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
Friday, July 16, 2010
The Road to Paris Series: At the Alehouse
Rory shrugged, keeping an eye on the morose Shannon who sat with the others at the trestle table in the alehouse.
Shannon lifted his mop of unruly red curls to look at Aedwine with reddened eyes. “Listen, man, know the lass I do. She be that prompt and accurate. She is never later than a few days.”
Aedwine’s bushy eyebrows arched. “I have never known a woman you could count on.”
Ceridwen put a restraining hand on Rory’s arm, sensing his impulse to argue on her behalf.
“Falni is no ordinary woman,” came the muffled reply from where Shannon’s face was buried in his arms on the table’s top.
Rory added, “And no one has seen Sif’s Pride. He winced at his wife’s alarmed look. “Still you may be right...” he quickly added remembering he was supposed to be reassuring his miserable friend, not echoing his fears.
The alehouse door opened flooding the dim interior with daylight only obscured by the silhouette of a tall broad shouldered man. “I know this is a silly question,” came the Dane’s accented voice, “but is Shannon here?”
“Erik!” Shannon overlooked the besmirching of his sobriety in his pleasure at seeing the merchant ship captain. He jumped up and hobbled over to the man who stood looking down at him with blue gray eyes in a weathered, tanned face. “Have you seen it? Sif’s Pride? Have you seen Falni? Is she all right? Is she coming home?”
The big Dane put his hands on each of Shannon’s shoulders. “Nay, I have not, but let’s get an ale and you can tell me why you are so worried.”
The alehouse keeper Leofwen came over carrying Erik’s drinking horn, which he kept here in anticipation of his frequent visits to Lawrencium. She looked inquiring at the others at the table. “Our thanks, good woman, but the pitcher is half full still.” He flashed that sun lit smile at her, forestalling her complaint that such abstemious drinkers would be the ruin of her establishment.
Erik lifted a long leg over the bench and seated himself athwart it to look straight at Shannon beside him. “All right, what is it? What have you heard?”
The little Irishman poured forth a somewhat coherent explanation of how he was expecting his wife back from her latest fishing trip, that she was overdue and that no one could account for her whereabouts. “She was excited about the size of the likely catch, so she was, and I know she would not want to be long at sea.”
Erik did his best to follow the story, but in the end he did not argue with Shannon the way others had. He had known Falni most of her life. He knew her habits, also understood the need to get fresh fish back to the market port before others drove the prices down. He also knew something he had only had a brief opportunity to tell the king before he went looking for Shannon.
“I can make enquiries, and I think I have a better chance of finding out what, if anything, has happened. I have people I know in both boats.”
Ceri gave Rory a questioning look. He whispered, “On both sides of the law.” Her eyes widened. She knew he meant that Erik was both honorable merchant and sometimes not so honorable pirate. This was news to her.
“Will you then, praise God,” Shannon enthused.
“Better make it Njord,” Erik responded.
This time Rory looked at Ceridwen. She supplied, “Sea god.” He nodded.
“Shouldn’t you be after going?” Shannon urged the Dane.
Erik raised his eyebrows. “May I not finish my ale?” He saw just how desperate the little bard was. “Oh, all right, I’ll go.” He took a long draught of the ale and stood. He caught Rory’s eye and beckoned with a tilt of his head for him to follow.
Outside Erik gave Rory a grim look. “I didn’t want to say anything in there, but there is a fleet of Frankish raiders about who have been overtaking all sorts of vessels and taking their cargo and catches.”
Rory’s face paled. “And what of the crews of those vessels then?”
Erik shook his head. “You do not want to know the details.” He put a hand on Rory’s shoulder and squeezed. “I will find out everything I can.”
He turned and strode purposefully down the street towards the harbor, leaving a stunned and motionless Rory standing where he watched the Dane’s receding back.