20a - Chapter 20 - Part 1 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
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The Queen of Meara  



Chapter  20 - Part 1


Mairona was restless in her new rooms. She had been moved into the queen's apartments earlier that day in preparation for the wedding on the morrow, and she felt like a tiny seed rattling in the cavernous space of a dried-out vegetable. They were spacious, and the sitting room extended over the hall below with deep, recessed windows that had a lovely view of the gardens, but they were foreign and too big. They came with being Queen Consort, though, and being queen came with Kelson. She was beginning to understand why some ladies chose to be mistresses of powerful men rather than wives. Marrying Kelson would bring her great joy, but becoming his queen was something else entirely. From now on she would have to watch what she said, what she did, and with whom she was seen. She couldn't even leave the castle anymore without an entire retinue following close at her heels.

She had just come from the solar, where the ladies of the court had been celebrating the impending royal marriage. Mairona's face had been merry enough, and she laughed at all the appropriate jokes, but she was feeling very moody inside and couldn't figure out why. She was very fortunate, marrying not only the king, but a kind and gentle man who loved her. Whom she loved as well. Excusing herself from the ladies' company as soon as was proper, she retreated to her new rooms with the more intimate company of Richenda, Meraude, Gwenhwyfar, and Saraid.

The four of them were ranged about Mairona, who sat on one of the cushioned benches in a window recess, her feet propped up on the opposite seat and her head leaning against the glass. Her fingers played with a gold brooch which had been a gift from the Queen Mother earlier that day. That was a shock.

Jehana had come to her as she was praying in her new private chapel. That was one privilege she did enjoy having; a place to pray and meditate with little chance of disturbance. At Druimfada there was a family chapel, but that served the whole castle and was rarely empty for very long. Hopefully this chapel could be a refuge where she could be reasonably certain of solitude.

Intent on her prayer, she almost hadn't noticed the older queen slip in and kneel beside her. "Madam," she had whispered, turning her head sideways.

"I would like to pray in my old chapel, if you do not mind," Jehana said. She was nervous, her movements jerky as she folded her hands.

"You are always welcome here, Madam," Mairona told her.

The Queen Mother didn't reply, but bowed her head in an attitude of prayer. Mairona did likewise, returning to her supplication.

Lord, grant that I may be a good and understanding wife to Kelson. I wish to make him happy, Lord, and I know it will be no easy task. Give me the strength and wisdom to be a queen worthy of him.

At the edge of her consciousness Mairona felt a light, tentative probe. So Jehana had decided to use her powers! That was intriguing. Keeping her awareness of the touch at a shielded, interior level, Mairona allowed the queen to scan as much as she wished. Jehana did a fearful surface examination and then withdrew behind tightly shuttered shields, burying her face in her hands. Unwilling to disturb the queen, Mairona forced herself back to prayer, for if Jehana knew that Mairona had been aware of her probe she might retreat behind the wall of self-denial that she was only beginning to surmount.

"You love my son?" It was halfway between a question and a statement.

"Yes, my lady, very much." Mairona glanced over and watched Jehana pull her hands away from her face. She looked very pale, but the sad smile that crept on her lips almost softened the harsh, bony lines of her cheeks.

"I suppose I have always known he would marry another Deryni," she whispered, looking up at the crucifix hanging on the wall. "I returned from seclusion at St. Giles to find Kelson a proper, human wife. I should have known he would never listen to me."

An awkward silence followed. Mairona knew she should say something, but couldn't find any words that would make a suitable reply. Bowing her head for a moment, she breathed a silent prayer to St. Camber for patience, then lifted her head to speak the only words that came to mind. "Madam, I know you do not approve of me, but I promise I will do my best to be a good daughter to you."

"Even when I have hated what you are for my entire life?"

"Even so, Madam. 'Honor thy mother and thy father.' I have no family left, my lady, so Kelson's mother must be my own as well."

Jehana stared closely at Mairona, who looked so young at that moment. She was strong, though, and very determined. Exactly the kind of girl that would suit Kelson. Jehana might like her as well, if—

The old queen fumbled to remove a pouch from her belt, then handed it to her daughter-to-be. "This has belonged to Haldane queens for generations. It must be yours now."

Mairona didn't even have time to open the scarlet velvet pouch or murmur a word of thanks before Jehana had fled the chapel. That pouch contained the delicate golden lion brooch she now fingered as she sat in her cushioned window seat. There were many memories bound in the brooch, most of them recent since Jehana was Deryni. Scenes of Brion, who had loved his queen before she had been corrupted by extremist views of Deryni evil, and of her immense love for Kelson as a boy. Now Mairona's memories would be added to those before it was passed on, hopefully to another Deryni who would appreciate it fully.

"My lady," Saraid called, disturbing Mairona from her musings. "My lady, you have been worrying at that brooch all night." Your mind should be on other things other than Queen Jehana, she added silently, so the others wouldn't hear. "Shall I put it away?"

"Here." Mairona dropped it into Saraid's waiting hand. "I shall wear it on the morrow, so see it is put with the rest of the jewels." Saraid departed for another room.

"You are awfully thoughtful, my dear," Meraude said, leaning forward.

"Tomorrow will change my life forever," Mairona said, tracing the lines of the window ledge. "Being queen may not be as heavy a burden as the one Kelson must carry, but it is greater than anything I have ever done. It is not a position to be taken lightly." She glanced at Meraude, who was frowning in concern. "I am merely tired," Mairona smiled, shaking her head. "I did not sleep soundly last night."

Comprehension flooded Meraude's face as she broke into a grin. "You are nervous."

"Who would not be?" Mairona pushed back a lock of hair that fell in her face, hooking it around her ear, then smiled. "I am happy, do not fear, but earlier in the solar some of the ladies were infuriatingly persistent. I have more on my mind than how well Kelson will perform his husbandly duties tomorrow night." Her skin burned red, so she turned to the window to hide her face.

Meraude and Richenda exchanged looks, then Meraude let out a noisy yawn. "Ah, me," she sighed. "'Tis time I should be going to bed if I am to wake early enough to see my little daughter Eirian is prepared and behaving herself."

"Good night." Mairona smiled and rose to embrace Meraude. "I am very blessed to be gaining you as an aunt."

"Likewise, my queen. You will make Kelson happy and proud, I know." Dimples indented Meraude's rosy cheeks as she kissed her niece-to-be. "Have Richenda make certain you sleep well."

"I shall."

"Gwenhwyfar, will you attend me?" Meraude asked.

"Aye, my lady," the girl replied, jumping up to follow the duchess. "Good night, Mairona," she said joyfully, flattered and proud that the king's aunt would ask for her company. Mairona smiled at them both as they made for the door. When the latch had clicked home firmly behind them, she took up her place again on the window seat. "What were you two plotting?" she asked Richenda as she resettled.

"Plotting, my lady?" Richenda asked, raising an eyebrow.

Mairona chuckled, tilting her head back to rest in a corner of the window embrasure. "If that was not a planned exit, I am not Deryni."

Smiling awkwardly, Richenda chose her words carefully. "Ah, well. Brides have questions about what will happen in the nuptial chamber, and Meraude felt you may be more comfortable talking to me."

"Really?" Mairona laughed, bringing her feet around and tucking them underneath her. "I should have guessed. I do know what happens, Richenda. Saraid showed me the memory of her wedding night when she first came into my service."

"Saraid was married?" Richenda leaned forward in interest.

"Aye, and still is, though she wishes otherwise. We Deryni are still greatly feared in some parts of Meara. She was wed to a chieftain's son who was not happy to discover his new bride was not merely human. When she failed to conceive, he had the excuse he needed to throw her out of his household. Her father would not have her back, so I took her into my service." Mairona grimaced at the memories Saraid had tearfully shown her three years ago. It had not been a happy marriage by any means.

"That does not sound like a memory to ease a bride's fears."

"No, 'tis not," Mairona sighed. "It probably makes it worse, even though I know Kelson would never do that. Why am I so nervous, Richenda? We love each other, which is more than most brides have in their nuptial chamber."

"You will be fine." Richenda leaned forward to place a comforting hand on Mairona's arm. "All brides are nervous. I was anxious with Alaric, and I had all the experience of my first marriage behind me."

"I know everything will be alright. I should go to bed myself, because it would not do any good to fall asleep in the middle of my vows tomorrow."

"Would you like some assistance?" Richenda asked, moving away so Mairona could leave the window recess.

"No, Saraid will do fine. Thank you, Richenda. I shall see you in the morning."

"Pleasant dreaming, my lady." Richenda smiled and curtsied as one would to a queen, then turned to leave Mairona alone.

"Wait," she called to Richenda, blushing fiercely and looking down at the floor as she changed her mind. "I may need some assistance after all."

Controlling a knowing smile, Richenda resettled in the chair she had just vacated. "What can I do, my lady?"


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