The Madness of the Wicked
Kelson! Welcome tae Transha!”
Dhugal beamed, pulling his blood-brother and king off the transfer
portal into a pounding embrace.
“It has been too long, Dhugal,” that king returned, pulling back to take in his surroundings. This chamber was small, a secret enclosure off Dhugal’s bedchamber to hide and protect the portal. The air was chillier here than at Rhemuth, and damp. It smelled heavily of the sea, a fresh, healthy scent.
“Aye, weel, we ha’e both been pleasantly occupied,” Dhugal grinned, his speech thick with its native burr. Here, neither his ducal title nor the rank of earl counted for much among the rugged borderers. He was the Laird MacArdry, chief of one of the most powerful clans in northern Gwynedd. Kelson’s blood oath with Dhugal had led to his own adoption into the clan by the previous Laird MacArdry, Dhugal’s grandfather Caulay, during a visit four years ago. In deference to that honor, for despite Kelson’s kingly rank it was an honor, he had dressed appropriately. He still didn’t entirely trust kilts, so he wore rust-colored border-style leathers with a sash of the MacArdry tartan. The Eye of Rom, the Ring of Fire, the great seal of Gwynedd, and even his Haldane signet had been left behind in Rhemuth, for they were symbols of lowland power, and meant nothing to these rugged clansmen. The only symbol of Kelson’s kingly rank was the lace tying his border braid, which was of crimson silk representing the royal House of Haldane. Dhugal noted his appearance, and understood at once that Kelson wished to leave courtly behavior behind.
“I see ye still remember how tae get tae Transha!” Dhugal ribbed.
Snorting, Kelson adjusted the plaid sash at his shoulder. “It would be hard to forget, when I led in your portal’s creation. Being married to a fully trained Deryni is proving to have its benefits. I should show you some of the other things Mairona has been teaching me.”
“Aye, I would like to see,” Dhugal returned in all seriousness.
“How fare Ailín and little Caulay?” Kelson asked as his blood brother led him out of the secret room and into the bedchamber behind.
“Ailín’s recovering her strength, an’ wee Caulay-” Dhugal grinned. “He’s a bonnie, braw lad. Ye’ll see.”
“I never thought to see you a happy family man for many years to come, Brother,” Kelson chuckled, throwing an arm around his blood brother. “Look at you, a devoted husband and father!”
“Aye, weel.” Dhugal put his own arm around Kelson’s shoulders as they slowly made their way to the chamber’s exit. “Ye’re the one who’d gae intae wild fits at the mere thought of marriage, an’ look at ye! Ye’re as besotted a husband an’ father as they come. How are Mairona and Evaine?”
“Mairona is well, and sends her love to you, Ailín, and little Caulay,” Kelson returned, cautiously avoiding mention of his daughter, but Dhugal would not let him out so easily.
“An’ wee Evaine?” he prompted again. Kelson took his arm back.
“She grows healthy and strong,” he replied with the proper smile, but Dhugal had known him far too well and long to be fooled. He turned on Kelson.
“Summat is wrong. Tell me.”
Kelson glanced at the floor, blinking. He and Mairona had grieved over this since they had discovered that while their infant daughter Evaine looked perfect, she wasn’t entirely whole. Kelson looked back up at Dhugal when he spoke, eyes lined with sorrow. “She cannot hear, Dhugal. My little girl is deaf.”
Dhugal would always have shared Kelson’s sorrow, but his new fatherhood made him feel this tragedy all too keenly. “I’m sae sorry, Kel.”
Shrugging, Kelson tried to force off his sudden mood change. “She has already shown the signs that she is Deryni, so she can learn to overcome her lack. All is not hopeless, Dhugal. I thank the Lord every day that she is healthy and strong, for I could have lost her before she was born, when Mairona was nearly killed-Well, never mind. Evaine is hale and happy so far, and I did not come here to dwell on her deficiencies. I mean to meet my new godson.”
Dhugal studied Kelson intently for a few moments, trying to determine if his words expressed genuine sentiment or if he needed to talk further. After looking deeply in Kelson’s eyes, he found what he searched for and nodded. “Aye. Caulay is with Ailín in her chamber. Come.”
The Lady’s chamber was adjoined to the Laird’s, and Dhugal opened the connecting door with a flourish. Grinning, Kelson ducked through and found himself immediately face to face with the Lady MacArdry, who was apparently on her way to the Laird’s chamber. Her blue eyes widened in surprise.
“Sire!” she exclaimed, holding a swaddled bundle close as she shifted her weight to curtsey.
“Nay, Ailín,” Kelson admonished her, placing a hand under her elbow to keep her from moving. “I have told you before that is not necessary in private, and if you are feeling near as sore as Mairona was so soon after birth, it would certainly be uncomfortable as well. Besides, I am here as clansman, not king.”
“As ye wish, Kelson,” she smiled warmly, “though it is a sorry day if ye’re submitting yourself to Dhugal as your Laird.”
Laughing, Kelson glanced back and Dhugal. This was daring for the timorous girl he had known briefly in Rhemuth and Druimfada. Dhugal grinned back, shrugging happily. It seemed that Ailín had indeed started to come into her own amidst the close-knit bordermen in Transha, as Dhugal had hoped.
“Hopefully the good Laird will keep in mind that the tables may turn at any time,” Kelson returned. “Now, would this be my godson?”
“Aye,” Ailín beamed, presenting the bundle held so carefully in her arms. Kelson pulled back the soft linen and cotton from the infant’s face, uncovering chestnut fuzz.
“This little laird takes after his mother,” Kelson smiled. “May I take him?”
Nodding, Ailín carefully handed her son off to the king, who cradled him with experienced ease. The week-old infant slept soundly, oblivious to the change. “Ye’re a braw wee lad,” Kelson said softly, words lilting with the burr learned from his blood brother as a calloused finger brushed the tip of the baby's nose.
“An’ ye’re gettin’ better at your border speech,” Dhugal smiled, stepping up to run a finger along his son’s head. “We’ll make a borderer o’ ye yet."
“Sae lang as ye ne’er ask me tae drink like one,” Kelson grinned, handing Caulay back to his mother. “He will be a handsome lad, Ailín.”
She glowed, ducking her head in thanks. “How fare Mairona and Evaine?” she asked.
“Fine and strong,” Kelson returned. “Mairona sends this.” He kissed Ailín’s cheek, then bent to gently kiss little Caulay’s forehead.
“Please be certain to return the greeting, on our behalf,” she asked, rocking Caulay in her arms.
“I shall,” Kelson promised, wondering at her change. On their last meeting in Druimfada, Dhugal’s description of his wife as a timid little sparrow had been rather apt. It no longer seemed appropriate, though. Ailín appeared more grounded now, solid, and when she glanced at Dhugal there was a faith in her eyes that had been absent before. Kelson had missed Dhugal’s presence at Rhemuth these last several months, but it appeared that this seclusion from the formalities of lowland life and royal court had its own benefits. Mairona would be thrilled to learn of this transformation, which obviously pleased Dhugal.
“Sae, Brother.” Dhugal clamped a hand on Kelson’s shoulder. “My father arrives soon for the christenin’ tonight, an’ in the morn ye ha’e your choice o’ diversions. How much the borderer do ye intend tae be?”
“What do you have in mind?” Kelson asked.
“Weel, we can gae hunting, or join my warriors in pursuit o’ wild bandits an’ thieves.”
“Och, nae borderer frivols awa’ huntin’ when there are guid bandits tae round up!” Kelson grinned.
“Ye are gettin’ better at that!” Dhugal grinned back. “Alright. Ye’re my deputy on patrol in the morn, if ye can bear handin’ o’er command.”
“Bear it? It will be blessed relief!” Kelson stated firmly. “Do you have any armor that will fit me, or should I fetch mine from Rhemuth?”
“We’ll find summat,” Dhugal said. “If ye retrieve your own, ye’ll be branded king on the morrow.”
“Alright, then,” Kelson smiled, clasping Dhugal’s hand. “To ill-fitting armor and the capture of nasty brigands!”
“So long as neither of ye get yourself killed,” Ailín warned sternly.
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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