The Queen of Meara
Chapter 6 - Part 1
Richenda brought Mairona to the solar over the great hall so she could meet the women of the court. One of the younger girls caught Mairona’s interest, for she had the look of Mearan ancestry despite her Gwyneddi name of Gwenhwyfar. The girl sat near a window to take advantage of the light, embroidering a tunic. Young Gwenhwyfar looked up shyly as the new, if unwilling, Mearan Pretender passed. “My lady,” the girl said, rising to curtsey. Mairona favored her with a nod, then looked at her curiously.
“Have we met before?” Mairona asked, seeing something familiar in her features.
“Aye, my lady, when we were children,” Gwenhwyfar replied. “My father was Gwydion of Tawer Shanakill. He used to bring me to Druimfada when I was very young.”
“Of course!” Mairona exclaimed. “You have grown so, I did not recognize you! Your father was killed in the Mearan war, was he not?”
Gwenhwyfar bowed her head. “Aye, my lady. He died a traitor.”
“I am sorry,” Mairona whispered. “I did not know.”
“My father was foolish,” Gwenhwyfar shrugged. “He paid for his mistakes. My brother Artur is Lord of Tawer Shanakill now.”
“How is Artur? I remember he used to torment us to no end!”
Mairona and Gwenhwyfar sat together, laughing at old memories and the antics between Artur and Mairona, each trying to outdo the other. Artur had tripped Mairona in front of all his friends, so she put a burr underneath his saddle the next day and saw him thrown from his horse. He cut off her hair when she was sleeping, so she used a subtle Deryni influence to make her favorite hound Cabal chase him, nipping at his heels. Artur had run, terrified, until he finally found safety in the branches of fruit tree. Gwenhwyfar and Mairona had watched as children, and laughed together as Cabal barked and growled endlessly at his escaped prey.
Their reminiscing was interrupted when Duchess Meraude entered the solar with a few of her ladies. Gwenhwyfar swiftly rose to curtsey, and Mairona followed her example. She had barely regained her feet before Richenda was shepherding her toward the king’s aunt.
“Richenda!” Meraude called, a jovial smile on her round, pleasant face. “And this must be the Lady Mairona. I hope you will forgive my husband and I for not attending the feast last night. Nigel was not feeling well.”
“My lady,” Mairona said, dropping in a curtsey. “His Highness seemed improved today.”
“He is. He tries so hard to keep up the king, who has all the energy of youth. Welcome to Rhemuth, child. You look so much like your mother I almost thought she was walking this earth again!” Meraude chuckled as Mairona’s eyes grew wide.
“Another reunion?” Richenda laughed, raising an eyebrow. “For someone who has never been to Rhemuth, you seem no stranger to the court.”
“I had no idea,” Mairona replied, intrigued. “How did you know my mother, Madam?”
Meraude smiled, taking Mairona’s arm and walking with her to a sitting area. “It was many, many years ago. We both spent a few weeks together in the convent of St. Brigid near Cùilteine making our pre-nuptial retreats. The last I heard from Maire was shortly before you were born. Mairona means ‘little Maire’, doesn’t it? Your father did well to name you that. Lady Maire’s eyes were perhaps a smokier green, and her hair a shade darker, but you are the very image of her.”
Mairona chuckled. “My nurse used to tell me I inherited my mother’s fair face and my father’s evil temperament. I would threaten to tell her words to my father when she was angry with me.”
“I think she did a disservice to your father,” Meraude replied. “Maire wrote me that he made her happy.”
“He adored my mother,” Mairona said, smiling. “I think my nurse only referred to his obstinacy. She constantly fretted that I was an unladylike child, but my father encouraged me as his heir.”
“You grew into a lady fine enough to capture Kelson’s attention, unless I am misinformed,” Meraude grinned.
Mairona blushed, ducking her head. “That is not why I came to Rhemuth,” she murmured.
“Which is probably why he was so enthralled,” Richenda remarked. “The king has grown tired of the parade of eager maidens strung out before him, all greedy for a royal marriage.” She turned to her fellow duchess with a mischievous twinkle. “It was more than just attention, Meraude. Kelson looked like one of Nigel’s pages serving for the first time.”
“I wish I could have seen that!” Meraude chuckled. “Well, Mairona, it seems you will be spending more time at Rhemuth than you anticipated.”
Mairona looked at both of them. “What do you mean?”
“The king is not in the habit of escorting young ladies to their rooms,” Richenda returned, a sly, amused look in her eyes.
“Nothing happened!” Mairona protested, but Richenda raised her eyebrow, reading falsehood. “Well, he kissed me, but that is all!”
“We both know Kelson would never dishonor a lady,” Meraude reassured her, patting her hand. “What Richenda is trying to say is that this is more than casual interest for him. My nephew is a good man and a strong king, but he is inexperienced in matters of the heart. If he kissed you, his intentions are serious and more than likely he is thinking of a possible marriage. So, the question is, would you accept marriage with him?”
“’Tis all happening so fast,” Mairona shook her head. “I have had so many men after my hand since my father died that my head spins thinking of them all. They were all the same; they wanted Druimfada more than me. Their words were smooth and fair, but I could Truth-Read right through them. Then last night the king showed me the sincerity I have only dreamed of. When he kissed me—I have never allowed any man kiss me before. And this morning when he was reading me about the Mearan rebels, he told me he could love me. How did this happen so quickly?”
Richenda gave Mairona a knowing smile. “Reading can be a very intimate experience for two Deryni, especially when there is some attraction between the two. Since we can sense falsehood and truth, there are no guessing games. It all happened very quickly for Alaric and me, as well. How do you feel?”
“I do not know. This is all so new,” she whispered. “I feel—light—in his presence, and it pleases me. Is that affection? Could it possibly grow so strong so swiftly?”
“Aye, between Deryni,” Richenda said. “Perhaps Meara will have a queen of its own blood after all.” Meraude laid a hand on her fellow Duchess.
“We should let Kelson do his own wooing. Mairona, tell me about your mother. I would like to know how she fared after your birth.”
The young Lady of Druimfada never had a chance to begin, due to an interruption from the king’s chamber. As the door opened into the solar and the men departed, all the ladies fluttered into curtseys. Neither duchess was too distracted to miss the way Mairona’s eyes lit when Kelson entered, swathed in heavy leathers, wool, and furs
“You may rise,” he bade them all. His eyes went straight to the duchesses, who both nodded slightly. A smile broke across Kelson’s face. “We intend to exercise ourselves and our horses, if the roads allow. Are there any ladies who wish to join us?” Most of the room plainly thought he was nuts. “Aunt? Lady Richenda?”
“Days like this are meant to be spent next to the fire,” Meraude stated definitively.
“It is too cold for my eastern blood,” Richenda agreed.
“My lady Mairona,” Kelson’s smile became softer. “You do not fear a little snow.”
“Nor do I fear a lot of snow, my lord,” she grinned back. “I have recently had some practice with it.”
“Come, then. When you are prepared, meet us at the stables.” He took her hand and brushed its knuckles against his lips while snaring her eyes through his lashes. She flushed in pleasure. With a wink, the king spun toward the solar’s door and disappeared with his companions.
“Wonder no more about affection, Mairona,” Richenda smirked, her blue eyes sparking in knowing humor. “The way you two look at each other, it will be mere days before you are hopelessly besotted.”
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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