18b - Chapter 18 - Part 2 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
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The Queen of Meara  



Chapter  18 - Part 2


They all prepared to leave, Duncan looking agitated. As a relatively unknown factor, Mairona was becoming too involved too quickly in the workings of the court for one so recently called a traitor, and the king didn't seem terribly concerned. Hopefully he would become more objective soon.

The object of Duncan's unease rested her hands on Kelson's shoulders. "My lord Dhugal?" she called, stopping the young duke.

"Aye, my lady?"

Mairona shifted awkwardly, lightly clutching her betrothed. "Last night I said and did things I should not have, that I would not in my right mind. Will you forgive me?"

"Aye," he grinned, rubbing his now-healed face. "'Tis not often I have my nose broken by such a lovely lady. You have a fist hard enough to be the pride of any borderer! Kelson explained what happened, and threatened to toss me in the middens if I held a grudge."

"I would do it, too," Kelson chuckled.

"I am terribly sorry." Mairona looked down at the top of Kelson's head for a moment. "I should not have lost control."

"Neither should any of us, but we do at times. All of us. Why, I could tell you some stories about my dear brother Kel—"

"Do not frighten her off before the wedding!" the king grinned, reaching up to grasp her hands.

"At the wedding feast, then!" Dhugal joked, then turned serious. "Mairona, when Kel and I were children, we swore a blood oath of brotherhood. That bond is as strong if not stronger than if we shared family blood. When you marry, you will become my sister. What brother and sister have not had their misunderstandings?"

Smiling timidly, Mairona ducked her head. "You honor me, my lord."

"As long as you honor my brother and king, I have no quarrel with you." Dhugal took a step forward to give Mairona a brotherly kiss on the cheek, then turned to Kelson. "Do not take too long with your ladylove. I will only do so much of your dirty work while you dally up here alone. Some may question what you are doing."

Kelson laughed. "We shall be along too soon for anyone to suspect any impiety. Now leave." He gave Dhugal a shove toward the door.

"Such reward for faithful service," Dhugal muttered, flashing a grin as he opened the door. Kelson threw his goblet at Dhugal, but he was quick enough to jump through the door and use it as a shield. After the crash of metal hitting wood and the slosh of wine spilling on the flagstones, he cracked open the door again and stuck his head through. "You really should practice with your arms master more, Kel. That was a slow arm."

"Would you prefer to have another broken nose?" Kelson flexed his fingers threatening. "I could have Mairona take a swing at you again."

"Nah, I like it the way it is," Dhugal returned, closing the door. He was finally gone, but Ivo and Dolfin had come rushing in at the disturbance.

"'Tis alright," Kelson told them. "We will take care of this." The two boys turned around and exited, unfazed by Kelson and Dhugal's play. Mairona sighed as they left, grabbing a towel from the fireplace hearth. She moved to the door and picked up the now-dented goblet, but Kelson took the towel away before she could clean up the spilled wine. "This is my mess," he told her, squatting to soak up the red Fianna not absorbed by the floor rushes.

"The mighty King of Gwynedd mops floors as well as any serving girl," she teased, settling next to him. He flicked the towel at her, sending little droplets of wine flying. "My dress!" she cried in mock horror, inspecting the tiny red dots now flecking the front.

"As if you cannot have another made." Kelson finished cleaning up the floor and tossed the towel close to the fire, where it could dry. "How are you?"

"I am fine," she replied, smiling. He reached out to touch her cheek, examining her seriously.

"Be honest."

Her smile vanished as she grasped his hand, pulling it from her cheek to rest in her lap enveloped by her own fingers. "It would be a lot easier if that man had not asked forgiveness."

"I know." He enveloped her in his arms, surrounding her with warmth and love. "I am assigning a personal guard to you. From now on, you are not to leave the keep without them."

"Life under siege," she sighed. "Being your queen is becoming less and less desirable."

Kelson frowned, pulling away to look at her. "You still want to, do you not? I mean—" He was silenced with a kiss.

"Aye, I still want to marry you. I love you, and if this is the price I must pay, so be it. I am merely saying this is why you never saw me among the parade of maidens vying for your attention." She leaned back toward him, settling in his arms again. "Well. May I at least choose the men who will be trailing my every step?"

Resting his head on her shoulder, Kelson stared thoughtfully at the fire for a moment. "For certes you want the men you brought from Druimfada," he said finally.

"And I am certain you want more than five men," she returned.

"I would like at least ten until things with Torenth calm down. Morgan could not Read anything from Mahon last night, so I do not know if he was acting under orders. If so, someone else may try to harm you again." He glanced down at his finger that had once worn the ring intended as Sidana's wedding band. "I will not lose you, too," he whispered, barely audible. Mairona brought her hand over the finger, brushing at his mind.

"Of course we cannot know what God's will is, but I fully intend to live a long life with you, Kelson."

He smiled, holding her tightly. "I pray that is God's will. 'Tis certainly mine." He held her close, breathing in the smell of roses that seemed to linger in her hair. She stirred in his arms, craning around to face him.

"May I pick my own men? I will be able to examine them closely this afternoon," she asked again. He thought for a while.

"Let me know whom you select," he finally complied. "I shall review them later, and decide if they are appropriate."

"Alright," she said, breaking free to stand. "Shall we go, then? You did promise Dhugal we would be along shortly, and I hate to make a liar of you."

Kelson rose lightly, taking her hand to kiss it affectionately. "As my beloved lady wishes," he smiled, opening the door.

Liam had wedged himself between two storehouses in the outer ward, nearly chuckling to himself at the fright he would give Kelson's cousin Payne when he passed by on his way to the stables. The tables were turned, however, when a hand unexpectedly touched his shoulder from the shadowed darkness behind. He couldn't even let out a decent scream, for a hand clamped over his mouth.

"Forgive me, my king," the man whispered in his ear, using the Torenthi tongue. "If I am discovered, much will be lost."

You will unhand us! Liam shot back psychically. The man was likely Deryni, for he released the boy. "What is the meaning of this?" Liam hissed, turning to peer into the darkness. He could barely make out dim shadow-features of a man in Haldane guard livery.

"I am a sworn man of my lord's uncle Mahael, Duke of Arjenol. I was sent here with others to keep watch over you, and work toward the day you may be freed and returned to your people. Regrettably, one of my comrades acted in a most unfortunate manner the past eve, and now all our labor is for naught." He paused, reaching into a pouch on his belt.

"How many of our uncle's agents are in Rhemuth?" Liam demanded.

"Including myself, six now that Mahon is dead," the Torenthi replied, withdrawing two items. He offered one—a wrapped package. "This is a gift from my master, to demonstrate his faith and the hope that you will soon be returned to your rightful home."

Liam took the package and unwrapped the bundled cotton, revealing a gold ring with a silver boss surrounding a leaping hart of black lacquer—the royal arms of Torenth. He touched the cool metal, and thought that it somehow felt odd.

"Long life to Lajos II, may he shine like the sun over Torenth!" The man took his second item, a clay vial, and pulled out its stopper. Liam tried to stop him as he lifted it to his lips, but a twelve-year-old boy was no match for a grown warrior. The contents went down, and Liam fled his enclosure, knowing that the man would soon die.

There was another hiding place he and Payne had used before, in the gallery at St. Hilary's. Liam ran for the church on the other side of the outer ward, clutching the wrapped ring tightly in his right hand. Just inside the portico was a stair that wound up the square, Romanesque bell tower to the gallery overlooking the nave below. It was almost always dark if he kept to the outer walls, and no one had ever disturbed him or Payne. Sitting in a deeply shadowed crevice, he regulated his breathing and quickly brought himself to trance.

Suitably prepared, he unwrapped the ring again and placed a finger on it, examining the metal by more than just physical means. Uncle, you think you will use this to spy on me? Your stamp is clumsy here, unlike you. Did you think I would not be properly trained? You cannot fool me, I know you covet my throne. Frowning slightly, Liam unbound Mahael's spell from the ring and re-wrapped it in its cloth. Blinking, he came out of trance.

Kelson must know of the dead Torenthi man between the storehouses, and the six that remained to be discovered. The ring, however, Liam decided to keep for himself now that it was harmless. It would stand as a reminder of the deceit and treachery he was likely to encounter when Kelson helped him claim his crown.


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