One Week Later. . .
Alyciane Pardayne stepped through the gate of the small inn's courtyard and squinted into the bright morning light. The sun shone warmly on her skin, easily quelling the chill of fear--or was it anticipation?--that knotted her stomach. She had made it so close to her goal, but the hardest part of her long and lonesome journey was yet to come.
If there had seemed to be an inordinate amount of soldiers swarming the gate last night, there were just as many circulating through town. Alyce gave a final tug to the nearly-empty bags on her mule's saddle and began to lead her down the slowly winding street. Every third person she saw, it seemed, wore the green and black of the Coroth Guard. At least they weren't drunk. Duke Morgan must have good control over his soldiers.
Another nervous flutter went through her stomach at the thought of that name. Duke Alaric Morgan. What was he really like, this legendary man whom she sought? King's Champion, and some said, closest advisor to the young king. Half-Deryni sorcerer and heretic, bastard worker of black magic. Supported by the king and some of the highest bishops in Gwynedd, despite this. Family man or womanizer; Christian or heretic; rumors ran rampant about him. Even in this, his capital city, there was the odd muttering, the undercurrent of conversation; though many of his subjects were fiercely loyal.
Alyce had passed from the somewhat peaceful inn district into one of open market and loudly bickering people. Jewels and trinkets of all types hung in colorful stands, wiggling in the breeze and sparkling in the sun. The place smelled of fresh bread, shoe leather, and unwashed bodies. Even in these morning hours, people pressed her from all sides, babbling in strange dialects and varied accents. Alyce sighed, having already braved the markets of Culdi; and, tightening her grip on the mare's tether, plunged headlong into the mob.
She surfaced in a rich residential section of the city. People still streamed past, but were nowhere near their previous concentration. Freed from the crowd, Alyce now caught a glimpse of the castle, rising in turreted splendor above the nobles' houses. As she watched, a banner was raised to snap in the wind from the highest tower; the green Corwyn Gryphon within Morgan's double tressure flory counter-flory. That Gryphon was hers, too; and, remembering her mission, she quickened her stride.
Richenda de Morgan stretched lazily, sprawling indolently across her bed. Alaric had risen with the sun, trying to get all matters in Corwyn squared away before their departure to Rhemuth. Kelric was obviously still peacefully asleep in the adjoining room, and Briony probably already terrorizing the castle with her young, exuberant energy.
As though the very thought of her family had summoned them, the door slowly opened, and Briony's bright blue eyes peered around it. Seeing that her mother was awake, the little girl ran in, scrambled onto the bed, and snuggled down against Richenda.
She put an arm about her daughter and smiled up at her husband, whose entrance had been a little more decorous than his daughter's. The late morning sunshine that streamed in the bay window glinted off his golden hair, and his smile at the sight of her lit up his face even more. Richenda squirmed to sit up, leaning against the bed's oaken headboard, Briony snuggled against her side. Her smile answered his.
"How are you feeling today, love?" he asked her. It was taking her a while to recover fully from the recent attack on Coroth.
Richenda sighed, her blue eyes going slightly distant as she contemplated. "Tired," she answered, her grin broadening, "but that's to be expected."
His eyes shone as he looked at her unabashedly. "That wasn't entirely my fault, love."
A cry rang out beyond the door, escalating into a loud, continuous infant wail for attention. They could hear Dame Elvira's soothing words as she attempted to calm the boy, and Richenda cast a skeptical look at Alaric. "That son of yours has a marvelous set of lungs," she told him.
"Takes after his mother," he retorted, reaching across her to smooth his daughter's red-gold hair. "Why don't you go and help Dame Elvira with your brother, lovey?"
Briony, her face bright at the privilege, scrambled away, and Alaric crawled across the bed like an overgrown boy to take her place. Richenda stroked his hair lightly as he rested against her, legs curled beneath him and arms around her waist. He heaved a big sigh. "Sometimes I wish--" he stopped.
"What? What do you wish?"
He snuggled closer. "Well, Duncan, Kevin, and Bronwyn were my best playmates when we were young. We'd always thought our children would be the same. But now--" He swallowed. "Sometimes I regret that Briony and Kelric have no cousins to play with. Dhugal really doesn't count."
She subtly comforted him with hands and mind. "There's always Brendan, isn't there?"
"Yes, but he spends so much time with the squires now that it's just--well--"
"You miss your sister." Richenda had never met Bronwyn, save through what Alaric had told her; yet she cut to the heart with that simple statement. "I'm sorry."
Alaric sniffed. "I don't know why I should be thinking about Bronwyn and Kevin, today of all days, but--I am." He snuggled a little closer. "They were so young, Richenda."
Husband and wife sat, silent, for a prolonged, contemplative moment; then Richenda stirred. "We can't sit here all day," she began. "You have work to do. Besides," she added, giving him a mischievous grin as she stood and stretched, "I know better than to stay in bed very long with you when there's work to be done."
Alaric made a noise of indignation, grey eyes innocent. He dropped a kiss on the end of her nose as her head appeared at the top of a clean shift. "Would I do that to you?"
Her look was candid as she handed him her dress. He obediently threw it over her head and helped her wriggle into it. "I know very well you'll do pretty much anything to get out of a morning of boredom with your chancellor," she told him, straightening the sky-blue skirt. Wrapping her arms about his neck, she kissed him soundly.
The sound of the door opening interrupted them, and they looked to see Alaric's chancellor fidgeting in the doorway, embarrassed. The man's ears were bright red, and his hands played nervously with a sleeve of his robe. "Y-Your Grace?" he stammered.
Alaric didn't move from Richenda's side. "Yes, Robert? What is it?"
Lord Robert of Tendal cleared his throat, regaining his composure. "Your Grace, there's a woman outside who says she must see you. She says she's a relative, and you will know her."
"Well, Robert? Who is she?" he asked, puzzled.
"Don't bother, my lord; Alaric will surely recognize me," came another voice from behind the chancellor. The woman who appeared beside Lord Robert, golden-haired, blue-eyed, bore such a close resemblance to Bronwyn that Alaric was sure he was hallucinating.
Lord Robert apparently took his duke's look of shock for recognition, and took his chance for a hasty exit.
The woman cautiously stepped further into the room, smoothing her plain skirt self-consciously. She met his perplexed stare with a calm one of her own. "Why so shocked, milord?"
Alaric swallowed, holding Richenda's hand in a death grip. His wife was equally perplexed. "You're . . . not Bronwyn," he said, blinking several times.
"No," she began. "Not Bronwyn. But similar to her, in several ways," she added cryptically.
"Would you please tell us who you are?" Richenda spoke for the first time, trying to ease Alaric's grip, wondering what was going on.
"Certainly; that's why I'm here," the woman replied. "But you may want to sit down."
Dazed beyond measure, Alaric invited her over to the bay window where the three gathered on facing window-seats. Seemingly not fazed one iota by their behavior, the woman played with a fold of her skirt for an eternal moment, collecting her thoughts. She looked up, blue eyes unreadable, and again Alaric was struck by her resemblance to Bronwyn.
"Many years ago," she began, "a young woman--Lady Alyce de Corwyn--visited a tiny barony in Kierney known as Terrace Wood." The woman's voice was low and musical; though not loud, it penetrated to every corner of the room. "The lord there, a handsome young man named Kale Pardayne, had just inherited the estate from his late father. As is so easy for young people, they fell in love. You can imagine Alyce's dismay when she learned that she had been promised to another man by the name of Lord Kenneth Morgan." She paused, and glanced at the couple across from her. Alaric's shocked look had softened into one of numbness, although she could tell they were both listening intently.
"Of course Alyce vowed that she would still see her beloved Kale even after her marriage. And she did. Now, she did come to love Lord Kenneth, in her own way, and bore him two fine children before her death. But more came of her visits to Terrace Wood than anyone had hoped or suspected."
The woman went on, weaving the tale of that "other life" of Lady Alyce de Corwyn de Morgan. How she had become with child just a few months after the birth of her son Alaric. How that child had not been Lord Kenneth's, although she had led him to believe that it was. A despairing Lady Alyce, already in the sixth month of her unplanned pregnancy, had gone to her sister Lady Vera, ostensibly to visit, but also to seek her advice and help. After a month in Cassan, she had sent a letter to her husband in Corwyn telling a tale of woe of a fall from a horse and a premature, stillborn child.
"Of course Lord Kenneth shared her grief and sympathized when she told him that she was going to stay at St. Giles' Abbey for a while. He never learned she had actually gone to Terrace Wood and borne the child that wasn't his. Lord Kale, given charge of his daughter, named her Alyciane, after the mother she would never know, and raised her as a fosterling."
"Wait just a minute," Alaric cut in. His look of shock was back as he realized the implications of her story. "You're saying that Lady Alyce--my mother--"
"Yes," she answered his unfinished thought. "She did, however difficult it may be to believe."
Richenda forced herself calm, no easy thing sitting beside her distraught husband. Her own eyes were a little wild. "But you still haven't told us who you are."
She looked straight at them with Bronwyn's blue eyes. "I think you already know that."
Alaric sized up the woman opposite him who looked so much like his deceased sister. She did look related, judging by her resemblance to Bronwyn. Her story did fit into an absence only faintly remembered by an infant Alaric. But it was too extreme to be believable! There was no way . . . He glanced at Richenda quickly without moving his head.
"You're Alyciane?" Richenda asked carefully, sensing Alaric's confusion and covering his hand with her own.
Alyciane nodded. "Yes," she replied softly, suddenly averting her gaze shyly. "I'm your sister, Alaric." Her fingers started toying with her dress again.
Alaric blinked, startled despite the fact he knew, a little, what was coming. "How can we believe your story? I mean, you may look like Bronwyn, but . . ."
As if Alaric hadn't had enough stress for a while . . . "What?"
"Probe me. Alyce was Deryni, and always passed that trait on. I'll open myself to you if that's what it will take to convince you I'm telling the truth."
He hadn't thought to Truth-Read her unexpected tale. She was right; besides the fact that he could learn all about her much more quickly mind-to-mind. His gaze flicked to Richenda. She wore the most unreadable expression he had ever seen on his wife.
Alaric sighed. "All right. You do have a point; there really is no other way to truly convince me." He held out his hand to her for the helpful physical contact, and she took it, resting the other palm-up on her lap. "Relax and visualize . . . relax . . ."
Alyciane had a faint look of amusement as she complied, and he sensed her trance level rapidly deepening. He glanced quickly at his Gryphon signet, triggering his own trance, and felt Richenda join with him to follow and observe.
Using the physical contact as a guide, Alaric sent a gentle tendril of thought toward the cool silver beacon that was Alyciane's mind. Her shields rolled back smoothly as he approached, inviting them in. Alaric sensed Richenda taking note of her detailed and thorough training; something he didn't know very much about. He found himself floating in well-ordered halls of thought, everything in its place. Remembering the one time he had Read Bishop Arilan, he supposed that was a sign of extensive formal training as he found her memories.
Childhood in a manor house set deep within the forests of Kierney . . . a nurse in bleached apron and petticoat bending over the small child . . . a merry, nondescript but somewhat handsome man with brown hair, vivid green eyes, and fair morals, affectionately labeled "father". . .
Later memories of Lord Kale . . . an unexpected tale in her tenth summer of her true background, the girl just coming into her Deryni powers Reading the truth in the story of her dead mother . . . Lady Vera's visits every summer afterward to secretly train her mind powers . . . the emotional summer seven years later, just after Vera's death, when Kale decided to send her to Saint Brigid's Abbey in Meara to further her Deryni training and get away from the problem of her illegitimacy. . .
Some more emotion-laden experiences . . . receiving the news of Kale's death with Duke Jared of Cassan in the Torenthi conflict . . . and her departure from Saint Brigid's, just before the Mearan rebellion, to seek out and face the rest of her shattered family . . .
Alaric finally surfaced from the rapport, delicately withdrawing his mind from hers. Coming out of the trance, he looked across at--his half-sister--to see tears streaking her face. Alaric felt a little guilty for having doubted her and realized that he had learned a lot from her.
Alyciane could not meet his gaze, even though she knew she had been accepted. "I've been doing a lot of casting back, this past year," she told them softly. An odd star of creases had appeared on her skirt from her nervous wringing of the plain material. After a short, uncomfortable pause, she continued. "And I've finally come to grips with all my options." Her blue eyes, surprisingly piercing, met Alaric's fearlessly. "As my last remaining family, I had to return to you, my roots, one last time, to see if an unsanctioned child could be accepted." Her eyes dropped to her hands as she became more timid again. "Now, with that cleared up, I'll go try for a serving position in Rhemuth Castle." She started to rise, as if to leave.
"Wait!" Alaric cried. His look was almost stern as she sat obediently back down. He shot a quick, affirming glance at his wife. "What makes you think that you haven't been accepted?"
She lifted her chin bravely, the light in her eyes gaining hope. The slightly dejected tilt to her shoulders had straightened.
"Alyciane," Richenda began gently, "I'm sorry for our attitude toward all of this. It's all been a big shock--" she shot a pointed look at her husband-- "even for me; and I never knew Bronwyn, or your parents. We just needed to absorb the facts a little."
Alaric cleared his throat. "I, especially, am to blame for my disbelief and treatment of your feelings; I'm sorry. I'm now ready to, if perhaps not publicly acknowledge our relationship, at least accept you back into the family. If you need a place, my doors are open, and I'm sure Richenda would be happy to accept you into her entourage." He turned a tender look on his wife.
"As if I had one."
Unfazed, he continued. "We're headed for Rhemuth in a few days; you are welcome to come with us, if you'd like." He grinned. "Richenda can introduce you to all her high-ranking friends, and you could assimilate into the family."
Duncan will have a conniption, Richenda sent laughingly.
Yes, but then again, the old stiff needs a jolt from the real world. Besides, Kelson always thought Bronwyn was lovely.
He heard Richenda's clear laugh in his mind. You're just as bad as the Council, she told him. And you could never prove her to them, especially if Kelson knew who she was.
Alaric sighed mentally. You're right, of course. But wouldn't this stir them up?
Too polite to pry, Alyciane had been simply aware of a conversation going on between the two, and waited patiently. Richenda turned to her, apologetic. "You're perfectly welcome with us, my dear," she told him. "Among the Deryni in our group, we won't be able to hide your identity. With your gifts, we'll probably even enlist your powers for formal workings. But we'll be able to figure something out for a public image."
Alyciane's radiant smile surpassed the sunlight in the window alcove. "You two are much too kind to me," she said. "How can I ever thank you?"
"No need," Alaric gave her a reassuring grin, silver eyes glowing. "You're my sister."
Story also located at the Author's website - The Gwynedd Pages
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