By Barbara Witbrecht
The voice came from far away, but was painfully loud. Shannon opened
one eye, then closed again it as a huge face floated into focus.
"Guess not," said the Voice, not unsympathetically. "I brought you
some hot water with dead leaves in it. The bar wench called them
healing herbs. My guess is they're hedge clippings. You folks had
really better hurry up and discover coffee before someone gets
Shannon opened one eye, then the other. Somehow, it didn't hurt as
much this time. The tanned giant was sitting cross-legged on the
floor beside his bed, holding out a steaming wooden bowl. The smell
made him sneeze. "Cain't ye just get me a beer?" Shannon asked
"You can get drunk again when I'm gone. Right now, we need to talk."
"Want to sleep. Isn't it time for bed?"
"It's tomorrow morning. The bar wench spent the night at her
sister's. I took the liberty of paying her from your purse. You ran
up quite a tab yesterday and last night. Supporting the local
brewers, are we?"
"Ye helped, as I recall." Shannon rubbed his head and wondered how
much money was left to him. Curse him for a fool for offering to
pick up the tab instead of sharing.
"Try the tea," said Bo. "It's not bad, once you get past the gag
Shannon sipped at the tea. Bo talked, ostensibly to Shannon but
really to organize his own thoughts.
"So. Where does a woman go in this culture when her husband betrays
her? To her lover? Perhaps, but I'm not necessarily buying it.
Women with lovers of their own don't usually get pissed off enough to
run away without their children. They hunker down and fight." Bo
mused silently for a moment, his eyes unfocused. He rubbed his chin,
fingers rasping on a day's dark beard stubble. "Where else? In my
time, a woman betrayed usually runs home to mother. Does our Queen
have a mother living?"
Shannon shook his head sadly. "Murdered, alas. Both her parents..."
Bo sighed. "No mother, then. Perhaps a beloved aunt? A childhood
friend? Or maybe we have to revisit the lover hypothesis. Or it may
be someone who's assumed to be a lover, another royal or nobleman,
who could offer her protection. Protection's what she needs right
now. She may be willing to risk scandal to get it."
"They SAID she went to France to be with her lover, Lord Elerde.
That's what they said, the spaleens."
"Palace gossips. Idlers. Just about everyone in the street."
"But you don't believe it."
"Sure and I don't. And Erik said she hadn't. He would have heard."
"Erik is... who, exactly?"
"Viking captain, sailed into harbor a few days back. All the boats
in the Channel know him. They would have told him if a great lady
were traveling, alone or with companions."
"I see," said Bo. "I wouldn't mind having a chat with this Erik
"He sailed off again this morning. Likely halfway to Lundenwic by
"Oh well. Still, it's an interesting piece of information. Thanks,
Bo broke a hunch of coarse bread in two and handed half to
Shannon. "Feeling up to eating? Great. Sorry there's no butter.
We need to plan... or I need to plan... how I'm going to move around
this country of yours without being noticed. At least no more than
any six-foot man in a country of midgets would be noticed. So,
Shannon the Red. What sort of people travel the highroads here
without exciting suspicion?"
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