Palace at Lawrencium
If they had not loved him as much as they did, Rory and Ceridwen would have regretted offering to conduct Shannon back to the seaport of lawrencium. His anxiety made him impatient, fidgety, and did nothing to make his tolerance for horseback any easier. “That blasted mule was bad enough. Can’t you get this horse to stop bouncing me all over the place?” And when Rory slowed his mount to make the ride easier, it was “If we keep at this pace, I may as well have walked, so I should.” But they did love him and they also knew what he was going through. His wife was missing and could be gone.
As soon as they came over the hill where the track sloped down to pass the crossroads to the palace and thence down to the town and port, Shannon slid off the horse’s back and made surprising speed on his damaged feet in his rush to reach the town gate.
Rory slowed his horse to a halt. “Where should we go? The town or the palace?” he asked Ceridwen, who rode up beside him.
The stern-faced woman shook her head. “I will never understand why he does not just go with her. I suppose he has the town covered, so let’s go see what they know at the stronghold.”
Since Shannon and Falni had come to Lawrencium after his absence they had not stayed long under the same roof, for Falni was ever anxious to be at sea again. Shannon did go with her from time to time, but more often he would stay in Lawrencium or come out to stay with his childhood friend and that friend’s wife. As the time approached for the Norse fisherwoman to return to Críslicland, the Ulsterman would grow excited, and if there were any delay at all, he would grow nervous and fretful. This time, however, it was much worse, for not only was Sif’s Pride overdue, no one had seen it for weeks before.
The guards at the two gates into the palace greeted the pair with pleasure. Rory was much beloved by every soul that lived and worked there, and his sudden elopement with Ceridwen two years before had meant he was a less frequent guest, now that he lived with her in her croft in Healing.
When the guards’ joyful greetings were joined by virtually everyone in the courtyard, the king himself knew there was a most welcome visitor there. He was expecting his longtime friend, Erik, a Dane and a merchant ship captain, and made his way out of the Hall to see if it was he.
“Josie, Rory and Ceri are here,” he called back over his shoulder when he reached the Hall’s open doorway.
From the back of the Hall the queen looked up and smiled. Now that two years had passed since the tall Irishman had finally given up his bow to “love all of his days”, as the song went, the wife of the King of Críslicland the tension that had grown up between the three had eased. She could relax and smile knowing his affections had entirely redirected to his beloved Ceridwen. Not that there were not moments of nostalgia on her and Rory’s part, but they were safely within the bounds of propriety and comfort now.
As Josephine reached the doorway she saw that her husband had reached the pair. Rory was dismounted and helping Ceridwen to do the same. Lawrence stood at the man’s elbow, looking grim. She immediately knew that the news concerned Shannon.
“My dear, Rory and Ceri have just brought Shannon back from Healing. He is in the town. I hope he has had word of Falni by now.” The king did not look hopeful.
“He went out to Healing?” she asked.
Rory nodded, dipping his knee to her. “I think he just needed to find reassurance, but he did not find it in us. We could not comfort him. Is there any news?”
Josephine looked at Lawrence. He responded, “Nay, but I am expecting Erik at any time. If anyone would know any news or how to get it, it is Erik.”
In the town Shannon sat on a bit of driftwood staring out to the sea. He had stopped at the alehouse for news and, receiving none, made his way to the harbor. No one there could help him either. The fishermen there tried to reassure him that it was more likely the Pride was simply delayed than that anything untoward had happened to it. Shannon was so sure that Falni would never allow that that he could not be convinced. So here he sat, his eyebrows knitted, his face grave, waiting for news to come to him.