The Queen of Meara
Chapter 5 - Part 1
next morning Mairona attended Mass with the king’s household in the
keep’s chapel. Kelson kneeled two rows ahead of her, and she found it
difficult to pay attention to Bishop McLain’s celebration rather than
the king’s black head bowed over clasped hands, hair pulled back in a
border braid secured with crimson ribbon. She stifled a smile when she
saw the ribbon had caught on the neck of his cloak, and was starting to
pull out. These were not proper thoughts while worshipping the Lord God.
Duncan chanted. “quia peccavi nimis cogitatione verbo, et opere.”
I confess to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary ever Virgin, Blessed Michael the Archangel, Blessed John the Baptist, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the Saints, and to You, Father, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed.
Even though she could recite the entire Mass backwards standing on her head, Mairona started to consciously translate the phrases word by word, forcing herself to pay attention. Her breath became regulated, slow and even, in, out, in, out. She had to do something, or later she wouldn’t be in a proper state of reverence to take communion.
Meanwhile, Kelson was having like challenges. She couldn’t be seen, but he could feel her strong psychic presence nearby. His mind struggled with the visions of clear green eyes that floated on the inside of his eyelids. Memories came unbidden of the previous night; of dancing in the hall, and, more disrupting, their kiss. “Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.” May Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive your sins, and bring you to everlasting life.
Lord, he prayed, raising his knuckles to his lips. Help me empty my mind and prepare myself for Thy presence. Even though it was a shorter daily mass, without the ritual processions and chants of Sunday’s celebration, it was one of the longest he had ever attended. Finally communion was administered and the concluding dismissal prayers were said.
“Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.” May Almighty God bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Amen,” Kelson and Mairona breathed heartily in reply. When Duncan had concluded, they both rose. Mairona stretched as inconspicuously as she could, stiff and sore after kneeling for so long. She adjusted her veil about her shoulders as she turned to Saraid.
“I thought I would never get through that,” she murmured.
“You did seem restless, my lady. And I believe the source of that restlessness is approaching.” Saraid unobtrusively moved away.
Mairona turned around to see that the king was indeed walking her way. “My lord,” she greeted, dipping in a quick yet fluid curtsey.
“Good morrow, Mairona. I wish you to break your fast with my advisors in my chambers, where we may discuss Meara.” He brushed her mind gently, taking away the formality of his words.
“I would like that, Sire,” she smiled apprehensively in return. She must tell him all she knew, it was her duty, and yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow this was wrong, that she was betraying her people. They were traitors to the lawful crown, she knew, and she would particularly enjoy exposing Rolf to the king’s justice, but the others were mostly overzealous Mearan patriot chieftains. She felt a strange kinship with them, by virtue of their shared blood.
What is the matter? Kelson sent, worried at her distance. Perhaps she had regrets over the feast, or its aftermath?
Nothing of import, she returned, shaking her head minutely. This shall not be as enjoyable as last night.
I know, Kelson sighed. He mentally sent commands to Dhugal, Duncan, and Morgan to precede him to his rooms, then hand-signaled Prince Nigel to do the same.
“May Saraid accompany me?” Mairona asked aloud.
Kelson hesitated. Saraid was out of the question at such a sensitive discussion, yet he understood Mairona’s wish to have another lady present. “The Duchess of Corwyn will attend. Is that suitable?”
“Aye,” she nodded, motioning her maid closer. “Saraid, I will accompany his Highness. Return to my chambers.”
“Yes, my lady,” she said, her eye twinkling at the sight of her mistress with the king. “Your Highness,” she curtsied, then left the chapel. Kelson waited for the rest of the morning Mass’ attendants to depart before continuing.
“Now, Mairona, there is no one to hear. What is wrong?” He took one of her hands in his. She had no choice but to be honest. It was a drawback of being in the presence of a Deryni.
“That is a difficult question, my lord. I feel a strong kinship with my fellow Mearans, and a sense of loyalty to them. My loyalty to you is stronger, yet-” She bit her lip, unsure of how to speak her thoughts without insult.
“You feel like you are betraying your people?” he asked, idly caressing the back of her hand with his thumb. She nodded miserably, lowering her head. “You are not betraying the Mearans, Mairona. Rather, you are bringing traitors to justice.”
“Some of them truly deserve it,” she replied, unable to look at his face. “But the lesser chieftains they have collected as support are different. Most of them are good men, caught up in tales of glorious Old Meara. Their loyalties are misguided, for they think they are only serving their Crown. They are looking to the wrong crown-”
“You know some of them well?” Kelson guessed.
“A few of them were fostered at my father’s court. One of them was my father’s ward, Fergal Ó Hearne. He is like a brother to me, and believes he is acting for my interests.” She looked at him with pleading eyes that stabbed at his heart. He wanted very much to tell her it would turn out all right, but he would not give her false hope.
“Mairona, I wish I could promise you that I can save them. However difficult it may be, Gwynedd’s welfare must come before my personal concerns. Do you understand that?” He squeezed her hand lightly.
“Aye, your Highness. Very well,” she said quietly.
“I can vow that the king’s justice will be tempered with mercy. If it is possible without compromising my duty, I shall save this man,” he promised. “Perhaps you could write letters convincing him to break faith with the traitors and swear fealty to me. Any man who does that and swears true will receive a full pardon.”
“I shall do that, my lord. Thank you.” She brought her free hand up and placed it on his, favoring him with a brief smile.
“I know this is not easy for you,” he said gently, gray eyes mirroring her distress.
“No,” she shook her head. “But your kindness has helped.”
He smiled and leaned over to kiss her. It was barely more than a brief brushing of lips, very different from the one that they had shared the previous night, but it gave her comfort. That gladdened him.
“Are you ready?” he asked, gesturing toward the door.
“Aye,” she nodded, allowing him to lead her to his chambers off the solar.
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