah, dear children, I wondered how long it woulld be ere
I saw ye at the door of God's house. Ye are here to be married, nay?"

Rory and Ceri looked at each other, surprised but not surprised. Rory looked
back at the priest, "Aye, and that we do, Father."

Next: The Wedding and Home

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About the author

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