Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Derry's Wedding



Chapter 2


Derry pulled the hood of his sodden dark blue cloak further over his face to keep out some of the driving rain. He had been riding in rain for most of the day, first a light drizzle, then squalls, but in the last hour a solid downpour. He sighed miserably, regretting his decision to press on from the tavern at Laraby village where he had drunk a tankard of ale–all right, three–and eaten a meal. But the rain had seemed to be letting up, and he had thought he could make St. Genevieve's Priory by dark and stay in the guesthouse there.

He sighed again. This was the wettest day he could remember spending on horseback in years. Even his horse, an energetic young stallion, had lost some of his usual enthusiasm as he picked a careful way up the steep mountain trail that wound from the plains around the walled city of Cardosa northward into the heart of the Rheljan Mountains on the borders of Tolan.

His destination, Caer Dinan, was at least a half-day's ride away in good weather, and this was anything but. The snow was gone, for March had been unseasonably warm, even here, but the trail was steep and slick, and he was beginning to wonder if he was actually on the right trail at all when he spotted ahead what he had been seeking for the past hour.

The mountain trails were sprinkled with small way huts that served to shelter travelers and shepherds alike from the weather at need. Derry had thought he was closer to one, but at least he'd found it now, so he urged the animal toward the shelter of the hut's attached shed.

Swinging down from the saddle, he led the stallion into the small barn-like structure. Inside, there was room for several horses and a well-filled hayrack. A stone trough for water he filled with a convenient pail, making several trips to the spring outside to give his weary horse a generous portion of water. Like any good horseman, he saw to his mount's needs before considering his own. When the horse was watered, fed, and relieved of his gear, Derry gathered up his saddlebags and a bucket of water for his own use and made a dash around the hut to its sturdy wooden door.

To his relief, this opened with ease and let him in out of the pelting downpour. With a sigh of relief this time, he slammed the door behind him and promptly tripped over a wide wooden bench. Muttering a curse, he managed to save the bucket of water, at least, if not himself. Disgusted, he rubbed his sore shins and opened the door again to get some light.

He dug into his saddlebags and found his steel and tinder and a bundle of emergency kindling he always carried. There was firewood stacked outside the door of the hut, so he brought in a good load, though he thought gloomily that it was so soaked it would never burn. Still, he could try.

Before he set to work on the fire, he stripped off his wet cloak, draping it over one of the two wide benches in the small hut. The whole interior was only about the size of a good-sized bedroom, and it held only the benches and a few low stools. These places were not built for comfort, just convenience. Like others of its kind that he had seen, this hut was built of the native stone of the area and roofed with blue-gray slate tiles. The rain hissed on them over his head, but at least there were no leaks.

On the wall opposite the door was a small window with both inner and outer shutters, and there was a wide hearth to the left of the door. His tunic was wet as well, so he took it off, too, leaving himself in just a linen shirt and his leather riding breeches. He then took a long pull from his wineskin; glad now he had spent the extra money to buy good Fianna red as he passed through Cardosa.

Thinking of Cardosa was no longer as painful as it once had been, though he had not and would not forget ever the horror of his imprisonment and torture by Wencit of Torenth in the dungeons of Esgair Ddu. After nearly nine years, though, and much work on the part of the Duke and Duchess of Corwyn and assorted others, most of the nightmares had faded, and his fear of betraying his lord or his king again had eased. There had been some bad times, especially just after he had recalled fully the night when he had helped Wencit steal away young Brendan and had himself tried to kill Morgan. He had struggled long and hard to overcome his feelings of guilt and shame over this betrayal.

But that was all past now. Since then, he had learned to accept his role as a victim in all those acts. He had learned at last to laugh again, and "merry Derry" was once again an appropriate nickname given him by companions in the various taverns of both Coroth and Rhemuth. Even in Cardosa, he had spent not too bad a night at a decent inn, with a pretty little maid doing her best to entice him to offer her much more than a smile and a kiss or two. He sighed as he knelt by the hearth. He likely should have taken her up on her suggestion, but he had been tired already, and he had planned to be out of Cardosa by first light. He might no longer get the shudders just thinking of the place, but he would never again like being there longer than he absolutely must.

He had closed the door as soon as he got a little flame going with his kindling, but he had almost exhausted the meager supply from his camping gear, and he had been right. The wood was too wet. With yet another sigh, he rose and started to pick up his cloak, intending to return to the shed and bring in enough hay to get a good hot blaze under the wood for a bit, to dry it out more. As he moved, a bundle of dried flowers rolled off the bench and landed at his feet, and he picked them up with a grin. When he had been at Caer Dinan, he'd been told that the way huts also served as trysting places for lovers, and that bunches of fresh flowers left in a hut were a signal to wise travelers to move on along or be prepared to face the ire of the pair who planned to meet there.

But these flowers were far from fresh, and they would probably burn as well or better than the hay, and he would certainly stay drier if he used them instead. He knelt back down by the hearth and laid a lattice of the wet wood above the place he planned to build his hot little fire, designed to dry it as much as possible. Satisfied with his handiwork, he began feeding the dry leaves and stems a few at a time into the little blaze he had managed with his kindling, noticing that the leaves gave off a not unpleasant, sweet and slightly spicy smell, rather like carnations. And the thought of carnations plummeted him into a memory long buried, of a summer day long ago at Caer Dinan....

He was sixteen, and he had been back at Caer Dinan for three months, ever since the passes had opened in mid-April. He had been happy to get back, for in many ways Caer Dinan, with its boisterous family of McKelvey children, was more fun than Castle Derry, where he had only his sister and his mother. His Uncle Trevor, of course, was nearby, but a growing boy sometimes found the too-close attention of a mother and sister annoying, to say the least.

That was never a problem at Caer Dinan. There were all the McKelvey children, of course, and at least half a dozen other boys there at Lord Michael's express invitation to learn what he could teach about fighting. And this summer, in particular, there was Helena, the eldest of Lord Michael's daughters.

Helena was a little less than a year younger than he was, and she had been his playmate for the past four years. It had been a surprise–no, a shock– to young Sean Seamus O'Flynn, Earl Derry, to discover that his playmate had suddenly turned into a woman. She had returned just the week before from a visit to her Aunt Elinor Ranier in Carbury, and it was like seeing a vision from a boy's fantasy of love. Her figure had filled out in very interesting ways, and her former taunts had given way to teasing smiles. She knew she was attractive, and she made sure any boy she was near knew it too. Her presence had teased the edges of Derry's awareness constantly from the first moment he had seen her after her return, and she had also managed to let him "find" her alone for a moment now and then to "steal" a few luscious, dizzying kisses that left him nearly burning for more.

On that particular day, he had been training in the armory yard as usual, and after what always seemed a long time, Lord Michael was allowing him a short respite while he worked with one of the other boys there for training that summer. Derry was leaning on the low wall that separated the armory yard from the main courtyard when she wafted by like a dark butterfly, her glossy hair shining as it flowed down her back to her waist, still a little damp from washing and full of the scent of some herb she had put in the water.

Her touch on his arm was like butterfly wings, too, and he almost thought he had imagined the whispered, "Come to the hayloft later," until he saw her secretive, seductive smile. He was glad he had been exercising vigorously, for he knew otherwise the heat he felt in his face would have betrayed his thoughts. The very idea of being alone with her in the deep, fresh hay had sent a shock through his entire body, setting every nerve tingling. It was all he could do to return to his swordplay and not rush off then and there to find her.

He had gone from the armory yard to his quarters and changed into fresh clothes, and he had stopped in the garden to pick a handful of sweet, spicy carnations for the equally spicy and lovely Helena. She had received them with delight, kissing him once for each of the dozen or so blossoms, and they had sunk down into the fresh hay . . .

Derry felt his heart pounding in his chest. What a thing to remember, he thought, and wondered why it should be affecting him so. His pulse was racing and his vision blurry. He fed another of the dried plants to the fire and fought a wave of dizziness. His ears were ringing, too, so that he almost missed the sound of the door opening. He was just in time to snatch up his sword and stagger to his feet before the wind blew in a gust of rain and revealed that the newly arrived traveler wore skirts, not breeches. He relaxed a little as the woman flipped back her hood with one hand–until he noticed that the other hand kept a competent grip on a very business-like rapier. Firelight glittered as she raised it slightly, and he wondered if this was some lady bandit. He started to speak, but she let out a shriek and lunged for him.



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