Ranigg in "The Great Hall" yarn painting.
Falni is behind him, her braid showing.
Rory almost wished Shannon would get drunk. His hyper vigilance due to Falni’s disappearance was wearing on everyone. Once upon a time, the mop-headed Irishman would have been passed out somewhere, letting events uncoil without his conscious awareness, thus avoiding much of the suffering of waiting.
However, when Rory made some reference to inebriation being preferable, Ceri shook her head vehemently. They were in her old room at her uncle and aunt’s cottage in lawrencium, preferring not to take sleeping quarters in the palace. The hubbub at the palace made Ceri anxious.
“Shame on you, Rory! You know that drink nearly killed him.” Her look was disgusted. “You of all people.”
Shame-faced, Rory nodded. “That right, so you are,” he agreed.
She went to him and put a palm to his cheek, something of a reach, as tall as he was. “I know you just hate to see him in so much fear,” she murmured with understanding.
He took her in his arms and held her, his chin on the top of her soft brown hair. “I think of what ‘twould be like to lose you, my own darling. It fair breaks my heart.”
Both looked up when they heard a shout from without. It sounded like Shannon!
“Erik! What news?”
Rory and Ceri made their way quickly to the dooryard of the cottage. Shannon, it appeared, had been on his way to see them when he caught sight of the big Dane. As the stern faced sailor came forward, Ceri called to them, “Come in. You can talk here.”
Shannon could not take his eyes from Erik’s face. His eyebrows made one line they were so tight against each other, and his lips were thin and in a grimace. He held his cloth cap in his hands where they twisted it as if he was trying to wring out water. He watched as Erik approached, nodded first to him and then to Rory and his wife, and followed the Dane into Ceri’s uncle’s house.
Erik looked about at the dim interior. Without waiting to be invited, he threw one long leg over a bench at a table and straddled it. Shannon hesitated, then went and sat on the end of the bench. One of Ceri’s cousins already was bringing in a pitcher and bowls of mead.
Erik stared glumly into the blue eyes of the broken bard. “It’s bad news, Shannon.”
Ceri hurried to Shannon as he gave a choked cry and put her arms around his neck from behind. She put her head against his cheek.
“As far as we can tell, Falni is alive.”
Ceri felt the deep rise and fall of Shannon’s sigh.
“But..?” the man said in a restricted voice.
Erik glanced up and into Rory’s miserable face. “They were taken by pirates. Not Danes,” he hurried to add, knowing his fellow countrymen made no friends by their occasional raids, frustrating his own honest business with the ports here. “Franks. A blackguard named Clothar. He took their catch and most of the crew. But Shannon,” he began, “Ranigg is dead.”
Shannon reacted so violently that Ceri was pushed back and nearly lost her balance. He stood up, clenched fists at his sides, the cap fallen to the floor. “No!” he wailed. Rory came forward to support him, but was surprised at the strength with which his diminutive friend shook him off. “No, God, no!”
Rory and Ceri exchanged mournful looks. Ranigg had been a friend to all of them. He was easy going, humorous, and seemingly unflappable. They both knew that Shannon’s grief was for not only him, but for the stalwart brother and defender of his dear wife.
Shannon sunk to the bench again, burying his face in his crossed arms on the table’s top. He began to weep with abandon. He was almost unintelligible when, from the shelter of his encircling arms, he croaked out, “And Falni, dear sweet woman that she is?”
Rory’s and Ceri’s attention shot back to the Dane.
“We do not know for certain, but she may have been taken to Honaflôd to be sold.”
The tear-streaked face came up from the table. “Sold?” Shannon cried. “Never! More the pity, my Falni would never permit herself to be enslaved. She would.. die first.” He dragged himself to his feet again. “I have to go there, to find her, to save her ere she does herself in. Will you take me?”
In a cattle pen in Honaflôd the Norse woman stood glowering at her Frankish captors. Her hair was disheveled, pulled out of its accustomed braid, and her jerkin torn.
A man who had tried to force her bore stripes of red angry flesh down both cheeks. He was off being tended by a companion who did not forbear from chuckling as he dabbed at the blood running down his cheeks. “You’ll think twice about pulling her britches down next time, I’ll warrant,” he said merrily in Frankish.