The King walked out of the garden in a fouler humor even than he had been in lately. He had come to see his children who were playing in the garden with Larisa and her baby. At some point Lainie had asked him for the hundredth time when her mommy was coming home. He had a splitting headache - Juliana had had a cold for a couple days and he was celibate for the nonce. He had snapped, instantly felt horrible and apologized, but it was already too late. Lainie was crying, which set off Tavish which set off Donalbain and finally Caitie. Peter had looked daggers at his father and said, "Now look what thou hast done."
The King looked at his oldest son and sighed. "Not thee too, Peter." He shook his head and turned and left the garden.
As he crossed the courtyard he glanced over where Erik, Percy and Rory were standing listening to Shannon sing a song. The O'Neill liked to share his more ribald ones with the stable boys. Shannon was facing the stables in fact. Erik had his "what a fool" look on his face. Percy looked uncomfortable. Rory caught sight of the King and reached to stop Shannon but the man paid no attention. The King caught the latest lyric.
"king crawled down the halls. 'I'd love to come bed thee But ye already have me balls."
Shannon felt a strong fist grab the back of his tabard and fling him to the ground. He managed to hold the lute out so it did not hit the ground. He looked up and saw a red faced Lawrence standing over him. As he scrambled to his feet the man growled, "Thou son of a bitch. Now I shall kill thee."
Shannon held his lute up in front of his face but thought better of it and lowered it, letting it drop softly to the ground, and , let his left eye catch the first powerful blow. He went sprawling again.
Both Percy and Rory sprang forward to separate the men. But Erik called after them, "Leave them to it. They both need this."
Shannon scooted backward on his butt, pushing with his feet. "Are ye no more than ye'r cock, ye big oaf. What did ye expect? We should all act like Lorin and play nice? Ye brought a woman into your wife's home." He got on his feet again.
The King slugged him again, this time in the stomach. "Oh I see. That's what makes thee better than me. At least thou keeps thy wenches out of the house you share with Heather." He landed another blow on Shannon's chin.
"How could ye, Lawrence?" Shannon demanded. "I be no saint, but then Heather be no Queen."
Lawrence laughed. "I shall make sure she hears of that."
The King stopped an attempted blow from the Irishman with his forearm. He slammed him against the stables wall and knocked his breath out. Shannon struggled to get free. By this time the household had heard the ruckus and everyone was outside watching. Lorin came out, bareheaded, with Lady Jocelyn not far behind. Even Juliana came timidly forth, trying to stay out of sight but horrified by what she saw happening by the stables.
Someone said, "The King is killing Shannon!" And then a reply, "About time he did."
The men circled each other. Shannon landed a few blows that either were not even felt or just served to make the King angrier.
"I canst not fathom why I hath let thee live, O'Neill. Thy sheer brass is beyond bearing."
Shannon wiped blood off his chin with the back of one hand. "Well brass or not, at least I be after havin' a pair." A gasp went up from the assemblage.
The King glowered. He reached for a dagger at his belt but he did not have one. He rushed and attacked his red headed opponent, slamming him into the wall again. Shannon got in a lucky blow and the King, astonished, fell back a few steps. "Why thou little nithling.. " He rushed the man again. Shannon, not a fighter but no stranger to tavern brawls, deftly stepped aside and the King went into the wall himself.
Shannon darted for his lute. The King, his pride hurt as much as his body, spun and advanced. Shannon swung the lute and it smashed against the side of the King's face. This time a groan came from the crowd, as they surged forward a little. Rory could see Lorin's stricken expression.
The body of a lute is stoutly made. The sound it made when it hit the King's cheekbone was a sickening thud. The strings vibrated and made a strange chord. The neck of the instrument broke off and Shannon found himself holding a lute's neck with its strings limply trailing down to the rounded body. He stood there, stunned, not sure what had just happened.
Lawrence, who had been sent flying onto the ground, fell sideways and almost onto his stomach. He caught himself with his hands and stayed a moment, his head down, blood pouring from his cheek. He reached up one hand and felt the bone broken underneath. He shook his head to clear it.
Everyone waited, at first to see if the King was dead. Then to see if he was about to murder the Irishman. Juliana had gone white and fell back against a wall, clutching her throat.
Shannon held his broken lute and weakly tried to put the neck back onto the body. He did not see Lawrence struggle to his feet and lunge. Lawrence took Shannon in the midriff and knocked him to the ground. He straddled the O'Neill and made to beat his brains in.
"Thou knowest I can kill thee with impunity?" the King growled.
Shannon stared up at the clenched fists about to knock his lights out for good. He heard Rory's words, "Someday me friend, ye will not come back from the dead." He tried to cross himself but his arms were pinned to his sides by the King's knees.
Shannon was able to croak out, "But Lawrence. Ye took the Queen away. And ye sent the King somewhere else too. We know not this man who does these things."
The King stayed his fists. He stared with utter contempt at the defeated man beneath him. He hissed. "Oh, aye, thou knowest him. I am the same man. Thou all just ne'er could see beyond that lady's sparkling radiance. Thou never knew me at all." He brushed himself off and wearily stood. He turned and strode towards the keep.
Erik fell in step with him. Erik was laughing and grinning. "Well, sire, dost thou feel better?" The King wheeled to face him. Erik put up his hands palms out to deflect a blow. The King stared at him a moment and then said, "Ye know, I do indeed." He laughed and threw an arm around his friends shoulders. They advanced towards the keep.
Lawrence caught sight of Juliana then. She gingerly approached him. She reached a trembling hand towards his bloody wound. The King took her hand. "Lady, I have vanquished an Irish dragon for thee. Does that please thee?" Juliana looked up into his face. He reached and put his palm against the base of her skull and pulled her face to his. He kissed her on the lips, in front of all. Then he and Erik laughed again. Lawrence put his other arm around Juliana and said, "I need a drink."
Larisa had kept the children away until the fight was over. She now approached Lorin. "My lord," she said, unbelieving. " He's smiling!"
Lorin absently nodded.
Rory and Percy had rushed to Shannon. "Saints, man, I thought it were I who'd be after writin' ye'r dirge now."
Shannon shook his head. He had pushed himself up on his elbows. He rubbed his chin with his hand and looked after the King, arm in arm with Erik and Juliana, as they passed into the building. A broad grin spread across his lips. He sat up.
"Rory, me old son. Methinks I have an appointment with a flagon of ale at the Blue Lady."
Shannon pulled himself to his feet, and barely able to move, dragged his own battered frame into the city. A buxom wench cleaned and bandaged his wounds and he got quietly drunk.
Next: Lawrence Does Some Housekeeping
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