09 - Chapter 9 - The Queen of Meara
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The Queen of Meara  



Chapter  9




  After Kelson had returned from questioning James the messenger, he sent for Mairona. Waiting in front of a warm fire in his apartments, he stretched out in slippered feet and leaned his head against the back of the chair. Some hot spiced wine steamed on a table to his right, and he sipped from it occasionally as he thought about the situation coming up with the spring thaw. At least that wasn’t coming anytime soon, if the weather was anything to judge by. The wind howled outside, bringing snow swirling in a thick blizzard to blanket the castle in an even thicker veil of white. Kelson couldn’t remember the last winter that had been so harsh. Crops would suffer in the summer from the late planting, and he would have to feed his people. At least the grain stores were full. That was the least of his worries at the moment, so long as they were not plundered or destroyed by war.

He wished he knew more about what Mahael was really up to. The more he thought about it, the more it worried him. How big would the Torenthi army be? Would he be able to spare any of his own men to deal with Meara? Where would Mahael strike first? What would Rolf do when he was occupied with Torenth? His mind whirled as he sifted through scenario after scenario, trying to decide which ones were likely. He had gone over them so many times that they were all starting to blur together in one large haze.

Finally there was a knock on the door. Kelson reached out with his mind, confirming that it was Mairona. She had brought her attendant with her. “Come,” the king called, since he had dismissed his squires to bed. Mairona opened the door and entered, holding a scroll in hand, with Saraid close behind. Kelson rose and kissed Mairona on the cheek as Saraid curtsied. “Good evening,” Kelson said.

Mairona studied Kelson for a moment, visually and psychically. Something was different from before in the library, not quite right. “Good evening,” she returned. “Where are your squires?”

“I dismissed them,” Kelson told her. “Sometimes I prefer to be alone.”

“Shall I dismiss Saraid?” Mairona asked.

“That is up to your discretion,” Kelson told her. Mairona didn’t want Saraid to leave completely, but she did want some privacy with Kelson to determine the cause of his moodiness. She glanced around, looking to see which rooms were available for her servant to use.

“Saraid, wait for us in the chapel,” Mairona suggested, naming the first room she laid eyes on.

“Aye, my lady,” the woman replied. She curtsied to the king, then quickly left for Kelson’s private chapel.

“Come, sit by the fire.” Kelson offered her a chair that had been placed next to his. She sat and dropped the scroll on a table holding two goblets, one empty, one almost full. “Would you like some spiced Fianna wine?” he asked.

“Please,” she replied. Kelson took the wine flask being warmed on the hearth and poured some into the empty goblet. She took a small sip, then a larger one when she found it wasn’t hot enough to burn. Kelson sat back down in the chair he had recently vacated, and Mairona observed him carefully.

“What do the scrolls contain?” he asked, glancing down at them.

“A letter to Fergal entreating him to swear fealty to you, and a reply to Rolf. I hope you do not mind that I took the initiative without your permission, but his missive was directed toward me.”

“What does Rolf’s message say?” Kelson leaned forward, picking up the scrolls and unrolling them to glance over Mairona’s script.

“It informs him that if he wishes to do homage to the Queen of Meara, he may do so when she is crowned consort upon her marriage to its lawful king,” she replied. Kelson was amused.

“I approve,” he told her, attempting a grin that soon disappeared as he stared at the fire.

“Kelson, what is wrong?” she asked, her brow furrowing in concern.

“I did not learn much from Rolf’s messenger. Someone had wiped him clean. What I did learn, though, was very disturbing,” Kelson replied.

“What is it?” she asked, leaning forward. “What has happened to Druimfada?”

“’Tis not Druimfada specifically,” he told her. She visibly relaxed, but was still very attentive. “The mercenaries Rolf has hired are from Torenth. ’Tis very possible that Mahael of Torenth is using Rolf to distract me in Meara while he marches an assault on Gwynedd.”

“Oh,” Mairona whispered, swallowing audibly. “Then you will have to take care of Torenth. I suppose that means Druimfada will have to wait.” She thought of all her men helplessly imprisoned, and her heart ached for them. Now their hope of salvation was even further away, and the king, who had sworn to protect them, could do nothing for many months in order to protect a greater number of his people. Kelson caught the spillover of her thoughts.

“I am truly sorry, Mairona. I must think of Gwynedd first,” he said, brushing her mind.

“You do not have to explain that to me,” she told him, attempting a smile that died before it was born. “My father bred me to duty. And what good will Druimfada do me if Gwynedd falls?” She also thought about the unpleasant possibility that Kelson might not survive the summer. If she were his queen, and Gwynedd fell to Torenth, that would put her in a very dangerous position on top of the grief she would be suffering.

“We could wait until I return to marry,” Kelson offered, carefully reserved. “That would keep you safe.”

“I am not a coward,” she told him.

“I did not think you were,” he replied, sipping at his wine.

“I will marry you as planned, before you campaign. If the worst happens, and I do not even want to talk about the possibility, we will at least have some small happy time together. But my soul and my heart tell me you will return to me, Kelson Haldane. They have rarely been wrong before.”

Her words and fierce determination struck at his heart. He rose from his chair and knelt on the bearskin rug at her feet, taking her hands. “You will make my homecoming that much sweeter,” he said, nuzzling the back of her hands. “Mairona, I have a favor to ask.”

“What is it?”

“I need to read you again about Meara. Now that I know Torenth may be involved, I need to look for any information that could tell me the extent of that involvement.” He looked into her emerald eyes, where adoration and acceptance glowed at him.

“Then read me.” Her shields slipped down smoothly and effortlessly as she invited him in. Kelson joined her in rapport, taking a moment to enjoy the sweet feel of her mind and his joined so intimately. Before he allowed himself to be caught up in her, he forced his concentration to other matters. He brought her back to Druimfada, to the beginning of the whole Mearan mess-

There was Rolf’s arrival at Druimfada with several hundred men, to proclaim Mairona the new queen of Meara and escort her to Laas to be crowned. And her reaction. “Why should I want to be Queen of Meara?” she had asked in disdainful laughter. “Why would I possibly want to defy the king that has allowed me to be open with my Deryni heritage?

But Rolf was unrelenting, and had spent several weeks trying to convince her that this would benefit her, and the whole Mearan people. He hadn’t counted on her reasoned counter-arguments or her strong will, though, and his persuasions become more and more forceful, and a steady trickle of mercenaries kept pouring through her castle gates. A few mountain chiefs came to Druimfada to pledge their men. She didn’t have the forces or the power to stop them, or even evict them from her lands.

Soon Rolf became threatening, hinting that he had more power behind him than she guessed. Mairona laughed at him, wondering where this power was going to come from.

One moment, Kelson said, taking Mairona back to that memory. Let’s go over that in detail. Mairona complied, returning to the beginning of that confrontation.

“You will be crowned queen if I have to Control you to do it!” Rolf had threatened, his mind launching an offensive against Mairona. Her shields flared visibly in a flashy response, a golden blaze curling and writhing around her head, and they held against his assault with very little effort.

“I hope you have a trained Deryni if that is your intent,” she sneered. Rolf had been educated adequately, but he was no match for her defenses. She tried to forcefully take control of him, but his shields, while not as strong as hers, were sufficient to hold without her making a major working of the effort. That was one thing she couldn’t afford to do with five hundred of his men crawling all over her castle.

“We are at an impasse,” Rolf grinned evilly. “However, I have a supporter that will soon give me Deryni whose training exceeds your own. We shall see how you sneer then.”

Mairona laughed loudly. He was telling the truth, or thought he was, but she couldn’t imagine where he could find that kind of trained Deryni. “And just where do you intend to find these Deryni? My father hired the best tutor for me that money could buy, and believe me, he had to look far outside of Gwynedd to find him. Where are you going to find Deryni to match that?”

“I have already found them,” Rolf chuckled maliciously. He whirled and left the room, his cape billowing behind him.

Kelson scanned carefully after that, but there wasn’t much else to learn. Mairona’s increasing unwillingness to comply with Rolf meant that she heard even less of his plans and affairs, and eventually led to the circumstances forcing her to flee for Rhemuth. There was still no concrete evidence, but Rolf’s mention of a source of well-trained Deryni confirmed his suspicions of a Torenthi connection. When he was done searching, he reluctantly withdrew from the rapport. The initial absence of her psychic presence created a void to which it took him a moment to adjust. He blinked a few times to focus as he rose from trance, surfacing from the momentary dizziness of vertigo that occurred the moment of awakening. Mairona let out a deep breath, calmly opening her eyes. Kelson released her hands and rose to reclaim his chair, stretching out his legs.

“Well, that is something, at least,” he sighed, picking up his goblet. “I only wish I had something more definite implicating Mahael before the council meeting tomorrow.”

“There is another avenue you have not tried yet,” she said, watching the fire spark.

“What? Ask Rolf myself?” Kelson jested tiredly.

“I mean a Deryni avenue, my lord. Have you ever heard of scrying?” She turned partially in her chair so she could see him better.

“Heard of it? Aye, ’tis one of the lost arts from St. Camber’s time. Do not tell me you mean to try it.” Kelson studied her very closely, wondering just how superior her training was.

“I would not be trying it. I have done it before, under my old tutor’s guidance,” she told him, tilting her head to the side to lean against the back of her chair.

“Just where did you father find this tutor?” Kelson asked her. She chuckled.

“He searched for over two years. He wasn’t satisfied with what he could find in Gwynedd, so he started looking abroad. Eventually, he found old Halek in the Forcinn States. Halek refused to be bound by convention, and liked to try new things. If he read about a certain procedure, especially one that has been lost, he would stop at nothing to learn how to do it. The danger of unknown territory never seemed to daunt him. He was the greatest living Deryni I have ever heard of,” she ended on a reminiscent note.

“The Forcinn States?” Kelson asked, his interest piqued, though not from a professional Deryni standpoint. “Whom did Halek serve?”

“No one for very long,” she shook her head. “He liked to be his own master. I still do not know how my father managed to keep him for so long, unless it was because he gave Halek enough freedom for his own pursuits. He stayed with us to his death. I think maybe he was excited with the prospect of bringing some of the old teachings back to Gwynedd and Meara. And he always said I was the most apt pupil he had ever come across.”

“I believe it,” Kelson smiled. “I certainly would not want to wrestle magic with you.”

“Your Haldane powers make you someone to be reckoned with,” she replied. “I would not want to contest against you, either. Fortunately, that will never be a concern. Would you like to try scrying?” She leaned forward, waiting for his reply.

“Of course, but what could we scry with? Does it not require some object that is close to Rolf? We do not have anything,” Kelson told her.

“We do have the scroll he sent via messenger,” she countered. “Rolf must have written it himself, because he abhors scribes. It will not be as potent as a piece of jewelry or clothing, but I may be able to pick something up.”

“Well, then, let us try,” he said, draining the rest of his wine. “What needs to be done?”

“Saraid?” Mairona called, psychically as well as physically. The attendant appeared almost instantaneously in the door to the chapel.

“Aye, my lady?” she asked.

“Go fetch my ward cubes, a white candle, and a white tablecover. Make haste,” Mairona commanded.

“Aye, my lady.” Saraid curtsied to her mistress and king, then left swiftly.

“Now,” Mairona continued, turning back to Kelson. “If you can produce that scroll, holy water, and some salt, I shall tell you what we are going to do.”



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