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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Road to Paris: A Friend (newest stories)

Honnaflo is just south of Le Havre.

Falni hurt all over, but through all the pain she could feel something soft and cool against her forehead. "What... who?" she tried to force out between her bruised lips, but even she could tell the noises she was making were unintelligible. She tried to open her eyes. She managed to get the one slightly less swollen open enough to see a dirty but smiling face. It was a young woman's.

Her lips parted and speech issued forth. There was something familiar about it. The lilt? The guttural sounds? That word.. "kree". Was it.. "chroidhe", the Irish word for "heart"? She managed to croak, "Eireann?" glad there were no hard consonants in the word.

The green eyes danced in the despoiled face. She nodded enthusiastically and started to say more. Falni shook her head and managed to force out "Norsk."

"You are from Norway?" the sweet voice exclaimed in Norse with the delightful lilt that meant Shannon to her. "We have many Norse near Dubh-linn. I learn Norse from them. How you know to say 'Irish' in Irish?"

"Husband. O'Neill."

The woman clapped her hands , making Falni wince. "Oh I be that sorry, Norse lady. I know O’Neill. They live in Ulster, far north of me." She paused, reaching to her side to rinse and squeeze out the cloth she had been using to soothe Falni's forehead. "I am Oona. Oona Inion ui Caisideah. That mean my father is Caisideah." She pronounced it like "Cassidy".

"I am Falni Jarlsdottir." She knew it came out as Valni Yalltootter" but it would have to do for now. "Where we?"

The bright eyes dimmed. "We be in slave pen. These Franks going to sell us."

"Frank? Are we in Frankia then?"

"Yes, we are in... oh, I cannot say it. Something that sound like 'honna flow'. These be Franks, yes, but mostly Saxons."

"Sathons?" She frowned. "Help me thit up."

Oona shook he head. In a queerer voice she said, "No, you not want. You too hurt and the guard he waits for you to wake up. Not a good man."

A surprising chuckle issued from Falni's throat. How could any man here be "a good man."

"You just lie here and rest. Oona will sing you song." Much to Falni's surprise Oona began to croon a lullaby Shannon had told her he wrote. It brought tears to her eyes. They stung when they touched the cuts on her face. She let the tears and the melody soothe her to sleep.

When she woke again Oona was not there. Falni tried to struggle to sit up, the aches in her back and sides but most especially her left shoulder causing her to cry out. When she made it as far up as she could, she opened her eyes and saw Oona sitting on the ground not far from her. Oona's was trying to communicate something, shaking her head and looking up.

"So you are awake then, Norse bitch? About time. I thought we were gonna lose you." The voice was gruff, it spoke in Saxon, and it accompanied a stink that overwhelmed even the stink of the pen.

A hard palm hit her cheek and pulled her chin around to look at the man who was attached to it. Falni bit her lip to try not to cry out again. She found herself looking into a face even filthier than Oona's, The guard, for that was what he was, had a livid scar across his face, was missing several teeth, and those that remained were black stumps. His thumb pad, where it caressed her cheek, was rough and smelled of something stale or rancid.

"I can get ransom," she pleaded in Saxon.

"Ah, so it knows Saxon. And who should it be getting ransomed by?"

"My husband, in Lawrencium."

"And who is your husband, the king I suppose?"

"No, but he is a friend of the king's."

The man took back his hand and scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I will have to let the slave master know. If it's true, then good. If not, it will be trouble for you." He looked over at Oona. "This one on the other hand." He indicated the Irishwoman. "She ain't worth shit. Pretty but not the type the Moors like. They like them like you, with pale hair and blue eyes."

He reached down to fondle a breast, making her wince as she felt the bruises there. he laughed and walked to the pen's stile and climbed over, pulling it up behind him.

"Is it true?" Oona pursued in Norse. "You know king? Which king, Offa or some other?"

Falni shook her head. "You understood that much Saxon? No, the king of Críslicland, Lawrence. My husband, Shannon, he is bard to him."

Oona's eyes widened. "Bard to King? He must be rich! You get ransom."

Falni did not correct her. Shannon had told her that king's bards in Ireland were given the highest seat and honors in a hall next to the king himself. Not so in Saxon lands, where the skalds were honored by still considered servants. But she knew that the king would pay her ransom, for Shannon's sake, and for the love he and the queen felt for him. "Mayhap," she agreed.


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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .