The Queen of Meara
Kelson opted to go to Rolf’s messenger rather than having the man brought to him. He had been locked in a storeroom at the base of a tower some distance from the keep, and Kelson used the long walk to reflect on the crisis unfolding across the Cloome Mountains.
There was something that didn’t make sense, and it nagged at him. Mairona was no fragile flower, so how had Rolf managed to consolidate his hold on her castle so quickly and easily? Druimfada had started as a soldier’s garrison shortly before Meara was united with Gwynedd, and despite its baronial grant and prosperous trade, it was still excellent at training warriors. Why couldn’t those warriors overcome Rolf’s men and make short work of the uprising? It just didn’t fit together. Yet, he had seen it happen in exactly that manner, Read it straight from her memories. Something was missing, and that something had soundly crushed a garrison that numbered over two hundred. That something was dangerous.
Perhaps James will shed some light on this mystery, Kelson hoped as he reached the storeroom. Both soldiers on duty saluted the king as he passed. Kelson acknowledged them with a friendly nod.
Morgan was still there, sitting over the unconscious messenger. The fair-haired duke looked up at Kelson, breaking contact with the courier. “I expected you here earlier, my liege,” he said. “Duncan, Dhugal and I have already dealt with the little horrids lying in wait. I thought you might want some assistance, now that his mind is safe.”
“’Tis not necessary, but welcome,” Kelson said, sitting on the floor opposite Morgan “What have you found?”
“Not much,” Morgan confessed. “His name is James. Somebody took the aggravatingly sensible precaution of clearing his memory of anything they decided would be useful to us, and they were very thorough. ’Tis not simply blocked, they literally obliterated it. There was something interesting, though, when he left Druimfada Castle. Take a close look at the soldiers.”
Kelson leaned forward, spreading his fingertips across James’ face. He took a few breaths to center himself before entering the man’s mind, which was frustratingly blank. James had definitely been wiped clean of any knowledge he may have had about the Mearan uprising before he had been given his missive. Rolf, a lean man of no great height with a pronounced hook nose, had given the message himself. He had also personally written the scroll message, forgoing the convenience of a scribe. Kelson couldn’t decide which was more unusual—a Mearan mountain chief who could write, or one that would prefer doing so over dictating to a scribe.
James had delivered the message exactly as it had been given, so there was nothing to be learned there. He had gone straight to the stables, acquired a fast horse, and ridden toward the gate. Some soldiers in Rolf’s colors scrambled to open the huge, heavy doors to let the messenger out, while others in a different raiment just looked up in casual interest. Kelson turned his concentration to these men, who were wearing very distinctive armor. “Torenthi mercenaries,” he muttered in disgust as he broke the link. “I assume there is nothing more after he left?”
“Nothing important,” Morgan said, shifting backward to get off his knees. He watched Kelson carefully to see how the king utilized the memory he had just seen. Kelson was very good, but Morgan remembered a short time ago when his confidence had outweighed his growing statecraft. “I wonder just how actively Mahael is backing Rolf,” Morgan ventured, just to see how well Kelson had thought out the implications behind the Torenthi men. Kelson snorted at the mention of Liam’s treacherous uncle, currently heading the regency council in Torenth.
“He is not putting many resources toward the Mearan conflict,” Kelson shook his head. “Those men seemed to be just mercenaries, not Torenthi soldiers.”
“If Mahael sent some of his own men, they would not be allowed to wear his device,” Morgan countered.
“Correct, but they would be well disciplined. Those Torenthi men barely even raised their heads out of their gambling games while Rolf’s soldiers were hurrying to open the gate for James here,” Kelson answered tiredly. He knew very well that Morgan knew they were mercenaries, and that the duke was testing him. It was aggravating. “I know Mahael wants Gwynedd, and I know he has to act before Liam reaches his majority the year after next. It would be to his advantage to have me occupied in Meara while he marched over the border, and Rolf of Tirkeeve conveniently supplied the necessary distraction. However, Rolf does not have the strength or power to be more than a nuisance to me, so Mahael will not commit himself to such a daring move as sending his own men.” He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath to school his annoyance. “I am not a child anymore, Alaric. You do not have to lead me.”
“Forgive me, my prince. Old habits die hard,” the duke apologized. The king barely heard him, returning to his train of thought.
“Unless— Damn!” Kelson exclaimed, sitting back hard. He winced as his rear hit stone more forcefully than he intended. “It would be extremely convenient for Mahael if I am having problems over in Meara when he decides to make his move. A little too convenient. And how did Rolf, a man of little consequence, become the mastermind of the whole Mearan uprising?”
“If he were simply a pawn—” Morgan started.
“Aye. If Mahael is the cause behind this uprising, and he manipulated Rolf into causing a disturbance in Meara, he will be waiting until the moment I am busy over in the west to march over my eastern border.” Kelson sighed explosively. It was just what he needed: a war to be fought on two fronts while a new, beautiful wife waited impatiently in Rhemuth. “Damn!” he repeated.
Morgan relaxed a bit, satisfied that the king had finally thought all the way through the possible implications. “Well, my prince, now that we recognize the possibility of a Torenthi invasion, we can pay closer attention to Mahael. Perhaps we are only jumping at shadows.”
“I hope so,” Kelson grinned mischievously. “Because I will soon be an old married man like yourself, and I would like a little time to enjoy it.”
“Giving marriage another try?” Morgan asked, chuckling. That phrase brought back a past that Kelson didn’t particularly want to think about. Neither Sidana’s bloody murder nor the loss of Rothana to Conall and then to the convent were something he wanted to dwell on. The king carefully shielded his reactions and thought of a suitable reply so Morgan wouldn’t see the turmoil he had caused.
“I am rather hoping this time it will succeed,” Kelson jested in return. Despite the king’s shielding, Morgan knew him well enough to pick up on the change in Kelson’s mood.
“You do want to marry the Lady Mairona, do you not?” Morgan asked.
“Oh, aye. I was only thinking of memories better laid to rest, that is all. You cannot leave your king a little privacy, can you?” Kelson accused, with a grin to take away the harshness of his tone.
“Not when you have appointed me your Protector,” the duke returned. “I am afraid until you change that you will have to put up with me.”
“May the Lord give me patience, because I am certainly not going to take your office away from you,” the king responded. “You perform it too well. But I will tell you this: on my wedding night I will have privacy, whether you like it or no.”
Morgan laughed. “And leave you alone with no guard? Ah, well. Mairona will badger you enough that I shall not have to try so hard anymore. ’Tis the curse of marriage.”
“You are beginning to sound like Dhugal,” Kelson snorted. He cringed as he started stretching his legs, sore from sitting on the hard floor for too long. “Alaric, what happened when you and Richenda were married? The next morning it seemed like something had happened between you, more than just a physical consummation.”
“There was, but do not underestimate the effect of physical side,” Morgan replied, “though the way you have been reacting to the Lady Mairona I do not think there is any danger of that.”
A red flush spread on Kelson’s fair cheeks. “So what happened?”
“There is a ritual ceremony that we performed that night. It binds the souls of a Deryni man and wife in a very intimate, wonderful way. I cannot describe what happened, except to say that the next morning, Richenda was not just my wife. She was nearly a part of me. ’Tis something you have to experience, I guess.” Morgan almost glowed with the memory, an obviously sweet one. “It does not have to be done on the wedding night. Some young couples are not prepared for it that early, especially if theirs is an arranged marriage. I trust that is not the case here.”
Kelson shook his head. “Definitely not. I cannot tell you how glad I am to have avoided a mere marriage of state. I wish I could describe what is happening between us. I suppose it is similar to how Richenda transformed you from a tavern-frequenting lecher to a happily married man!”
Snorting, Morgan grinned. “At least Duncan assigns me less penance these days.”
“And I will probably be getting the balance now!” Kelson looked at Morgan, his eyes shining in contrast to the humor in his words. “I had almost given up dreaming, Alaric.”
“I am certain the two of you will be very happy, but do not expect a blissful dream. Mairona is a very headstrong lady, more so than even Richenda, I suspect, and Richenda has no reservations about speaking her mind or making demands. Do not expect a placid marriage,” Morgan warned.
“I do not, but that is why I want her.” Kelson smiled inwardly at the fire in Mairona’s eyes when she had approached him in the hall. How she had boldly offered him her goblet at the feast, when tradition demanded that he should ask for it first. “She will make Gwynedd a queen the likes we have not seen before, I suspect.”
Morgan yawned heavily. “I shall be happy if she only keeps you in bed more often so we older men can get some sleep,” he chuckled, rising stiffly from the floor.
“Maybe if you actually slept when you were in bed, you would feel more rested,” Kelson shot back as he stood. “You rise almost as early as I do when Richenda is in Coroth.”
Morgan grinned. “You will be yawning yourself, soon enough,” he said as they left the room together. The guards closed the door behind them. “I cannot wait to see what Ewan of Claibourne says about this. He has been after you to marry for years.”
“Oh, I plan on having a little fun with him,” Kelson grinned back, thinking of a more pleasant side to the morrow’s council meeting. “In the meantime, I have to decide how to be two places at once. I cannot crush Rolf of Tirkeeve while guarding the Torenthi border, or vice versa.”
They came to a stair. Kelson entered it first, the duke just behind. “Maybe Mahael is not involved at all. Perhaps a simpler solution will offer itself,” Morgan suggested.
“It never does. You taught me that.” Kelson’s mind was a whirlwind, thinking of possible plots and counterplots and mysterious gaping holes that were not completely filled by James. “Besides, Mahael would not ignore an opportunity like this. Maybe Mairona knows where the soldiers came from,” he wondered. Morgan frowned.
“I thought you already Read everything,” he said.
“Something could have slipped,” Kelson confessed. “She was so nervous that I let her control the rapport, and she might have forgotten to show me something that she did not consider important. Besides, I did get a little distracted at the time.”
“Kelson!” Morgan grabbed the king’s shoulder, stopping him. The younger man turned around, knowing his duke was going to be very angry. “Kelson, any little thing that may have been ‘forgotten’ could be absolutely critical! I know what you feel for Mairona, but you must remember your duty to your people!”
“I have not forgotten my duty!” Kelson shot back. “I am going to read her again very thoroughly before council tomorrow. She will also be present at the meeting. It would be well for her to meet my advisors as early as possible since I will have to leave Rhemuth on campaign less than a month after our wedding.”
“You are not leaving her as regent so soon, are you?” Morgan asked.
“No,” Kelson shook his head. “Nigel will be regent. However, I do want Mairona to take a very active role. With the proper experience, she will be a very good regent in my absence.”
“That is probably wise,” Morgan agreed. “It will give your court and your men time to know her, and it will give her time to know them.”
“Exactly. Meanwhile, I will have to go off riding around the countryside, leaving a very beautiful bride behind in Rhemuth. I could kill Rolf and Mahael just for that,” Kelson muttered.
“Maybe now you will have more sympathy and let me spend more time in Coroth,” Morgan returned.
“Next fall, hopefully sooner. But first I need your help keeping my kingdom in one piece,” Kelson said, gripping Morgan’s hand in a clasp of friendship.“And I shall gladly serve you, as I always have,” Morgan replied, touched by Kelson’s rare gesture. “As I always will.”
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Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor