01 - Chapter 1 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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The Madness of the Wicked  



Chapter  1  


Conor rode uneasily beside his father, whose face glowered as it fixed toward Transha, their destination. Ostensibly, they were journeying to pay their respects to his sister, Ailín, and her husband the Duke of Cassan on the birth of their first child, a son and heir. Conor suspected that his father was also going to have to ask the Duke Dhugal MacArdry McLain for help, and that shame was the cause of his anger.

His father Geoffrey’s lands in Kilshane were in a fertile section of Cassan, but in the last few years the crops had failed. Geoffrey had to claim a larger percentage each year to maintain his failing income, leaving little for the people to sustain themselves. They were becoming increasingly indignant as they watched wives, husbands, children, mothers, and fathers grow thin in hunger. This year, spring flooding had delayed planting, and the people knew what that meant come harvest time. They would see nearly nothing from their hard work. Rumblings of rebellion were starting to roll the length and breadth of Kilshane.

His father was losing grip on his holding, and in his anger and frustration, his behavior was becoming increasingly erratic. Geoffrey had always been known for his temper, and had never been a gentle man, but there always seemed to be method to his actions before. Now, not even Conor could predict what his father would do at any given moment.

He sincerely hoped that help would be forthcoming in Transha, because he could see no other way to survive, and he was beginning to both fear and detest his own father. Geoffrey was not managing this crisis well, for the people would be a great deal more docile if only they were fed occasionally. There was little Conor could do to alleviate matters, though. He was only fourteen, and while that was legally the age of manhood, reality dictated that he was still little more than a boy. Geoffrey certainly scoffed at his suggestions. His sister was the only prayer he had left.

Ailín’s own fortunes had soared in the past year or so, higher than even a heroine in a bard’s tale. Their father Geoffrey had been disappointed that his firstborn was a daughter and not an heir, and had treated her shabbily as a result. When Conor was younger, he had cried for her when she was frequently locked in a storage room for silly little transgressions, such as “unladylike” tripping on a stair, or not serving the ale to guests fast enough. Who would ever had guessed that this mistreated daughter of a poor, inconsequential lord would become the wife of the king’s blood brother, who was the second most powerful man in Gwynedd? By all accounts, the Duke of Cassan treated her with all the kindness and affection she had missed in childhood. Conor remembered when the duke had come to his father’s house to claim his bride, and how he had compassionately sheltered Ailín in her fear of her father’s wrath, yet simultaneously faced down Geoffrey with no openings of weakness or vulnerability, leaving him no room to maneuver or scheme. Conor wouldn’t blame Ailín if she had tried to forget her former life and all ties from it, but he prayed she hadn’t forgotten him as she embraced her new life as Duchess of Cassan, Countess of Kierney and Transha, and one of the queen’s most trusted friends. Her future was as bright as they come.

Please, Ailín, you must help Kilshane. For the love you bear me, if nothing else. I wish to have a future, too. 

The only problem was in that same visit, when Dhugal Duke of Cassan had claimed Ailín, Conor had tried to kill him for deflowering his sister, for their wedding had been prompted by a premature bedding. The Duke of Cassan had little reason to love Geoffrey or Conor, whatever Ailín may think or feel.


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