Tiarna tossed and
turned in her cot most of the night. She tried to tell herself that it
was worry about her father and the shock her mother would feel when they
finally made it back to Lochalyn. But deep inside her heart, she knew
that wishful dreaming about a life with Jesse was just as much to blame
for the restless night, as the grief for her oldest brother.
She awoke early the next morning and hurried to the chapel where her brother’s body was interred. Some of the Sanctuary’s residents including Fiona were attending an early Mass celebrated by Dom Queron. Tiarna scanned the room for her father’s presence, but wasn’t surprised when she couldn’t locate him. She was however, deeply touched at the genuine grief emanating from the attendees, reaffirming her belief that what the Custodes priests preached about the inherent evil of the Deryni was wrong and self-serving. These Deryni didn’t even know her brother, yet they were genuinely saddened by the senseless loss of a young life.
Although she tried to concentrate on the sermon and the prayers offered for Frederick’s immortal soul, her thoughts kept wandering back to the clearing where her brother’s life had ended and where for a few moments, she had felt the loving touch of Jesse’s arms.
::Jesse! I wonder what he’s doing right now? Is he thinking about me as I am of him? Could I possibly have a chance to win his love?:: she thought, her cheeks turning a pretty pink, betraying her emotions. As the sermon ended, she managed to compose herself a bit and hoped that no one noticed her churning emotions were the result of foolish daydreaming.
But someone had indeed noticed. And it was not Fiona.
After spending the next few days making sure Gregory was well on the road to a full recovery, Jesse could no longer put off the confrontation that he had been avoiding.
He had just returned from a refreshing ride in the countryside when he noticed the stable hands were busy curtsying to someone. He did a cursory scan for the presences that would normally attract that much attention from his father’s retainers. He did feel a Deryni presence, but none that he could readily identify.
::Interesting. Whoever it is that has just arrived is definitely acting like he is the King of all Gwynedd.:: He thought to himself as he casually nudged his horse towards the stables. As he approached the stables, he noticed that the object of the stable crew’s extreme attention was a petite, blonde woman dressed in the fine fur and silk that bespoke of a lady of some stature.
Curious, Jesse pulled his shields in close and urged his mount to quicken the pace and approached the stables at a steady trot. As he halted at the barn door, his horse neighed their arrival.
As the woman and the stable hands turned at the sound, Jesse dismounted. He immediately felt a brush of the other’s mental touch lightly probing his shields.
**“Ah, you must be Jesse MacGregor, my betrothed. Welcome back home m’lord! I am of course, Ileana. How was your ride? ** she whispered in his mind, with an amusement in her tone that was physically manifested as a smile on her beautiful, heart-shaped face.
** Ileana! What are you doing here? And I’m NOT your “betrothed”. Nothing has been finalized yet. ** a surprised Jesse responded.
**Ah, but my love, everything has been finalized. Your father and mine have worked out all the details. All that is left is for the two of us to get acquainted. Come, take my arm and show me around my new home.** she said, continuing the mindspeech.
Fuming and at a loss for words at the arrogance and assuredness she was displaying, Jesse ignored her outstretched hand and handing the reins of his horse to the waiting squire, he turned around and started striding out of the stables. He paused just outside the stables to turn his head and address Ileana.
“I’ve a few things to take care of before I deal with you. I will see you shortly in my father’s hall.”
Ileana stared at him with a shocked look. No one had ever spoken to her in that manner, dismissing her as if she was a serving wench! By the time she recovered, Jesse was halfway across the yard. Picking up her skirts, she hurried after him, all the while muttering to herself that no one, no one, was going to get away with treating her in that manner!
Although he didn’t want to discuss Ileana with his father just yet, her arrival left him no choice. As he made his way to his father’s chamber, he mulled over in his mind how best to tell Gregory that the woman of his choice was no princess. He found Gregory awake and playing Cardonet with Seanna as he entered the room. Shooing Seanna out, he took her seat and sighed.
“Father, I need to talk to you. Did you know we have royal company?”
“Oh? I wasn’t expecting anyone. I told Prince Stephan I would talk to you and then get back with him regarding his daughter. He must be getting impatient.”
“Well, I didn’t see the Prince, but the Princess is most definitely at the stables giving the lads a hard time. Sir, with all due respect, she is a spoiled child! I do not think I can marry someone who throws their royal weight around as she seems to be doing today.”
“Ah.” Gregory said with a chuckle. “Ileana must have gotten impatient and decided to wait for her soon to be betrothed at his house! I must admit, she can be a bit headstrong, but you can handle her, son. I have complete faith in that.”
Jesse sighed heavily and decided it was time to tell Gregory about Tiarna. He began by telling Gregory about the latest mission with Ansel and Tieg and how they had chanced upon three travelers, a father with his son and daughter who were battling for their lives against well-armed knights in Culdi livery. It was the daughter, Tiarna, he explained who was the problem. He just couldn’t seem to get her out his mind, hesitantly confessing to Gregory that he had even been thinking about marrying her. He ended the tale of how they met with a sigh and looked pleadingly at his father, desperately hoping Gregory would understand, and yet knowing that first-born sons of nobility often did not have a say in choosing marriage partners. He waited for the inevitable anger from his father to erupt. It never came. Instead, he heard laughter. Jesse’s eyes widened in shock and incredulity as he saw his father with his head thrown back and tears streaming from his eyes from laughing so hard. Confused, Jesse waited until the laughter died down a bit before asking Gregory what he found so funny.
When Jesse entered Trevalga’s great hall half an hour later, he was met with thundering looks from his parents, Ileana, and her father. The only thing that gave him any hope at all, was the sympathy emanating from Seanna. He tried to read his father’s mood, but his shields were tightly shuttered.
Pausing at the main doors to gather his resolve, Jesse cleared his head and strode purposely towards the two men who might well order his execution today. He almost felt sorry for the Princess for she was as much a pawn in this game of high stakes Cardonet as he was. ::Almost, but not quite,:: he reminded himself. If what Seanna had told him was true, and what he had seen earlier certainly bore this out, then, all of them needed to be reminded that Jesse MacGregor was his own man and a loyal knight of King Owain’s and he was not going to be told who he would marry.
“Good afternoon, Father, Mother, Prince Stephan, Princess Ileana.” he greeted them. To Seanna, he sent a quick burst of heartfelt **thank you for your support and warning.**
“So, all of you look like you’ve gathered here for my funeral. Or, is it supposed to be execution first and funeral later?” he quipped with a mirthless smile.
“Son, try to be reasonable. You have to marry and produce heirs. I am getting old and I would like to be assured that the future of Trevalga was secure in your sons before I pass from this world!” Gregory of Ebor said, his fury at his eldest offspring seemed to be barely in check.
Jesse sighed. “Father, I understand your concern for the future of Trevalga and even Ebor, may we one day be able to return to our ancestral lands. But, if that is your only concern, then, rest assured, you will see your grandsons playing in Mother’s lap before you leave us. As you yourself said a few scant days ago, no fever is going to take you from this world, ‘tis the glory of a battle that will lead you to the hereafter. After all, I may be your oldest son, but not your only one.”
Turning towards the silent but seething Prince and Princess, he sighed. “M’lord, I fully appreciate the fact that you negotiated with my father for your lovely daughter’s betrothal in good faith. However, my betrothal was not my father’s to arrange. I am and have been for more than a decade, my own man. My lady, I am truly sorry that all this has happened, because you are a truly beautiful woman and I’m sure you will make a wonderful bride for a wonderful Prince. But, this is not the time for me to settle down. I have a greater duty to my King and there is much left to be done in Gwynedd still. I wish things could have been different, but now that my father is better, I have to return to my King and Gwynedd.”
Jesse MacGregor then turned around and strode out of the hall, leaving his father and his guests speechless. A triumphant Seanna quickly followed Jesse and caught up with him in the corridor.
“Jesse! That was brilliant! Even the Prince and Father can’t argue with the fact that you’re a vital part of the effort to keep the Haldanes on the Gwynedd throne. Besides, now you can woo your redhead in peace.” Seanna grinned.
Letting out a huge sigh of relief, Jesse allowed himself a small smile of relief. “Well, I’ve left them stunned for now, but it won’t be for long. I’ve got to get out of here and back to the Haven. You must keep a close eye on Father and contact me immediately should anything happen to him. Try not to make him too exasperated, Seanna. We were all lucky this time. I don’t want to come rushing back to see our father on his deathbed again.”
As they arrived at Trevalga’s portal, Jesse quickly hugged his sister and stepped into the portal and as he wrenched the energies and warped them just so, he was suddenly at the Michaeline Sanctuary’s portal.
A smiling Rhysel and Tieg released the trap as he stepped out. “Rhysel! What are you doing here? Is everything all right in Rhemuth?” Jesse queried.
“Yes. Everything is fine. I just came to visit my brother and sister, that is all. We did uncover a budding plot against Queen Michaela, but Robert and the other Councilors were able to take care of it. Apparently, some of Iver MacInnis’ men were plotting an assassination, but we found out and they’ve been taken care of. Unfortunately, there is no way to link Iver himself to the plot, although I have no doubt he knew about it.”
“I knew it! I knew they were up to something. I told Ansel that at the clearing where we found Murray and his kin.”
Smiling, Rhysel nodded. “Yes Ansel and Tieg filled me in on your hunch. That is why we were paying particular attention and able to thwart the attempt on Michaela’s life. Jesse, there is something else I’d like to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Jesse asked curiously.
“Follow me. What I have to ask you is better done in private.”
Puzzled, Jesse looked first at Rhysel and then Tieg, who was grinning, but keeping quiet. Realizing he wouldn’t get anything out of Rhysel until she chose to tell him, he nodded and let her lead them to a small study a few corridors away from the portal chamber.
After closing the door behind them, Rhysel turned to Jesse and said without preamble, “Jesse, we’ve known each other a long time and as members of the Camberian Council, we’ve both bared our souls to each other, so, I’ll just come right out and say what I have to say to you. Tieg told me about your father’s plans for you with the Princess Ileana. How do you feel about her?”
Jesse’s surprise at her question showed on his face. Of all the things he thought she might ask him, this was definitely not one. “Princess Ileana? Well, let’s just say that I won’t be traveling anywhere near the Forcinn any time soon and I’m not sure I will be going back to Trevalga any time soon either.”
Seeing the expectant look on Rhysel’s face, he continued, “I just got through telling my father and the Princess and her father that I was not going to be bullied into marrying anyone just now. I have obligations to the King which must come first. Also, she is rather spoiled and arrogant.” he added sheepishly.
“So you spurned her and just left?” Rhysel queried.
“Yes. God help me, I just couldn’t see myself married to her. She’s beautiful and cultured, but not for me. They were all still in shock so I thought it best to leave right then. But, why are you so interested?”
“Ah. Well, there’s an interesting tale behind my curiosity.” Rhysel said with a smile, enjoying herself thoroughly at the picture Jesse painted of the pouting Princess. “I’ve been here for a few days now and met our new guests. Tiarna told me how you saved her from the MacInnis men. And how kind you were to her afterwards.”
Jesse shrugged. “I did what any decent person would do, Rhysel. They were outnumbered and being borderers, they would have found no mercy among the MacInnis clan.”
“You said that you wouldn’t let your father bully you into marriage. Does that hold for well meaning friends too?” Rhysel asked laughing at the puzzled look on Jesse’s face. “Tell me, Jesse, how do you feel about Tiarna? Do you like her? Do you think she’s pretty?”
As he finally realized what Rhysel was trying to do, Jesse blushed slightly and sighed. “Have you been talking to Seanna?”
Raising her eyebrows a bit, Rhysel answered him with a question of her own. “Should I have been talking to Seanna? Has she asked you about your feelings for Tiarna also?” As Jesse nodded his assent, Rhysel decided to take pity on him.
“Alright Jesse. I shan’t tease you any more. I have been in contact with Seanna and Tieg told me the same thing, that you looked like you were smitten by Tiarna. Seanna did tell me about your feelings and how you thought it was entirely possible that your feelings might not be returned. I have spent the last few hours trying to convince the young lady in question who is thinking the same thing. I saw her at the Chapel the day after you left for Trevalga. She seemed so distraught so Fiona and I talked to her. At first we thought she was feeling guilty for living while her brother died, but we soon discovered that she was berating herself for thinking about you when she thought she should have been grieving her brother.”
Smiling gently, Rhysel added. “Jesse, in the past few days, I’ve gotten to know Tiarna. She is a kind and caring girl who loves you very much. But, she also knows that it is quite likely that her dreams won’t come true and she can accept that. However, I think that neither of you have to sacrifice your feelings for the sake of duty. Why don’t you go see her. She’s waiting in the chapel.”
Jesse stood rooted at the spot. It took a moment for Rhysel’s words to sink in. Tiarna felt the same way about him! ::Wonder of wonders! She loves me too. With Tiarna by my side, I think I can endure anything including Prince Stephan's ire when he realized exactly what had been done at Trevalga!:: he thought to himself, a smile slowly spreading across his face.
“Well, are you just going to stand there and grin foolishly, or are you going to go tell her how you feel?” Rhysel asked with mock seriousness. Wrapping her in a hug that expressed all his relief and joy, Jesse thanked Rhysel and almost ran out the little study as he hurried to the Haven’s chapel.
He spotted her immediately. She was kneeling near the altar, and he could sense the hope and fear mingled together in her mind. He quietly walked up behind her and kneeled down next to her.
Raising her head and opening her eyes as she felt his presence next to her, Tiarna turned her head and looked at Jesse expectantly. He put his hand on her folded ones and gently separating them, took both of her hands in his. Gently questing against her shields which subsided immediately, he let his love for her flow into her mind and as she shyly accepted his feelings and shared her own love, he turned to enfold her in his arms.
**I never thought to feel this way about anyone. I love you. Will you marry me?**
**I was so afraid you wouldn’t want me. You and I are from such different worlds. I am a borderer and you, an Earl’s son. I love you too. Yes! I’ll marry you if you will have me.**
**Alas, I fear that I have upset plans some people had for me. Spurning a Princess has it’s own price. We won‘t be visiting the Forcinn anytime soon, however, we will always have a home here at the Sanctuary and Trevalga.**
**Jesse, my love, as long as I am with you and you are happy, that is all I need. You are a kind and brave man and that’s what matters most to me.**
He kissed her then. A long, lingering kiss that took both their breaths away, before they both rose, hand in hand and headed out of the chapel to first to seek permission from Tiarna’s father, and then via portal to Trevalga where a delighted Gregory, Eloise and Seanna welcomed Tiarna into their family.