Shannon and Ranigg stood at the prow of Sif's Pride and looked out at the land to the west. They could see the passage to the River Humber, a wide estuary, and on the left the bluffs of Christenlande.
"Where is the town?" Ranigg asked in Norse.
"You cannot see the town yet, but do you see the large structure, much like a Roman fort, there, just within the estuary?" Shannon replied in the same language, but not knowing the Norse word for "Roman" he substituted the English word.
Ranigg shaded his eyes with his hand, peered left and right, and then nodded. "Ja, I see it. That is where we are bound?"
Shannon glanced back to the steering board where Falni sat guiding the fishing boat. "If Falni will go there. I am thinking she is trying to postpone our arrival."
"She is afraid," her brother replied.
Shannon could have asked, "Of what?" but he knew she was afraid of several things. She was afraid of losing her illusions about the land she had gotten just close enough to dream about in the past. She was afraid how the people of that land would regard her and her brother and crew. And most of all, she was afraid of losing Drivvid, her name for the Irishman she had fallen in love with.
When he had finally regained all his memory after the Dane, Erik Erikssen, had sailed into Jarlsfjord, the last returning memory, that of his devoted friend Rory had swept over the man like a black cloud. He had recalled how they had parted, with Shannon so bitter, and realized the pain he had caused his faithful companion. Falni in her love and compassion had promised to take him home to see his friend.
What would happen after that, she wondered, as she tacked back and forth, reluctant to make land now that she could see it. Would he forget all about her? Would the wife who had abandoned him make a new claim on his heart? She had his children after all, and Falni knew how strong a bond like that was. Or would he keep her with him and expect her to leave her seaward life? Or as she most fondly wish, would he stay with her, come back to Jarlsfjord to be her mate, in life and on the sea?
If she had asked her dear Drivvid, the Norse word for "driftwood" -- she and Ranigg had fished him from the sea after a dream she had had of reaching for such a bit of flotsam - he could not have told her. The very same questions were in his mind but he did not know what would happen when he was ashore. His own thoughts whirled about whether Rory would even be there, or if he had gone home to Ireland. He worried what those who cared about him here would feel about what he had done to them, running off to kill himself like that. And he worried how they would regard him now, with the damage the cold water of the North Sea had done to his body - missing fingers, part of one foot gone, his breathing difficult and his virility gone. He knew he would be barely recognizable as the spirited, even madcap, minstrel he had been before. He comforted himself with the knowledge that he always had a place with Falni. He at least had that comfort, if she did not.
"How are you, love?" came Drivvid's voice beside Falni. She had been adrift in her mind, looking starboard out to the sea and longing to turn the prow north and back to Norway.
He put his hand on her tanned cheek and smiled. She fought to smile back. "Terrified," she answered candidly.
"I know.. and I wanted to tell you… I will never leave you, Falni. I love you. We will find a way to make our lives together, I promise."
A small sob escaped from the woman's throat. "Oh Drivvid, I have been so afraid this land and your people will draw you away from me. That would break my heart, and I have begged Freya to keep you by me."
Shannon put his arm around her shoulders where she sat with her right arm over the steering board, just a stout oar that extended into the water from starboard of the stern - in fact the word "starboard" comes from the steering board of ships and boats like Sif's Pride.
"What will your people think of me?" she worried.
"They will love you, just as I do. Now let's practice some of those English words I taught you." Shannon stiffly lowered himself with his crutch to sit on the deck next to her with his back to the railing. She smiled at him ruefully but followed his lead practicing simple words and phrases of greeting.
"And do not forget this," Shannon grinned. In English he said, "Shannon O'Neill is the greatest lute player in the world."
"You mean," she replied, and followed in English, "My Drivvid is the greatest lute player in the world."
Ranigg directed the crew in taking down the one triangular sail and putting the oars in place to row towards land. Falni spotted a good place to beach the boat and called for the rowers to speed towards it, then lift their oars in time for the boat to propel itself onto the land. Several crew members with Ranigg leapt off the boat to secure it to a stout tree.
People were gathering, the men and women who lived near the harbor of Lawrencium and those who lived close enough to see the Norse ship coming in. The infamous raids of the Danes were still a decade and more away so that fact and the familiarity with the peaceful Erik the Dane made the people curious rather than wary. This was also a fishing boat with no fearsome animal heads on the prow. What it meant to Christenlandians was trade, not a raid.
An odd murmur came from the gathering crowd as the Irishman accepted Ranigg's and Falni's help to disembark. One man called out, "God in heaven, is that O'Neill?!" Wondering comments made way for astounded cries and several people rushed up to the three as they came up the shore.
"Shannon, Shannon O'Neill!" one man said as he reached him. 'We thought you were dead, drowned in the sea."
At Shannon's side Ranigg was grinning and Falni was pale. Aye, that "I did, Aelfgifu. But so I recovered.. or rather, these good people from Norway recovered me."
"Norway? Is that where you have been? You look terrible," said a woman.
Before he could answer, another woman called out, "Rory is married! He married our Ceridwen! They live on her farm!"
That stopped Shannon where he stood. Falni saw the astounded look on his face and asked what had been said. He answered her in Norse. Then to the woman who had given him the news, he said, "Och, and I see the man was after findin' some distraction so as not to mourn me!" The group of greeters laughed.
Shannon looked up the steep road to the castle balefully but just turned to his companions and said, "I suppose we should get the climb over with."
But before he could even take a step, several of the men in the crowd picked him up and perched him on their shoulders. He laughed, struggled to keep his balance, then called out, "Dinnae leave me wife and her brother behind, me friends!"
The word "wife" made its round of the men and women, then a group of the latter surrounded Falni and took her arms to welcome her.. and Ranigg, ever the affable fellow, just joined in with the procession.
Shannon grinned and pointed up with his crutch. "To the castle then!" He leaned to one of the men.. "So Rory is not at the castle then?"
"Nay, Shannon, he lives in a village west of the town. But his wife is Ceridwen, the master metalsmith's niece, a hood Briton lass, so they come to see her family.. and to themselves at the castle as well."
Shannon smiled to himself. "Ceridwen," he thought, "just as I should have prayed were I after e'er prayin'."
The castle, really a refurbished Roman fort made of timbers and old stones, was high up on a bluff, but some of the crowd's noise reached the sea facing windows in the keep. In his work chamber the chancellor happened to walk by one of the unglazed windows and looked out. By that time the procession was coming up the steep hairpinning road to the top of the bluff, so he could see nothing. He could tell however that the people were exuberant and that they were coming up to the gates, so he put down the parchment he was reading and went to the door. He called to a servant, "What is the news? What is the exultation from the shore?"
The man left to learn what had passed. Lorin stayed in the passageway, then walked around the hall's corner to find the King and Queen standing there. 'What is it?" the King inquired.
"I know not, my lord," Lorin said, "but I have sent a man to find out." In one motion the three headed for the stairway down to the main entry for the keep.
"It certainly sounds like the news is good.. " Josephine observed.
As they proceeded down the stairs, the man the Duke had sent came running in. "My lords and lady, 'tis Shannon O'Neill! He is not dead after all!"
The King blurted, "What? Shannon?" He took his wife's arm more firmly as they rushed down to the entry and out into the courtyard.
Through the gate of the castle they saw a procession that had grown as it came up the hill. Rather than challenging the people, the gatekeepers were cheering.. Shannon had always been a great favorite with the men who guarded entry to the castle. At the front of the procession they saw the familiar form hoisted on shoulders, the mop of red hair, the animated motions.. And the crutch.
Lawrence and Josephine exchanged awestruck glances. Lorin just smiled joyfully. He sent a servant to alert his wife and the royal children.
The procession advanced, some of the soldiers in the castle tensing as it approached the royal couple, but nothing, not even hands a-ready on swords, could have stopped them from bearing their precious cargo forward. The men carrying the Irishman carefully lowered him to the ground. The women in charge of Falni pushed her forward to stand by her husband.
The King stared wordlessly at the man returned from the dead. The Queen however rushed forward to embrace him, while all around Shannon and Falni people dipped their knees and bowed their heads in respect to the royal family in front of them. Falni caught this and as Ranigg joined, standing behind her, she looked to Shannon to guide her. But he was just embracing the Queen and laughing.
"Oh Shannon," the Queen cried. "God be praised! We ne'er thought to see you again." She stood back and said the first thing in her mind, "Rory is married, Shannon! He is married!" Her look was jubilant.
"So I hear, the rascal. To Ceridwen, the master metalsmith's niece, a fair lass indeed. I turn me back for a minute, and he goes and does a thing like that, by all the saints." And you rejoice, my lady? He said in a quiet voice.
Josephine smiled broadly and nodded. "Oh, aye.. I do."
The King found his tongue. "How, where, what happened?"
Shannon bowed his head slightly to Lawrence, "That is a tale I shall enjoy tellin' ye all soon enough. But first, I must ask a question." He leaned towards the King and whispered. "Heather, she truly is no longer me wife?"
Lawrence replied in a regretful voice, "Aye, 'tis true," then saw Shannon's face unaccountably light up with a smile.
He turned to the fair haired Norse woman at his side and took her hand. He presented her to the Queen first, "Me lady, this is me beloved wife Falni Jarlsdottir. " Then in Norse he said to Falni, "This is the Queen."
Falni glanced nervously at him, but when she looked back at Josephine she saw the joy on the Queen's face and smiled gratefully. "Well met, me lady," and she curtsied. Her accent had been a thick mix of Norse and her teacher Shannon's brogue.
Josephine did not hesitate but pulled Falni to her feet and embraced her. "Welcome, dear Falni. Welcome now and forever."
It was the Queen who then introduced the King. "Falni Jarlsdottir, this is my lord Lawrence, King of this land,"
Falni curtsied again, listening to Shannon's unnecessary translation. Lawrence lifted her from her curtsy and leaned to kiss each of her cheeks in turn. "Something tells me we have you to thank for our beloved friend's return, beautiful lady."
Falni smiled and blushed at the translation Shannon offered, beaming.
With this the crowd that had gathered cheered. The King called for food and drink for all, receiving an even greater cheer, and he, his wife and Lorin, now joined by Larisa, turned to lead Shannon, Falni, and at Shannon's invitation Ranigg, into the keep. On the stairs they met Peter, Caithness, Elaine and Tavish, along with a nursemaid who carried Donalbain, the children all smiling joyfully and the twins jumping up and down at the sight of their friend, each of them crying, "Rory's married!"
As they entered the Great Hall to celebrate Josephine leaned to Shannon. "You must go to Rory as soon as you can.. his happiness will be complete to see you.. and to meet Falni. This is a time of great joy!"
Shannon nodded. "And I see there shall be more joy soon, me lady," nodding to her pregnant belly.
She just smiled.
Next: Rory and Shannon
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