The Queen of Meara
Chapter 7 - Part 1
It was the following day before Mairona ventured to the library, since no earthly force was tearing her away from the nearest fireplace when they returned to the keep. Kelson's attention was immediately turned to statecraft on arrival, and he had taken his leave the moment they dismounted, but the feel of his waist under her hand, and then his fingers enveloping hers, floated prominently in memory. The Duchess of Corwyn had been right. She was becoming hopelessly besotted, even though she had never dared dream—
The greatest expanse of the library's walls was lined with wooden diamond-shape cubbyholes filled with scrolls of varying sizes. The remaining space had flat shelves piled with books bound in leather, rare and expensive. Three stands held a richly decorated bound book each, obviously the most valuable possessions in the library. Mairona's first reaction was awe at the massive wealth contained in this room. Her second was absolute delight and wonder, knowing that it would take years to study every work in here, and that a number of them would be Deryni in origin. With a cry of pleasure, she sorted through the nearest treasures to see what marvels they contained.
"My lady, are you in need of assistance?"
In her excitement, Mairona had overlooked a boy with close-cropped light brown hair, gangly with the promise of manhood. He had been slumped over a scroll near the window, but the scroll was shoved into a nearby compartment as he leaped eagerly to his feet. "I am Liam," he offered with a casual bow. Liam of where? Which house?
"I am Mairona ní Dhugain of Druimfada," she returned, introducing herself properly.
"I have heard of you," the boy stated. "You are to be Queen of Gwynedd."
It was difficult not to blush, but Mairona would not do so in front of this child. "I am not betrothed," she returned firmly.
"You will be!" Liam grinned impishly. Just who was this impertinent boy? "May I help you find something?"
"Aye," Mairona said matter-of-factly, hoping to distract the boy to another topic. "The king has asked me to translate Mearan passages in a Camber history his Highness recently acquired."
Frowning, Liam tapped his finger against his hip. "I do not know of the history you speak, but I can set up a workspace for you. Then I will help you locate the Camber piece." He immediately burst across the room with the boundless energy of boyhood, disappearing underneath the lid of a hinged copy table.
"Are you a squire here?" Mairona asked. "Have you been under Prince Nigel's tutelage?"
"Aye!" his head darted up with a grin as he laid aside a small wooden box, then he vanished again inside the table's storage compartment. "How did you guess?"
"I have only been in Rhemuth for a few days, but it is long enough to see that all of the lads under his care jump at the chance to assist a lady," she chuckled.
"Given the choice between a lady's wishes and polishing harness," Liam retorted, "most of us will take the lady's wishes."
Laughing, Mairona decided she liked this boy's good-natured cheek, which was not born of ill manners after all. She wondered at the hint of foreignness in his speech as she approached the table, where Liam withdrew a few leaves of vellum. It was not of the finest quality, but would do to record her translations for Richenda and Kelson. Closing the lid, Liam carefully placed the vellum on top and took up the wooden box to extract ink and quills. "Now we only have to locate the history. Do you know if anyone has been studying it? That may help us find it."
"Find what?" a voice called from the doorway. Smiling, Mairona turned to receive the king and made to curtsey. A wave of his hand dismissed the thought, and instead he took her hand to kiss it in greeting.
"My lady said you have a new Camber history," Liam stated. Mairona wondered at the contrast between his formality in reference to her, and his obvious familiarity toward the king. Could this be one of his cousins? The boys' given names were Rory and Payne, to her recollection, but was one familiarly called Liam? She had been told that both brothers had the Haldane black hair and gray eyes, though. Perhaps a baseborn cousin? Or even a bastard brother? Her breath caught at the thought.
"Aye, I do. There is also something recently arrived for you," Kelson announced as he counted down the columns of scrolls.
"For me? What?" Liam's eyes lit in anticipation
"Two items. The first is a history of the Festillic Interregnum in Gwynedd. The second is about the House of Festil in Torenth once my ancestors regained the Gwyneddi throne."
My ancestors, not our ancestors. Not a Haldane by-blow, then. Who was this boy?
Finding the proper storage cubicle, Kelson pulled out two scrolls and unrolled them just enough to verify their contents. "Here they are." He handed them over to the boy, who took them reverently.
"Thank you," he exhaled. "May I remove them from the library?"
"They are yours. You may do with them as you like."
Grinning in unchecked happiness, Liam turned to go, but hesitated and changed his mind. His expression turned almost sheepish. "I have a question."
"Go on," Kelson prompted.
"It seems to me," Liam started, then hesitated to rethink his words. "The House of Festil is the enemy of the House of Haldane."
"Was," Kelson corrected. "The Festils are gone."
"Yet their blood flows in my veins, and they were enemies of the Haldanes."
Sighing, Kelson leaned against a row of shelving and studied the boy closely. Mairona was completely intrigued, and stood fixed in hopes of watching this interaction play out in full.
"Liam," Kelson finally started, "you have already read of the Interregnum. What do you think of the Festillic kings?"
The boy squirmed, like he was much younger than his twelve years. "Imre the Last deserved to be overthrown, but not all of them seem bad."
"You are very astute. Some of them were good kings," Kelson admitted. Liam's bearing eased at this affirmation.
"They cared for the kingdom more than their own power," Liam observed, "but they were enemies of the Haldanes. That is why Gwynedd and Torenth have warred ever since your House was restored."
"Aye, and that was only because Imre the Last was so corrupt and demented that he spurned his intended bride to impregnate his own sister. If he had been a good king, it is likely that St. Camber would never have had cause to restore the House of Haldane two hundred years ago. Cinhil Haldane would have died a childless priest instead of a king, my bloodline would have ceased to exist, and there might still be a Festil on the throne of Gwynedd. Torenth warred with Gwynedd for two hundred years to restore the Festil line, but that house has been extinct for six years now. High time to end the fighting, is it not?" Kelson cocked an eyebrow. Standing as tall as he could, Liam nodded. "Enough history for today. Prince Nigel will be wanting you for arms practice with Payne."
Rolling his eyes, Liam groaned. "That means more harness polishing when we are through."
Laughing, Kelson shoved the boy toward the door. "I had to do it, too, when I was your age. Go on!"
Before he left, Liam turned back towards Mairona and gave her a half-bow. "My lady," he called in parting, then he flashed a grin to Kelson, and was gone.
"Who was that?" Mairona breathed. Chuckling, Kelson shook his head.
"He did not tell you?"
"He said his name is Liam?" Mairona shrugged, clearly indicating that it was no answer at all.
"That is what we call him," Kelson told her, "for it is his given name. His people know him as Lajos II, King of Torenth."
"The—" Mairona instantly thought better of her words and clamped her jaws shut.
"Hostage king?" Kelson finished for her with a raised eyebrow. "Aye, defeating his uncle, the late King Wencit, was not enough to keep peace with Torenth. That war made me Torenth's overlord, but Liam is still a minor and his other uncle Mahael has no respect for the terms made six years ago. I am compelled to keep Liam here to enforce peace along our borders, and that is why I must be responsible for making certain he is ready to assume Torenth's crown when he comes of age. If I can seat that boy firmly on his throne, he is my best hope for lasting peace between Gwynedd and Torenth."
"And he reaches his majority two summers hence," Mairona murmured thoughtfully as Kelson started rooting through the bound books.
"Ah, here it is," he finally proclaimed as he extracted a plain tome worn with time and ill-use. "Richenda said there was an allusion to a relic of St. Camber, and a profusion of Mearan commentary around it. When I was knighted, I swore to find a relic for the chapel I plan on building at St. Hilary's, dedicated to Camber. So far I have not been successful. There, that must be Richenda's mark." A scrap of green cotton winked from between the pages. Mairona sat on the worktable's bench as Kelson settled next to her, delicately paging through the aging vellum to reach Richenda's placeholder.
"You are dedicated to restoring his cult?" Mairona wondered.
"Aye. I have had visions of him. The first was at my coronation, when he pronounced blessing on my crown with the archbishop." Kelson shuddered at the memory.
"You fear him?"
"St. Camber? No." Kelson shook his head. "His presence is benevolent, father-like. I was merely remembering the former Archbishop Loris, who did the crowning."
Mairona shuddered, too. Loris had been zealous in persecuting Deryni, burning them at the stake to cleanse them of their "sin." Once he discovered Kelson's own Deryni heritage through Jehana, he allied himself with the Mearan Pretender Caitrin to overthrow the "demon king," and he murdered anyone who got in his way, be they bishop or lord.
"You had him hung in Laas, did you not?" Mairona asked.
"Aye, and that is one execution I would be happy to repeat. Ah, there is the leaf Richenda marked. What do you make of it?"
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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