02 - Chapter 2 - The Apple Tree
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The Apple Tree 



Chapter  2





A breeze blew through the window to Kelson’s study, threatening to scatter a stack of parchment. It carried the promise of winter chill, following close on the heels of the autumn colors now gripping the gardens below. He rubbed his head, trying not to think about the amount of coin and precious metal that needed to change hands. The recent treaty with Liam-Lajos of Torenth had finally hammered out borders between their kingdoms, and while some of his lords now found their domains vaster and owed appropriate payment to the crown, others had land taken away and must be compensated with its value in gold. Of course, some of those lords clamored that they were being overcharged or short changed. Checking over his clerics’ records and sums in review of the disputes had given Kelson a headache. The only pleasure in this was that Liam would be having just as much fun.

He snorted at the memory of the Torenthi court feast at his arrival, and a little prank Dhugal had played with the wine. As a child, Liam had played some fool tricks on Dhugal and the duke thought it was high time for recompense. Enlisting Morgan’s aid, he managed to get the finely aged Fianna red intended for the kings’ toast replaced with cheap, vinegary stuff that assaulted the palate. Both Kelson and Liam had to salute each other with flowery speech, then gag down the offensive liquid with a smile so no one would be insulted. Dhugal and Morgan both had tears running down their cheeks in their effort not to laugh. Liam took it in the humor it was meant, cheerfully admitting Dhugal had collected his debt. Kelson had to agree, but Morgan was another thing entirely. The older duke owed him for that awful stuff. Morgan had always had a healthy sense of humor, but it was only in the last five years or so that Dhugal had enlightened him about the joys of pranking. It was as if Morgan had decided he had played the father figure long enough, and now that his young charges were no longer young, and in fact nearly a decade older than he had been when he took charge of them, it was time to let his true nature shine through.

Kelson’s musings were interrupted by the sound of laughter outside. He recognized his daughter Evaine’s voice and smiled. She held a special place in his heart for her fierce determination not to let her deafness stand in the way of anything she wanted. That she could move through relatively normal social circles was nothing short of amazing. In the last few months, his serious, withdrawn, studious child had grown into a beautiful, self-assured woman who was no stranger to happiness. He suspected he knew the reason why, too.

“My lord.”

Kelson lifted his head, seeing his squire approach. The lad was new to his service, not quite broken in, but he showed much promise. “What is it, Ian?”

“The Lord Kelric Morgan, Earl of Lendour, wishes to see you, Sire.”

“Show him in, lad.” Kelson relaxed back in his chair as Ian jumped to the task, eager to please. The boy returned a few moments later with Morgan’s white-blond son.

“My liege,” Kelric bowed. He fidgeted when he stood, betraying his anxiousness and therefore his purpose.

“Good day, Kelric. What brings the pleasure of your company?”

The young man swallowed audibly. “I have a boon to ask, m-my lord,” he stuttered uncharacteristically, then tried a nervous grin. “A large one.”

“Well, what is it? Oh, come now, I do not bite hard. Not my godson, at least,” Kelson reassured him.

“I know how dearly your Highness holds the Princess Evaine,” Kelric began, his voice growing steadier.

“That is no secret,” the king nodded.

“Aye, Sire. That is why I must beg your forgiveness at my forwardness. If I am being foolish, please to not count it against me.” Faltering again, Kelric glanced at the floor then back up at the king.

“Well, out with it! You have proven to be a good man, and I will not fault you,” Kelson smiled encouragingly. The young man’s discomfort brought sweet memories of a certain feast eighteen years ago, when the king’s cool confidence fled at the sight of a beautiful Mearan maiden with green eyes and blonde, curly hair. Kelson returned to the present when Kelric continued.

“I have little claim to royal blood, but I would beg you for the Princess Evaine’s hand, my liege.” There. He had said it.

Kelson kept his face schooled. “You are modest with your bloodlines, Kelric. We both know that your ducal father is descended from the kings that once ruled Mooryn as an independent state, and your mother’s grandfather was the King of Andelon. So, now that we have that matter cleared up, have you and Evaine already made promises to each other?”

“No, Sire. I dare not ask her without your approval, if you see fit to grant it.” The young man’s words were properly humble and even, but his entire demeanor was bursting at the seams with energy.

“Does your father know you are here?”

“Ah, no, Sire.” Kelric looked almost sheepish. “I feared he would try to stop me.”

“I see.” Kelson studied the young man before him, his father’s features so clearly stamped on his face. That father had sheltered and guided Kelson when he needed it most, and Kelson inwardly cheered at this heaven-sent opportunity to unite their two houses. “Do you think she will be favorable, Kelric?”

“I believe so, my lord,” he said nervously, trying not to be presumptuous, but also unwilling to discard his trump card of Evaine’s affection. “I do love her, and would treasure her, laying all that I have at her feet.”

At that, Kelson let out an unkingly grin. “We shall have to arrange for a dispensation from Archbishop McLain, since you are my godson and Evaine is your father’s goddaughter, but that should present no difficulty. Lad, you go with my blessing. If Evaine agrees, nothing would make me happier than giving her to you!”

Kelric stood stunned for several moments, uncertain he could trust his ears. Princes had been turned down as matches for Evaine, and now he, an earl, was given the king’s blessing? As realization of his success sunk in, a slow grin spread that matched Kelson’s. “Thank you, Sire, thank you! I do not know how to thank you!”

“There is one thing you may do,” Kelson told him.

“Name it, my king! Anything!”

The king laughed at the young man’s enthusiasm. “You should take care not to promise something before you know what you swear to, Kelric. You are fortunate this time, for I do not ask much. On your way to pledge your undying love to my daughter, seek out your father and send him to me. Do not tell him what has just happened, for I have a score to settle.”

Raising an eyebrow in a shadow of his father’s favorite gesture, Kelric nodded. He knew exactly what Kelson was talking about, knew his father was about to pay a debt, and relished assisting his royal godfather in revenge. “Aye, my lord!”

“Go now, and hurry.”



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