The Queen of Meara
Chapter 18 - Part 1
roughly forced the last of the four men to the floor as Mairona smiled
to herself, seeing that they looked as completely terrified as she had
been the night before. They were dead men, for the king himself had
witnessed their crime against his bride-to-be, making this trial a mere
formality for the sake of the king's justice. Kelson leaned forward to
address the court, fury sparking in his eyes.
"My lords, last night a most grievous crime was committed. These men forcibly took the Baroness of Druimfada from the cathedral square and attempted to dishonor her. Using her Deryni powers, the baroness called to us for help. We arrived before any harm could be done, but their intentions were clear. Their leader was identified as a Torenthi spy. He died last night for his crime.
"Now," the king turned to the prisoners, holding each man in turn under his steely gaze. His voice was low, but it carried to the far corners of the great hall. "Tell us why you tried to rape our chosen bride."
The men cowered under his eyes, all silent. Morgan prodded the first one with the tip of his boot. "Answer the king." The man looked at the Deryni duke fearfully, then turned back to the king.
"What is your name?" Kelson asked.
"Phadrig, Sire," the man replied, voice trembling. His eyes were fixed on the first step of the dais, not daring to look up at the king or his bride, the previous night's victim.
"Are you another Torenthi spy, like Mahon?" Kelson narrowed his eyes, the look that seemed to pierce it's way through to a man's soul. Phadrig must have felt the glare, for even though he didn't lift his gaze, he shuddered.
"No, Sire," he whispered.
"Did you know Mahon was a spy?"
"Did you know he was a traitor to the Crown?"
The king leaned back in his throne. "Then why did you try to dishonor not only a member of our court, but your future queen as well?"
"We did not know who she was!" the man exclaimed, pleading.
"Is that supposed to excuse your actions?"
"No, Sire." It escaped from the man's lips with a sob.
Kelson questioned each man similarly. The answers were all the same. They did not know Mahon was a spy, they were drunk, they did not know who Mairona was in their stupor. She had only been a nameless pretty girl ripe for the taking, and they had been searching for pretty girls.
"Can you give us any reason why we should not hang the lot of you?" Kelson asked without expression. All four men turned their faces down to the floor. What could they say? They were dead whether they replied or not. "Well, then," Kelson continued, turning to Mairona. "My lady, do you have anything to say for them?"
"For them?" she replied contemptuously. "They tried to steal my honor. I will certainly not plead for mercy."
Kelson had the prisoners removed to his withdrawing room so Duncan could hear their final confession and perform Last Rites. From the corner of his eye he could see Mairona fidgeting. How are you? he sent to her.
I want to see the deed completed and be done with it, she replied, meeting his eyes. Then I will have peace.
Will you? Do you enjoy sending men to their deaths? he returned, examining her closely.
Men like this lot, aye. However, I am not sending them to the hangman's noose, for I am merely their accuser. You are the king, and it must be you who condemns them. She turned her glance back to the court, spine erect in pride.
"It is a weighty thing to take a man's life," he whispered to her.
"I know," she said softly, lowering her eyes,. "but if it were in the best interests of my people, or those whom I love, I would do it again. As will you, for it is your duty."
"You need not remind me of my duty!" he whispered harshly as his look turned hard. Mairona met his stare, refusing to let him intimidate her again. Her reply was worded humbly, but her voice suggested steel.
"Forgive me, my lord. I did not intend to presume to remind you of your responsibilities. I was merely stating that we both have similar obligations to our people. You told me to stand tall, so do not criticize me for doing so now."
"We are both strained," Kelson replied, his eyes softening. "Let us not lash out at each other."
"Agreed, my lord."
Duncan reentered with the condemned men at that point. "Have they made their peace with God?" Kelson asked.
"Yes, Sire," Duncan said. "They are prepared to die."
"Very well. The weather is too harsh for an outdoor execution, so the sentence will be carried out in here." Looking up to the guards in his gallery, Kelson motioned to them. The lords and ladies crowding the hall gasped collectively as ropes were tossed over the rafters, falling down before the dais. Guards moved each of the four men under one of the nooses and fitted it around their necks. Mairona had to repress a small smile. They had been willing to kill her, and now they were being sent to their deaths. It was fitting.
"My lady!" Phadrig called, locking eyes onto her. "My Lady of Druimfada, forgive me my wrongs!"
The urge to smile disappeared as Mairona's mouth opened in surprise at his plea. Why did he have to ask for something she couldn't give? Why couldn't he have gone to his death in silence instead of showing some pale semblance of nobility with the rope around his neck?
"My lady?" Kelson asked quietly, turning to her.
"Do it!" she responded just as quietly, lowering her eyes to the floor. After a few deep breaths she tried to lift her gaze to the four men about to die.
"Guards!" Kelson called to the gallery, and the men were hoisted off the ground. Their faces turned blue almost immediately as three of the men thrashed wildly, trying in vain to escape the rope cutting off their life's breath. Phadrig, however, seemed resigned to his face, and barely moved until his body started to twitch involuntarily. Kelson watched them until he was sure they were dead, but Mairona found she couldn't. Phadrig's remorse made her unable to watch him die, and so she never saw his body fall still. After a few minutes it was all over, but she hadn't found the peace she expected.
Afterwards Kelson and his inner circle retreated into the royal apartments, looking grim after the day's proceedings. "I have a headache," Kelson complained as he removed the crown from his head, handing it to Dolfin. Ivo, the other squire, worked quickly to distribute refreshments. Kelson drank from his wine deeply.
Mairona removed her court cloak, which was too warm and stiff in this smaller room. "Sit down," she told the king, pulling a stool in front of her.
"I have been sitting for too long," he muttered, rubbing his forehead.
"As you wish, but I shall not do anything about your headache unless you sit. I cannot reach you up there."
Flashing a short grin, Kelson sank gratefully into the stool. Mairona began kneading his shoulders which were so stiff they might as well have been made of stone. She started working out the knots with surprising strength, using a little Deryni administration when necessary, and he sighed in pleasure. "Oh, I love you," he purred. She just smiled, centering in on a sore spot.
"That is rather obvious after today," Morgan said, pulling up a stool to one side of the king. Duncan and Dhugal settled facing the others as Morgan continued. "I wish you would have told me you were going to make her a baroness."
"I only decided myself just before I entered the hall," Kelson replied, starting to go limp. "It occurred to me that officially the Dugains have been untitled. I cannot have a bride from an untitled family, even if they do bear royal blood." He smiled up at Mairona.
Duncan cleared his throat. "Did you consider how your lords would receive this? Some of them will not be happy."
"What valid reason do they have to object?" Kelson asked. "I did not grant her any land she does not already legally hold, and the Dugains have been styling themselves barons ever since the old Mearan sovereign gave them the title. It was Tiernan's right to pass the title on to his daughter according to Mearan law. The word 'Baroness' is not going to give her any more power, and the title will pass on to our sons."
"Try to see this from their human eyes, Sire," Duncan responded. "A relatively unknown Deryni lady comes to court for the first time. Within a week this unknown will be their queen. She is allowed to sit in on a council meeting. She is made baroness against Gwyneddi law. That will upset many men."
Mairona sighed, irritated. They speak of me as if I am not even present, she sent Kelson.
He reached up, smiling, and touched her arm to still her. She continued massaging his shoulders as he addressed his advisors' concerns. "Mairona will make a very capable queen, as I am sure you will both agree. Why should I not honor her when she is deserving? I am confident the two of you can assuage my lords' fears." Kelson smiled to himself at how easily he had turned his advisors' complaint back on them. By now he was well on his way to being completely relaxed, and leaned back on Mairona with a sigh.
"Feeling better?" she asked without stopping.
"Mmmmmmm," he agreed. "But there is work to be done. Interviewing the entire guard will take days. I would like to see those men not on duty assembled in the hall. Morgan, we will need Richenda's help, and yours as well, Duncan. I intend to use all the trusted Deryni I have at my disposal. Mairona and I shall join you shortly. Ivo, Dolfin, you may withdraw to another room."
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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