00 - Chapter ?? - Terms of His Honor
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Terms Of His Honor 




Chapter 13 - Part 3  




  Connal McQuillion did not follow the drunken mob that escorted Albion to his bridal chamber. Instead he sought out Isolde. She was not hard to find, as he knew well where she would take refuge. His main difficulty lay in finding the gardens.

She managed a half smile as he opened his arms to her. A moment later Isolde hugged him hard enough to drive the breath from his chest. Soft, dry sobs shook her shoulders.

Connal stroked her back, wishing all the while he had not come out here. What could God have been thinking when he made women so weepy? Her anger he could understand, sympathize with and deal with far more effectively.

Isolde at last gained control of herself and looked up at him. "I've made an awful mess of everything, haven't I."

"I wouldn't say that. Blame me if you must." Connal let his hands rest on her shoulders. He felt her strength returning as she held herself more proudly.

"After all, if I had wed you when Brandonn offered you'd not now be in this fix and I'd not be leaving you alone to face it."

Her cheeks colored despite the cold. "You've gone punch-drunk. Do you believe Brandonn's plans would have solved anything? I fear my heart was already lost by that time, Connal."

She stiffened and glanced over Connal's shoulder. He turned as Isolde dropped a quick curtsy. Prince Festil stood a few feet behind them, his arms crossed over his chest. The look on his face told Connal he had heard part of what was said but not all of it.

Connal dipped his head to the prince in a scant gesture of courtesy. "Are you ready to leave so quickly, Your Grace?"

"I am, but are you? I fear I may have walked in on an inopportune moment."

Connal bristled at the disapproval in the prince's tone. "I took but a moment to make sure a friend was all right. You and your kind have proven poor caretakers of her welfare this day."

"There are matters here you know little of, Your Grace." The prince flushed and refused to meet Connal's eyes. "Remember this; Lady Isolde is one of "our kind" and apparently always has been. She is far better suited to remain here, learning her heritage that has been so sadly neglected. And you are far better suited to take your affairs to Derry, where you now belong."

"So go raise fat children and fine horses is what you're telling me." Connal caught Isolde's hand and squeezed it. "Remember this, Dove. You've a home in Derry if ever you wish it, for so long as you wish it. You'll be most welcome by all there."

"I thank you, Connal. Now get you gone, for I think I will take myself off and rest. The day has been too long."

Her newfound control did not fool Connal for an instant, but he saw little chance to bring her with him now. The prince led him to the transfer portal in the cathedral they had arrived through a few days before.

Connal felt a bit sick as the Deryni prince took control and the floor dropped away beneath his feet. A heartbeat later he was staggering away from the portal in Coroth.

Mellisande leapt from a small wooden bench and flew into his arms before he was able to regain his balance. Connal crashed against the wall, laughing ridiculously as she did her best to hug the breath from him. "Did you miss me, my lady?"

"I'll say she did." Kevin stepped away from the wall and sheathed the short sword he had been holding. "She's fairly haunted this place since you left, Your Grace. I'm glad enough to see you return myself, if it comes to that."

"It's good to be back. Kevin, can you find some hot wine for the lot of us. I know His Grace will take a cup before he leaves for Rhemuth." Connal shot a quick glance at Festil. The prince gave him a knowing nod and a smile. "Meanwhile I need a quick word with my lady before we see the priest."

Not until he and Mellisande were alone in the library did Connal broach the subject that had been worrying the back of his mind for some hours. "Mellie, how would you feel about moving?"

"Moving?" She frowned. "At this time of year? Where would we go?"

"Derry. It's not so grand as Corwyn, that's true enough. But the Usurper's given it to me outright. Seems I saved his heir's life a second time."

"And you worry we will be attacked here." Her voice held no hint of uncertainty.

Connal felt grateful for her strength and good sense. "I know we will. The king cannot allow Rhydon's death to pass so easily. And Coroth will never withstand a prolonged siege, not even by next summer. I know. I helped weaken the defenses and drain the stores of food and weapons."

"So you did your work too well."

"I never considered all the possibilities. I doubt anyone could have. If it were just me and the men who stood with me these past months I might make a glorious stand of it." Connal caught her hands between his and kissed her fingertips lightly. "But not with you here. I cannot put you at that risk, not when there's an easy alternative. I know an earldom's not what you bargained for, but I also know it's clean, well stocked and snug for the winter. We'd not have to worry for food or coin, and there'd be none to attack us there. What do you say?"

"And if I said 'stay in Coroth' you would?"

Connal nodded slowly. If the lady of his heart desired the grand castle he would fight to keep it for her, no matter the cost.

His heart turned over when Mellisande shook her head. "Snug and safe sounds wonderful to me. I never really liked these huge, drafty chambers. It may take some time to pack the blankets and linens. I'll not leave my own things here for another to take."

Connal hugged her close and kissed her until they were both breathless. "Let's find that priest," he whispered against her hair. "I can't wait to have you all to myself."

The second wedding of the day was much shorter and far less grand than the first. Prince Festil remained to pass Mellisande's hand to Connal at the scowling priest's direction. The chapel was about half full, with only Connal's men and the few remaining servants for witnesses.

Mellisande's eyes widened in surprise when Connal produced a narrow gold band set with amethysts and emblazoned with the striking falcon of the McQuillion arms.

After the priest pronounced them man and wife servants passed cups of mulled wine around and those gathered drank several cheerful and occasionally ribald toasts to the bride and groom. Then Connal swept his lady up in his arms and mounted the stairs with a solemn warning that any man who so much as thought of disturbing them before the next morning would lose his life.

Connal did not pause until he laid Mellisande on the bed in the ducal chamber. Then he went to the window ledge and removed one of the leather sacks from its hiding place. He replaced the stone and returned to the bed where Mellisande was watching him as if he were mad.

"Close your eyes." He grinned as she did what he asked. Then he emptied the contents of the sack onto her lap. Jewels sparkled in the soft light from the glowing hearth and the few candles lit.

"You did not think I would forget a bridal gift, did you?" He chuckled as she gaped at the fortune on her plain work gown. "Let me put the diamonds on you now. I want to see you in them. And nothing else."

"Where did these come from?" Mellisande picked up a collar of pearls and saphires. "How did you get them here? If Rhydon had known . . ."

"They've been in the window ledge the whole time. These were my mother's. You did not think you wed a poor man, did you?"

She shook her head as he undid the laces of her gown and slipped it from her shoulders. "I cared not for your wealth, my lord. I am glad that your mother's things did not fall to Rhydon's greed. And I've something for you as well."

Some sense of foreboding made Connal hesitate. "I don't want anything of his," he began.

She laid a slim finger over his lips. "This was never Rhydon's. My wedding gift to you you'll not have for some months yet. You are going to be a father."

Whether it was the sudden, unexpected news or the slickness of the mink fur covering the bed Connal never knew. He vaguely remembered sliding off and striking his head hard against the floor. It was some minutes before he woke up, dazed and dizzy. After that he made her repeat her news three times before it finally sank in.



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