The Queen of Meara
Chapter 7 - Part 2
Squinting in concentration, Mairona leaned
closer to the text to make out the tiny notes scrawled in the
manuscript's margin. She never noticed Kelson close his eyes as her hair
brushed pleasantly on the back of his hand, sending a tingling sensation
up his arm and into his gut.
"This commentator monk was no copyist," she muttered, bringing Kelson back to the book. "His letters are ill-formed and difficult to make out. There is something about servants scattering across the Eleven Kingdoms, taking relics to safety during the persecutions. Two to the deserts with the remnants of the Order of St. Michael, one to great Byzantyun, wait! Meara? The church of the wood at Druimkyriel?" Her brow knitted in concentration. "Shiral…" She exploded in excitement. "The Holy Shiral was carried by his servants to the church of the wood at Druimkyriel! It was given to Druimkyriel by one of his grandchildren!"
"Druimkyriel," Kelson repeated, echoing her enthusiasm. "Kyriell is another name for Camber, and was used when his followers were forced underground by the Church Council of Ramos. Does it say where Druimkyriel is?"
Blinking, Mairona leaned back. "It does not have to. I already know." Suddenly his hands were holding her head, turning it to meet his eyes which were intense with impatience.
"Where?" Kelson demanded.
"The church is now in ruin," she whispered. "Druimkyriel was the name for an abandoned settlement in southern Druimfada."
He kissed her soundly, without warning, and a liquid flame thrilled through her body. His subsequent withdrawal was disconcerting, though he kept her head cradled between his hands. Conflict tore within her, a guilt for wanting this man over duty to her father's lands, the intense desire for him to kiss her again, and the acknowledgement of a bond grown so strong between them that it could only have been bidden by God's will. Her eyelids fluttered. "I think I could love you, too," she mumbled, harking back to their shared rapport in his chambers.
"Marry me," he whispered fiercely. "Marry me and be my queen. Will you do that?"
The bond won her inner struggle with little contest. "Aye," she gasped, the word raw. "Aye, I will do that."
He did kiss her again, and her arms mysteriously became entangled around his waist and shoulders. "Kelson," she whispered against his lips when he slid an arm around her shoulders.
"I like the sound of that," he chuckled happily, leaning his forehead against hers.
One hand still cupped her cheek, and its thumb extended to brush her lips. "You, speaking my name."
"Oh." Nervous giggles tugged at her mouth and eyes. "You fair distracted me from proper address." She took a deep breath to calm her racing heart. "In fact, you drive an innocent maid to unvirtuous distraction."
"What?" Kelson exclaimed in mock alarm, separating from her. "My lady is having impure thoughts?"
"Aye," she grinned back, "and you are the very devil at the root of them!"
"You wound me, lady!" he retorted, playfully stabbing his chest with a finger. In a poor imitation of death throes, he fell backwards to lie on the bench. Laughing, Mairona caught his arm and helped pull him up.
"As if you were not entertaining similar ideas," she accused him.
"Alas, you have discovered me," he jested, reaching for one of her hands, but their banter was disrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps approaching. They sprang away from each other, settling on opposite sides of the bench. The approaching company was led by Prince Nigel, followed by guardsmen.
"Yes, Uncle?" Kelson sighed in disappointment, motioning him in.
"Forgive me for interrupting. A courier has arrived from Rolf of Tirkeeve. His missive concerns the Lady Mairona," the prince said apologetically. He may not have been Deryni, but it was still obvious that this was not the most opportune time to intrude.
Kelson stood, visions of what Rolf had done to Mairona flooding his consciousness. The beating, the threatened rape, a mixture of fear and fury— He glanced down at her, suspecting that the thoughts were not entirely his own. "Show the man in, Uncle," he said, his voice turning hard. He sensed Mairona stiffening next to him, a very unpleasant look on her face. A short, dark man in the gray and yellow livery of Rolf's house made his way through some wary guards and entered. Mairona's eyes widened in recognition.
"My lord," the man bowed curtly. "Your Highness," he bowed deeply to Mairona. She glanced at Kelson in reaction to this man's obvious disrespect toward the king, wanting to say something. He motioned her to keep still.
"Your message, sir," the king demanded coolly.
"My Lord Rolf wishes her Highness to know that her household guard has turned traitor, holding Druimfada Castle in the name of the wrongful usurper King of Gwynedd. They would not yield in the name of their true sovereign lady queen, so Rolf has imprisoned your disloyal men and assures you that he has installed his own for the safety of your stronghold," the man recited. "He has sent a letter to this effect." The courier handed a leather missive tube to Mairona, who passed it absently to Kelson as she stood, her rage visibly radiating.
"He would dare imprison my men?!" she spat at the messenger. "My men, sworn to my loyal service and carrying out my orders?!" She could not believe that this man stood emotionless as he delivered such disgraceful news. "You would countenance this outrage, James? What have become of my servants?"
"Those that defied the Lord Rolf have also been imprisoned. Your Highness' steward was killed a traitor in the struggle, along with a few dozen guardsmen and five servingmen."
"He killed Tadhg?" Mairona said slowly in a low voice. She was shaking with fury. "Old Tadhg was over sixty years old. Do you willingly serve a so-called chieftain who murders old men? Does your lord make war on women and children, too?"
Concerned with the violent hatred her Deryni senses broadcasted, Kelson touched her arm. She fell silent, sitting back down on the bench that they had recently shared.
"Uncle, remove this man. I wish to question him further later," the king ordered.
"Aye, Kelson," Nigel replied, knowing exactly how the king intended to question the messenger.
"Wait," Mairona pleaded, pressing her hands to her temples. After a calming breath, she looked up at Kelson, who studied her in return. He nodded. Rising, Mairona approached the messenger. "James, you have seen the atrocities Rolf commits on my people, on his own fellow Mearans. He has foresworn all right to be called chieftain. Renounce your allegiance to him and swear loyalty to the King of Gwynedd. Help me regain Druimfada" The man stared at her stupidly. "James, will you stand with me or no?"
"I do not know you, my lady," the man said stiltedly. "I know not of what you speak."
Mairona fisted her hands at her sides. "Someone has tampered with his mind," she hissed, reaching out to touch him.
"No!" Kelson commanded curtly. She jerked back, shooting angered frustration at him. "If his mind has been violated, who knows what traps lie in wait?"
"I am aware of that!" she spat through her teeth.
"Then you are also aware of the dangers of venturing in alone," he returned evenly. "This man will be dealt with." Kelson nodded to his uncle, who directed two of the house guard to drag the courier from the library. Mairona's hopes for regaining Druimfada with little loss were dragged away with James, and her indignation evaporated to disbelief as she stumbled to the bench in bewilderment.
"He has taken my home," she uttered in a child-like voice, very unlike her earlier tone. "What will become of my people? All my loyal men? What have I done to them?"
"You have done what duty required, nothing more and certainly no less. You are not responsible for Rolf's crimes." Kelson sat next to her, wrapping her in a tight embrace. "I swear to you, Mairona, as soon as the army can be summoned I will win Druimfada back for you. I shall be the instrument of your vengeance."
"I know you will. All those people, people who have served me well, are now dead because of their unfailingly loyalty." She looked away for a moment, biting her lip.
"You knew that man by name," Kelson ventured tenderly.
"Aye. I rode border patrol with him several times."
Snorting, Mairona shook her head. "You do not think I ruled Druimfada while stitching in the hall, do you? Mearan mountain law may allow a lady to inherit a chiefdom and rule in her own right, but it also dictates that a chief must be blooded in battle. My father decreed that I ride with border patrols until one encountered outlaws. Their leader was captured by my father's captain, and I had to kill him." Kelson's jaw worked up and down as he tried to say something, but all attempts died as he tried to assimilate this bit of history. "You have not heard of the legendary ancient warrior queens of Meara?" she leveled at him.
"Aye, and I thought them just that—ancient legend," he responded, still bewildered but slowly digesting this revelation. "You certainly do not intend to continue this nonsense?" It was phrased as a question, but clearly issued as a command.
She sighed, facing plainly the first restriction of this new life that now bound her. "The weather does not allow it, anyway. Here we have to sit powerless for a whole month, with all those good men imprisoned and in danger. I wish there were something we could do now, Kelson. I feel so—helpless."
"There is nothing that can be done until the spring floods dissipate," he said, stroking her hair. "But there is something that would send Lord Rolf into fits."
"What is it?" she asked, a small glimmer of hope shining in her eyes.
"If he wants a Queen of Meara now, let us give him one," Kelson replied.
"What do you mean?" she asked, just beginning to follow his thoughts.
"If we marry before I march into Meara, he would be put in the unenviable position of unlawfully holding his queen's land, and warring with her husband, his lawful king. That is assuming he is too proud to surrender before it comes to that." He held her hands tightly, waiting for her response. She smiled slowly, calculating, thinking about Rolf's reaction when he received news that the woman he chose to make queen had married the very king he was trying to rise against.
"Yes, I agree," she said, "and I wish I could watch Rolf's face turn purple when he hears about this."
"Let us seek out Duncan, then, to witness our betrothal vows." Standing, Kelson reached his hand to her, but she shook her head.
"I—May I have some time alone first? I need to gather my thoughts and grieve," she pleaded with him.
"Aye," he told her gently, bending to kiss her forehead. "I will send for you later." He looked back at her as long as he could before leaving the library, and she returned his gaze, feeling the same awe that he did at the magic happening between them. The wonder evaporated with the click of the door latch as it closed behind Kelson.
Mairona turned back to the history, haunted by visions of soldiers and servants killed, wounded, or locked away. All those men, all her men, dead or imprisoned. She should have been there. She had abandoned them to their fate, neglecting her duty to her people. Her head throbbed, and she clutched her temples as her massive shield wall pulsed in tune to the pounding. Silence! No one is trying to harm me. Be still.
She needed a prayer book, or a bible.
It was one of the three jewel-encrusted books on prominent display, in a well-lit corner of the library. Mairona moved in front of it, carefully opened the weighty tome to the Psalms, and started reading aloud through eyes blurred with the threat of tears.
"Do not reprove me in your anger, Lord, nor punish me in your wrath. Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are trembling. In utter terror is my soul—and you, Lord, how long...? Turn, Lord, save my life; in your mercy rescue me. For who among the dead remembers you? Who praises you in Sheol? I am wearied with sighing; all night long tears drench my bed; my couch is soaked with weeping. My eyes are dimmed with sorrow, worn out because of all my foes."
The threatening tears finally spilled over, and she could read no more. Collapsing back onto the bench, she buried her face in her hands. After saying a silent prayer for the souls of those who had died, especially Tadhg, she allowed herself to cry for the dead and the for men who were still locked in the dark.
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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