The Queen of Meara
Chapter 12 - Part 1
Afterwards, Mairona had joined the ladies in
the solar, playing a comandeered harp and singing Mearan songs as the
ladies did their needlework. Richenda sat next to her, with Meraude
nearby, trying good-naturedly to follow along with the chorus, and
Gwenhwyfar rested at her feet in a burgeoning Mearan hero-worship. Her
tune floated through the solar as she sang of a nobleman's wedding.
"What does it mean?" Gwenhwyfar asked when the song was over.
"'It was Donal and Morag who made a famous wedding,'" Mairona translated. "It tells of all the people, noble and common, who came as guests and the food served at the feast."
"An appropriate song, do you not think?" Richenda asked with a smile.
Mairona blushed. "I did not mean it that way. 'Tis a song I grew up with as a child."
"Play another one, my lady" Gwenhwyfar requested.
"Alright." Mairona tipped the small harp back to her shoulder, doing a light run up the strings as she tried to think of what to do next. Her thoughts were interrupted by a woman entering the room, dressed entirely in light grey. Richenda and Meraude rose to greet her, so Mairona did likewise. If Meraude rose, it must be Queen Jehana, the notorious Deryni hater and Mairona's future mother-in-law. The Queen Mother was rail-thin, with a pinched face that looked older than her years. Her hair was entirely hidden beneath a wimple and veil that bore striking resermblance to a nun's habit.
"Good day, Jehana," Meraude greeted warmly. "We are so rarely graced with your company in the solar."
"Where is she?" Jehana spoke expressionlessly, barely above a whisper.
"Madam?" Meraude replied, confused.
"The Mearan Deryni girl. Where is she?" the Queen Mother repeated.
Tilting the harp back on its stand, Mairona curtsied. "I am Mairona ní Dhugain of Druimfada."
Jehana looked at her closely, her face a blank wall. Mairona felt her scrutiny like a snake slithering up her back, but she forced herself to remain composed and stood her ground, though respectfully. This woman was going to be her mother by marriage, so she should at least try to start things civilly. Jehana took a step forward, but stopped suddenly, unwilling to approach the Deryni girl too closely.
"You were with my son at the feast a few nights ago," the queen stated.
"Yes, Madam," Mairona replied.
"You are Deryni," the queen spat.
"Yes, Madam," Mairona repeated.
"What are your intentions here at Rhemuth?" Jehana demanded.
"Intentions, Madam? I came here for safety. Rolf of Tirkeeve was threatening to marry me by force, if necessary."
"Why did you come to my son?" Jehana's eyes bore down on Mairona, who had to suppress a shiver.
"He is the king, Madam. He is sworn to protect me."
Meraude decided it was time to intervene. "Jehana, Mairona is to be your daughter-in-law. Kelson asked her to marry him."
"No," the old queen almost whimpered, raising a hand to her face. "Marry a Deryni. No."
"Our previous king married a Deryni," Mairona replied pointedly. Jehana got a painful look on her face. Her eyes darted around the room as if she were trying to escape something unseen, something clawing away within her.
"He did not know," Jehana whispered.
Mairona saw an opening and leaped for it. "Does that change things, your Majesty? You are Deryni, as is the king. As am I. The Church does not persecute us anymore, Madam. Our powers are not evil, and the bishops have confirmed that. Is the Church mistaken?"
Jehana shook her head, beginning to weep. Mairona felt a surprising sympathy for her. How torn she must be inside, hating her very existence, bred from birth to believe that the powers within her were the gift of the devil's spawn. Instead of the wrathful Deryni-hater she had expected, the Queen Mother turned out to be a tortured soul, confused by her own existence and the complete reversal of the Church's stance on Deryni.
"Madam, you must believe what the Church now teaches. It will give you peace."
"You do not understand, child. You could never understand." Jehana looked at her pathetically, then wheeled and fled the room. Mairona looked to Meraude.
"That did not go too badly," the duchess said.
"I pity her," Mairona replied. "Until she can reconcile herself with the Church's new teachings now that the Ramos Statutes are revoked, her soul will always be tearing in two pieces. I may border on heresy for saying this, but all the fires of hell would be hard-put to be more torturous than that."
Meraude silently agreed.
Kelson had gone through a large part of his afternoon attending to routine tasks, but a guilty conscience nagged at the back of his mind. He knew that Mairona cared a great deal about Druimfada and her people, and was naturally upset that her family seat would suffer in Rolf's hands. The way she had just brushed past him betrayed her hurt at his helplessness to free them immediately. He must try to make things right.
"Dolfin," he called, setting his quill into its stand on the table. The squire rushed up dutifully.
"I have had enough for now. See that messengers are dispatched with these. I am going to the solar."
Dolfin took the missives and opened his mouth, but obviously changed his mind. "Yes, my lord," was all he said, turning to leave.
"Dolfin," the king called. The squire stopped suddenly and turned around.
"What is it?" Kelson asked, leaning back in his chair with a smile. The squire looked very sheepish.
"Well, Sire," he chuckled nervously. "I was going to ask if I could accompany your Highness, but thought it was wiser to do my duty."
"Would the reason be named Gwenhwyfar?" Kelson wondered.
"Yes, my lord." Dolfin looked slightly embarrassed.
"I would not want to keep you from your lady love," Kelson said mischievously. "Not when I am going to meet mine. Give the missives to Ivo and join me."
Dolfin happily followed the king to the ladies' solar, with the uncharacteristic expression of a happy sheepdog. Kelson slipped in unobtrusively, motioning Dolfin to do the same. Someone was singing to a harp, and it sounded like—
It was Mairona. Kelson smiled, leaning against the wall to listen. She noticed him the moment he had entered the room and met his eyes briefly, but continued with her song. Dolfin slipped away to Gwenhwyfar, who smiled shyly as she looked up at him from under her lashes. That was sweet.
Kelson had never heard music played by a Deryni before, and it was enchanting. There was a magnetism that held everyone captive, so much so that no one had noticed him enter, even when Dolfin had walked across the room. The music became a living thing, breathing and pulsing in the room, dancing in the late afternoon sun washing in on weak winter rays. Sweet Jesu, she was gorgeous.
The ballad ended with a flourishing coda on the harp, played with a delicate skill that would challenge some troubadours. When the last note sounded, Mairona sat frozen, all her attention on the strings, until its sound had faded. Even then there was only appreciative, stunned silence in the room.
"That was beautiful," Kelson said quietly. Only then did the ladies notice him, and they scurried to rise and curtsey to him. He motioned them back down to their seats as he walked to Mairona, who had moved only to tilt the harp back on its stand.
"Thank you, Sire," she said.
"Would you talk with me?" he asked, offering his hand. Wordlessly, she took it and allowed him to help her up. He led her to a window embrasure out of sight and earshot of the other women.
"Where did you learn to play the harp like that?" he wondered, awe still in his voice.
"I pestered my father's bard until he taught me." She smiled briefly at the memory of the old bard finally flinging up his hands and agreeing in exasperation, just so he could get a moment's peace.
"Was he Deryni, to teach you to sing like that?"
"No," Mairona replied. "That just happened. 'Tis like using Deryni powers to help improve aim in archery, I would wager."
"Perhaps I should send you to the Torenthi court. You could charm Mahael into peace with Gwynedd using music like that," Kelson smiled.
"If you will not let me go to Druimfada, you certainly will not let me near Torenth. Did you attend to all the things you needed to?" she asked, pointedly reminding him of the their conversation after the council meeting.
Kelson looked down, but raised his head to eyes to hers before he spoke. "I am sorry for the manner in which I dismissed you," he said quietly. "I know you care a great deal for your people, and this is very hard for you."
Mairona smiled, relieved that he had the humility to apologize. "You are the king, and will always have a burden on your mind. You must think of Gwynedd first, as painful as that may sometimes be. I will grow accustomed to it."
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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