The guards at the other end of the bridge over the moat were no problem. They all knew Shannon from countless stumblings in at all hours. When Osric saw him trying to be invisible he called out, "Shan, me boy, what the hell are you doing? Come over here."
Shannon did a sort of vaudeville tiptoe over to Osric with his finger across his lips. "Shhh, man. I am not after wantin' the King to finish me off here and now. But I need to see Rory." He looked around. "The King here, me old friend?"
Osric laughed and clapped the man on the back, sending the poor fellow into paroxysms of coughing and groaning. "Oh, sorry me man. I forgot thee took quite a beating a couple days ago."
Shannon replied, "Me liver has been takin' a beatin' ever since."
The guard smiled sympathetically. "Shannon, I do not think that thou hast much to worry thee. The King has been in the best humor these past two days than anyone hast seen him in a while. He may just kiss thee for it."
Shannon looked doubtful. "Sure, and I be not sure being kissed by this King is somethin' to strive for. And the very sight o' me might change the weather a bit, if ye know what I mean. Can ye let me in the secret way I used t' take when me darlin' Heather is on the battle trail?"
Osric nodded his agreement with all three conclusions, and looking around let Shannon into a sort of "night entrance" to the very same secret passageway that Bo had used to leave the keep.
Shannon wound his way along the strange dark passage until it reached its closest part to the keep's innermost rooms. He saw something quite odd when he passed into one of the main hallways. Servants were carrying a large floppy feather mattress and the boards he recognized as the parts of the King's own bed. He whispered to one of the servants, "Saints preserve us. What be this madness? Did the King die after all?"
The man, one of the characteristically small and dark Celts of pre- Saxon times did not hesitate to talk to Shannon. All the Celts in the castle had their own little secret brotherhood. They shook their collective heads over the Saxons they served, noble or common, and never took a Sassenach's part over a Celt's. "Why ask me, sir? Ye think the King tells me what he is doing and why? He says, 'Take my bed away.' We take his goddamned bed away."
Shannon shrugged. "Faith, that is his bed, then? What I wouldn't do to have that mattress." He went over and ran his hand over one side of the top. "The Queen's sweet little bottom has spent some little time right about here." His one eye that was not swollen shut looked dreamy and he sighed.
The servant grimaced. "Nay, that's the bottom. Ye can see where she sleeps.. ah, slept... under here." He pointed to a slightly stained spot.. probably old menstrual blood. Shannon returned the grimace.
"That's a bit more personal a piece o' knowledge than I really was after wantin' to have. Still.." He thought a moment. "Hey, me brother, I be after takin' rooms in the town. Can ye keep this mattress for me and I'll pay ye handsomely for it?"
The man shrugged. "Ye might be smart to lay low for a bit. His nibs is in a better mood but ye never know when that wind will change." He scratched his chin. The man holding the other end had just stood patiently listening. He was also a Celt. If the Sassenachs only knew the underpinnings of their society was built on men like these... "Aye, I can do that. We are suppose to burn it but I been tryin' to decide what to do with an old hay ticking of me late mother's. I'll burn that instead. I'll take this one to me hut."
The other servant hissed, "Hey ye better cut me in on this."
Shannon waved his hand. "Never moind, me boy. There's somethin' in this for ye too."
The first man chuckled. "Aye. Old Rory the Red will pay. I wonder if he will let thee keep the mattress though. Methinks he will want it more than even thee."
Shannon laughed, "I'll tell the old son he has first dibs on the queen's own mattress. Her children were born there." Then he stopped and crossed himself. "I be after hopin' that lady will want it herself someday." He looked around. "Rory around somewhere?"
The servants both pointed in the direction of the Great Hall. Shannon mouthed, "Balls!" but started quietly down the corridor, keeping to the shadows. He was a practiced sneaker, having survived many a night getting out of married men's houses in the dark.
Fortunately for Shannon the Great Hall's walls were heavily covered with rather simple tapestries, the elaborate designs of the Bayeux a couple hundred years in the future. That the castle looked as it did and had tapestries at all could only be credited to a couple possibilities.. heavy Roman influence or the fact that this particular 8th century was made to look far more like the 12th by a couple precocious teenagers in the 1960s.
Carefully making his way under the tapestries to the fire in the great hearth, Shannon caught the attention of one or two of the servants who maintained a strict Sgt. Schultz-ian philosophy of "I see noth-ing! I know noth-ing!" They simply went on with their work.
Rory was sitting on a bench near the fire, praise all the saints and angels, alone. Shannon hissed from the edge of a tapestry depicting some fanciful Persian scene. Rory did not hear him at first, but finally started to look around, expecting to find a dust up between a couple of the castle cats. He caught sight of Shannon looking around the posterior of a tapestried camel -- or a reasonable facsimile thereof -- and nearly fell off his bench. He sprang to the side of the tapestry and hissed back, "Shan, are ye mad? What are ye doin' here? The King will kill ye for sure if he finds ye. He is after actin' like a sane m an for the first time in a while, praise God, but he still gives me the evil eye when he sees me." The two Irishmen automatically crossed themselves.
Shannon just put his finger to his lips and shushed his tall friend. "Follow me."
Rory looked around to see who was watching, then reassured it was only some servants carrying in fresh rushes to replace the old, full of spit, food scraps, and worse from the floor – where the unmarried men of the court slept-- slipped, feeling a little foolish, under the tapestry. Much to his surprise Shannon pulled him through a secret door into a passageway full of cobwebs and God knows what else.
"When did ye find out about this secret passageway, ye old scoundrel?" he whispered.
Shannon spoke aloud, startling Rory. "There are lots of them around, leading from one room to another. Never fear, me old son. These walls hide a great deal.. believe me. I have known about them for years. This one goes to the Kings own chambers."
Rory leveled a considering and deeply suspicious look that his friend, which he missed in the dark. "How do ye know that?" His voice betrayed his condemnation.
Shannon's blush also was unseen. "Never ye moind, Rory. I need ye'r help with something. I need money."
Rory laughed and relaxed a bit. "Och, do ye now? Gotten some poor colleen with child?"
"Nay. Well, aye, but that's not what I need it for." He continued down the passageway as if he could see in the dark, Rory following along as best he could, taking only the occasional knock to the noggin or bump to the shin. The passage led to stairs which led to another passage on a higher floor. Occasional tiny slits gave eye and ear access to places in the castle. They stopped and Rory could hear servants moving furniture. His view went blank as some large wooden armoire was being dragged across the crack.
"And that's another thing, me boy. What the hell is Lawrence up to now? "
Rory turned to the voice, which was a bit more hushed now that they could be heard (although being heard over the racket in the Kin's chambers was unlikely.) "Och, he's decided to use his bedchamber for a privy counsel room.. with only a cot to sleep on.. as if he e'er sleeps," Rory added sardonically.
Shannon nodded in the gloom, "Och, so that's why he's takin' out the bed to be burned."
Rory snapped, "How'd ye know that? "
Rory also nodded. "Aye, `tis sad. To think that lily white behind.."
Shannon sighed. "I know." He went on more cheerfully, "Don't worry… it is not after bein' burned. I'll tell ye later."
When the servants had cleared out of the room and all was silent, the two Irish minstrels slipped through a secret door into the room. They saw the huge empty space that once held the King's large heavy curtained bed. It took a moment to figure out what else was different. A large piece of furniture with double doors had been pushed in from of the door that led to the privy stairway down to the Queen's bedchamber. A few benches were scattered along the walls. The big chest with the King's clothes and other treasures sat where it always had been, but now it was next to something no larger than a camp bed. Rory breathed, "Well I be thinki' he will not be bringing' the dark eyed lady here.. at least to bed."
Shannon scowled. "Well then well then, thank the saints for small favors."
Rory turned and got a better look at his friend with the light coming from the narrow tall windows. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, are ye the undead? Ye look like someone dug ye up and dusted ye off to stalk the livin'." He reached for his friend's massive shiner. Shannon winced away.
"Leave off with that, man! Ye were there. Ye know how I got it. No thanks to ye."
Rory crossed his arms across his chest. He leaned back a bit and tapped his right foot. "Now don't ye be blamin' anyone but ye'rself, Sir `Ye Have Me Balls'".
Shannon nodded acknowledgement. "I know, I know. But he deserved it."
"Be that true or be that false, God knows why ye stand here today with ye'r head still attached to ye'r shoulders. It says a lot for the man that he did nae clap ye in irons. Methinks ye better lay low for a while. Faith, me plans are to do a little travellin' meself."
Now it was Shannon's turn to look aghast. "But… but.. Rory, me lad. The King has forbidden us all to leave Lawrencium! I be takin' rooms in the town.. just to stay out of his royal sight for a nonce."
Rory looked interested. "Och, aye? That might just be the thing. I can let it be known than ye and I have moved our pallets from the Great Hall to rooms o'er a tavern. Not a soul would wonder at that."
Shannon grinned, "Well we will have somethin' a mite nicer than our pallets.. but never moind that now, me brother. I need some help."
Rory focused his attention on the reason for Shannon's risky adventure. "What is this?"
Shannon proceeded to tell his boyhood friend a sanitized version of the story of how he met Bo. He skirted details about where the detective was from and why he was here in fictional 8th century Britain. He explained instead that this man was someone he'd gotten into a drinking contest with and had lost to.. all true in a sense.. and that the winnings for the man was help "getting out of town."
Rory was skeptical. "And ye be after thinkin' that after nearly killin' the King, for ye'r next number ye will help some knave on the lam?"
Shannon nodded, as though this was nothing out of the ordinary. Rory thought a moment and agreed. "On one condition, old son," he said. "I go with ye to see this varlet."
Shannon raised his eyebrows and puffed out his cheeks. "Aye, well, be ready to be inspired to write one of ye'r songs of the mysterious!"
Rory and Shannon made their way carefully to a storeroom where they collected some supplies and, from Rory's things, an old battered cassock. "I dinnae know this will fit the man."
Rory looked at his friend, "Och, is he very short then?" Rory was the tallest man around, a full inch taller even than the King.
Shannon laughed, "Och aye. I meant to warn ye. He is a tiny little elf." Shannon chortled and the two men headed out of the keep through the portcullis and down to the harbor.
Next: Bo Meets Rory and Some of the Locals
Actually... this should have gone in just after Lawrence Does Some Housekeeping and Duke Lorin Spots the Minstrels wwwwwwwith the their Bundle, both already published here. You can use the search box at the top of the page to find them until we get all the tables of contents up0dated.