03 - Chapter 3 - The Apple Tree
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The Apple Tree  



Chapter  3





The elder Morgan arrived later, exchanging greetings and sinking onto a stool opposite the worktable from his king. The duke was now in his mid fifties, and his skin had gone leathery from the sun and sea air in his home of Coroth. As Kelson settled again in his chair, he mused on how hard it was to believe that he was nearly ten years older than Alaric had been when his father Brion died, and the duke had expertly and compassionately sheltered a young, frightened boy of fourteen who found himself suddenly holding a royal crown. It didn’t seem possible that the duke could have ever been any younger than Kelson was at any time in his life. Putting the reminiscing aside, Kelson spoke. “Alaric, do you think I have been too hard on Evaine’s suitors? Do you believe there have been any worthy ones I have turned away?”

“No, my prince, for you know well what a gentle hand the princess requires. Sending her to an unhappy marriage would do her a great disservice. Have you received another request for her hand?”

“Aye, I have.” Kelson rested his elbows on the table and rubbed his temples, pretending he still had a headache.

“Who is it this time? Anyone of note?” Morgan had fallen comfortably into the role of impartial advisor. The better to stun him.

“Your son. Kelric asked for her.”

Morgan’s face fell. He stared for a moment, then leaned on the table and buried his face in his hands, imitating the king’s posture. “The fool!” he muttered.

Hiding a smile, Kelson continued. “I knew there had been friendship between them, but this! I hope you understand why I am so demanding for my daughter’s sake. While Evaine can run hot with her mother’s fire, underneath is a soul more delicate. She is a strong lass, but it would cause me great pain if I saw her unhappy.”

Morgan hadn’t moved. “Yes, Sire. You do not have to explain, I understand completely.”

Pretending he didn’t hear, Kelson went on. “That is not even beginning to mention the grief Mairona would give me! You know how fiercely protective she is of our little princess.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Good. I see we are of one mind on this.” The king relaxed back in his chair.

Sighing, Morgan sat up and rested his hands on the table, thinking murderous thoughts about his son and heir. “Yes, of course.”

Kelson raised an eyebrow. “Excellent. Shall we discuss a suitable dowry?” His smile grew to a grin as Morgan gaped like a fish, flushing red from his cheeks to his hairline. The king laughed at his discomfiture. “I would say I have fair payback for Torenth!”

“And then some! Jesu, Kelson, you had me by the neck! Have you no respect for an old man?”

Kelson snorted. “Alaric, the day you grow old is the day fish sprout legs and walk on dry land.” He rose from his chair. “Come. I believe Kelric intended to seek my daughter out in the gardens after summoning you. Shall we spy on them?”

The elder duke, still dazed, followed his king to a window embrasure, where he swung out the glass in its casement. Kelric and Evaine were below in the gardens, both seated on a bench. The earl’s back was turned to them, but Kelson smiled when he realized he could clearly see his daughter’s fair face. Unfortunately, they seemed to be conversing in mind-speech, but no matter. It was easy to read Evaine’s features.

Kelson’s eldest daughter had inherited his pale skin, and it blushed a light pink when Kelric pushed himself off the bench and sank to his knees. Her emerald eyes widened in wonder, then her entire face lit with elation as she leaned forward to throw her arms around Kelric’s neck and kiss him solidly.

“I do hope Evaine will not be disappointed at the husband you have gotten her,” Morgan quipped, grinning wryly as he began to recover from his king’s revenge prank.

“Disappointed?” Kelson chuckled. “Evaine is so besotted with Kelric that I already intended to approach you about a match between the two. He decided to take matters into his own hands, though, and come seeking my permission. Your son has guts, Alaric.”

That son placed a hand on Evaine’s leg, too far up from her knee for Morgan’s comfort. The old duke’s heart nearly stopped, knowing her father was also looking on.

“Watch yourself, Kelric,” the duke muttered, wondering if he dared send a warning to his son through Deryni means.

“Let them be,” Kelson grinned, pulling Morgan away from the window. “They will certainly be doing worse than that as soon as they find a dark corner.”

“He will not, and I will make certain Kelric knows-“


“Oh, leave him alone!” Kelson ordered, propelling Morgan back toward the table. “Neither of them are children any longer. I have long despaired that Evaine would never know the happiness found in a marriage of hearts, and I am thrilled that she has not only found it, but will remain accessible enough to Rhemuth that her mother and I can see her with some regularity. I trust my daughter to ensure that she is a virgin bride, and I trust Kelric to respect her wishes, so let them have their fun and let us stay out of it. Now, we must sit down and start to hammer out the contracts. I would like to see those two wed as soon as possible.”

The basic agreements were short in the making, with Kelson promising extensive crown lands bordering Corwyn as dowry and Morgan exchanging his father’s sizeable inheritance in Gwynedd’s central plains, isolated from his Duchy of Corwyn but surrounded by Kelson’s crown holdings, as bride price. There was no need to bestow additional titles, for Kelric was already Earl of Lendour, and would eventually inherit his father’s ducal rank.

When they had shook hands and Morgan left, Kelson wandered back to the window embrasure looking over the gardens. Kelric was sitting with his back against Evaine’s favorite tree, and she lay on the ground with her head in his lap. He had acquired an apple and was carving neat, bite-sized slices, which he tenderly fed to her. That was sweet. She appeared to nibble on his finger after one bite, then half-sat as he leaned over to kiss her with considerably more passion than when he had proposed to her. Despite Kelson’s earlier words to Morgan, spoken from the mind instead of his heart, fatherly instinct screamed for him to rip his daughter away from that overt masculine desire, keeping her young and innocent for many years more. He knew that she was no longer his little princess, though, and it was time to let her go. Evaine was entitled to know the joys of being wife and mother.

Kelric’s eyes glanced up at the window in the King’s Tower, where he saw the king looking down at him and what he was doing to that king’s daughter, and he scrambled in panic. Evaine stilled him, placing her hand on his arm, and they seemed to exchange words silently before she also looked to her father. Her manner showed no embarrassment or shame. Rather, her face was serene with a happiness so deeply felt that it had no physical expression. As her meadow-green eyes captured her father’s gray, she brought her hand to her heart in a sign she had concocted as a tiny cherub of a girl, before she had mastered how to project mind-speech. I love you, it said.

Tears pricked at Kelson’s eyes as he raised his own hand to his heart in return, bestowing her with a bittersweet smile of joy at her blissful happiness, and sorrow at her impending loss to another man’s care. You have no idea how I love you, he thought, knowing she would not hear, but that didn’t matter. All that counted was the tranquil rapture in her face as Kelson turned away from the casement, closing its glass.



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