Rory stood in the dooryard of his and Ceridwen's small farmhouse. He held a crude rake with its handle in both hands and his hands pressed against his chest, leaning on the tool. His eyes were closed. He was breathing in the farm smells, pungent, aromatic, dry.. all of them. He was listening to the sounds of the birds, the light wind in the tree branches, the sound of Ceridwen moving about and scraping with her trowel in the soil of the small garden not far from where he stood. His heart was singing. He was happy, truly happy. If it weren't for that one painful spot in his soul he knew he would be perfectly happy.
He heard the soft footsteps as Ceri came up to his side and laid a gentle hand on his arm. He opened his eyes and turned a soft sweet smile into hers. Her look was tender.
"What are you dreaming about, my love?" she asked him.
"This. Ye. Everything," he answered quietly.
"I saw a little frown sneak in as I came up to you. Shannon?" Her eyes were full of concern.
Rory nodded his head. "That shall e'er be with me, darlin'. It shall grow smaller and smaller with time. 'Tis hard to dismiss the pain of how he died."
Ceri put her arms around him and held him.
"This life with ye, macushla.. I couldnae have dreamed such joy. Everyday I thank God for ye and our life. Och, I ken that I tell ye this o'er and o'er, but 'tis such a wonder.." He leaned to kiss her lightly on her lips as she gazed up at him.
"I do love you so, Rory," Ceri replied. "'Tis true for me as well.. I had thought to live a peaceful life alone. That you of all men should be here, to love me, and to love my life, is almost too sweet to bear. Oftimes I stop and say to myself, 'Rory! Rory McGuinness loves me!'"
He flashed his sunlit smile into her face. "Och, and that he does, Ceri. That he does."
With another kiss, they separated to go on with their day's work. It was late in the afternoon, the August sun hot on their backs, the aromas sharpening with the heat on the soil.
Rory let himself into the chicken yard and began to rake it. The birds clucked and scattered from his feet and the rake. He dragged the tines across the piles of dung to make a small pile to carry away.
He began to sing. Ceri smiled. If she thought her life was perfect a moment ago, she knew that it was now. Rory in her life was wonderful.. but that voice, that sweetness, and knowing what happiness it expressed. His own contentment meant even more to her than her own.
The song was one she had heard before. She thought she was beginning to understand some of the Irish he spoke. This song seemed to be about a bird. She heard "Tá sé ag canadh." She knew that meant "He is singing." The song went on, with a short lilting chorus. She let the sound waft over her and sink into her skin like the sun's rays themselves.
Of a sudden she thought she heard an echo of his voice.. distorted, as if he was singing when he was tired and his throat was rough. He did not appear to hear anything, but she stood from where she had been stooping to pull tiny weeds from between the beans and put her hands on the small of her back to stretch. And she heard it again.
"Rory?" she called to him.
He stopped singing and looked over at her. "Aye, me love?" But then he heard it too… he frowned, looked around, then glanced back at her questioningly.
It was at this point they both heard the slow, soft hoof beats of a horse.. not loud, just noticeable now that Rory was quiet. They looked in the direction of the road that came up to the dooryard. Around one of the small sheds a horse came into view, unhurried. It's rider was a woman with pale plaited hair and a shy smile. She was dressed oddly. They could both see someone was behind her with his arms around her waist. The singing was coming from there.
Ceri from her angle saw him first. Her mouth fell open. "It cannot be!" she breathed.
The man then leaned from where he sat astride the horse so h e could look around the woman at Rory. He was grinning lopsidedly even while still finishing the song. Then he said, "Rory, me darlin' friend."
Rory stood frozen. He could neither move nor speak.
"Well, now, I should be after thinkin' ye would be more pleased to see me," Shannon O'Neill said laughingly.
It was Ceri's cry, "Shannon!" that brought him around. Rory dropped the rake, then looked anxiously at where it lay to make sure it did not hurt one of the birds. Then he almost tripped over his own long legs to rush to the gate and let himself out of the pen. Ceri likewise was rushing forward.
Rory's eyes were filled with tears as he came to the horse and reached to grasp Shannon's hand. He blurted out a string of words in Irish. Ceri was beside him now, glancing and returning the smile of the woman who sat in front of O'Neill. She noticed first that his left foot was wrapped in cloths and that he had a crutch across the horse's back between himself and the woman. Rory had his right hand in his own two, kneading and stroking it.
To the woman he had ridden in with Shannon said something in a language Ceri did not know but could tell was not Irish. She turned smiling blue eyes to him and nodded. She swung her leg over the horse's neck and slid down, Rory catching her at the last moment to soften her landing in the dooryard. She turned to take Shannon's crutch, which Rory registered consciously for the first time.
"Dinnae just stand there like the great oaf ye are, McGuinness. Help me down off this beast."
The woman reached to help Shannon dismount, but Rory had him under the armpits as he slid down. Something instinctual made Rory support his friend carefully as he helped him get his footing on the ground. When Shannon was steady, Rory did not take his hands away but instead put his arms around Shannon and held him tight. As Shannon wrapped his own arms around Rory Ceri saw the missing fingers on his right hand. It struck her then how bad he looked, how tired, how weak, how damaged.
"Shannon, Shannon, I ne'er thought to see ye again. Saints be praised, how can ye be here. How can this happen?" Rory was sobbing into Shannon's embrace.
Shannon was weeping now too. He seemed to be murmuring comforting words, as if to a sad child.
Ceri put out her hands to take the woman's as the two men held each other. "Well met, good woman. I am Ceridwen. Rory's wife."
The woman took her hands and said with some effort in strangely accented English, "Vell met , Ceridven, I am Falni, the vife of Drivvid.. Shannon," she corrected herself..
Rory's head went up and he turned his tear stained face to Falni and then looked down into the much shorter mans twinkling eyes. "Did she say wife?"
Shannon smiled and nodded. Rory let him go and gazed at Falni in wonder. Then he took her in his arms and hugged her. "Och, Falni, I am that glad to meet ye."
Shannon looked at Ceridwen. "God be with ye, Ceridwen.. and so I am hearin' ye somehow stole this over large fellow from the Queen then?"
Ceri laughed and she and Shannon embraced. Shannon had a warm and tender embrace that spoke of his great affection for his friend and anyone who made that man happy.
It was as the four started towards the table in the dooryard that Rory noticed Shannon's injuries. He was limping on the left foot, using the crutch to aid his balance, and he was missing fingers on his right hand. Falni was solicitous of him as if accustomed to being part of how he moved in the world.
"Shannon, what happened to you?" Rory now asked with deep concern.
The mischievous grin covered Shannon's self consciousness. "Sea serpent," he answered, repeating a jest he had startled the royal children with the day before.
"Och, well that hasnae changed, ye are yet a buffoon," Rory laughed, and Shannon relaxed.
Throughout the meal that Rory and Ceri put together for their guests Rory could not take his eyes away from his friend. He could tell that Shannon was reluctant to go into the details of his disappearance, but instead he asked questions about Rory and Ceri's marriage, frequently translating for Falni in what they knew now was Norse. He himself had a look of wonder at the occurrence.
"Rory, forgive me, but last I saw ye the Queen had your heart in chains," Shannon led.
Rory took Ceri's hand and they smiled at each other. Then he explained, "Why, ye yourself came to me in a dream and told me not to let that delusion rule me.. and then this dream of a woman let me kiss her 'neath the Maypole."
Shannon responded, "Maypole? Bealtana? Ye dinnae grieve long, now did ye?"
Rory shut his eyes. "Aye, I did. Let us not speak of that, please."
Shannon looked stricken. He took Rory's hand. "Och, ma croidhe. It took me long to gain me memories back, but the most painful was the knowin' that I broke your heart." His voice was thick with emotion. Falni moved closer to him and put her arm around his shoulders.
Rory's eyes opened and he tried to smile. "Ye are here now, and that will heal between us." He squeezed Shannon's injured hand. "Sham, your fingers," he began. "Can ye play the lute?"
Shannon cast a grin at Falni who took the cue. She said, "Me Drivvid is the best lute player in the vorld!"
Ceri leapt up and went into the cottage. She came back out with Rory's lute and brought it over to offer to Shannon. The man looked at the instrument with some hesitation, then shrugged and took it. "Shall we find out then?" He started to take the neck in his left hand but shook his head, and reversed the instrument so his two fingers and thumb remaining on his left hand were poised over the sound hole. His right hand tentatively picked out where to press on the strings at the neck. He tried a chord.. and it sounded true. He turned a brilliant smile on the other three people. Falni's face was radiant.
By the time the light had faded in the sky and Ceri had made the two visitors a bed in the barn, what news and tales that could be spoken had been.
Lying in Shannon's arms, Falni asked in Norse, "Drivvid, can you rest now knowing Rory knows you are alive?"
He kissed her hair. "Aye, grand so. It shall take some getting used to, and for others to get used to me again, so changed. But now I feel that I am as whole as I can e'er be."
He looked and saw the anxiety in her face. "Falni, I beg you to believe me. You are my life now. We will be together no matter what else passes. I would follow you to the edge of Midgard."
"Or just to Norway and back?" She reached up to stroke his cheek.
He held her tightly. "Aye, my love, anywhere… and everywhere. " And he started to sing to her of his love.
In the cottage Rory lay on his back in bed in the loft, as Ceri lay on her side bect to him with her head propped on her hand. She murmured. "She saved his life."
Rory put up a hand to stroke her shoulder. "As ye did mine." She leaned and kissed him.
Next: Some stray Rory and Ceri stories
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