22 - Chapter 22 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
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The Queen of Meara  



Chapter  22


Kelson and Mairona both waited in a guardroom that had been vacated as the court gathered in the great hall, making ready for their grand entrance. "Guiltlessly alone at last," Mairona jested, undoing her cloak. Kelson reached for her clasp, tilting it to get a better look.

"That looks like my mother's," he commented, releasing it.

"It is. Or, it was. She gave it to me last night." Finally she was able to throw off her heavy mantle.

"That is interesting," Kelson wondered, raising his eyebrows. "I believe my lady mother might actually like you."

"And why would that be?" Mairona turned around to lay the heavy cloth gently over a bench so it wouldn't get rumpled.

"Perhaps because you are beautiful," he murmured.

"What did you say?" She turned back around to hear him better.

"I said I have a beautiful bride." He lovingly wrapped his mind around hers, pulling her close.

"Oh, Kelson," she breathed, looking up at him. Her heart shone in her face as she reached up to smooth a stray lock of hair behind his ear. He couldn't resist kissing her, and pretty soon their arms were entangled around each other.

Suddenly a throat cleared at the door. Kelson and Mairona sheepishly backed away from each other and turned red-faced to Morgan, who grinned mischievously. "I may be mistaken, but I believe that part comes after we eat."

"Ah, is everyone assembled?" Kelson choked, trying futilely to hide his embarrassment.

"Your court is anxiously awaiting Your Highnesses." Morgan bowed, gesturing out the door. He chuckled as the pair straightened each other's crowns and Mairona put Kelson through a brief presentability check. Kelson picked up her green, fur-lined mantle and draped it over her shoulders.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"One moment," she replied, fumbling with the lion clasp. Finally it was secured.

"Your Highness?" Kelson bowed, then extended his arm.

"Your Highness," she returned, inclining her head graciously as she placed her arm on his. They looked each other in the eyes, and all the royal dignity dissolved into fits of giggles.

Morgan sighed at the two of them. "St. Camber, protect us," he mumbled as he turned his eyes heavenward. The young couple never heard since they were still snickering as they passed by, trying with difficulty to compose themselves.

By the time they reached the great hall, they were a model of decorum. Horns in the gallery sounded a fanfare as they appeared in the doorway, auras blazing a Haldane crimson and gold. A path opened up as courtiers retreated, bowing and curtseying as the king and queen advanced together to the high table. For the first time in many years there was a smaller, more delicately carved throne set to the right of the king's, and its sight gave Kelson joy. The court settled into an expectant hush as the royal couple took their places and Kelson took in a breath to speak.

"We wish for our happiness to be spread throughout Rhemuth, and indeed throughout all of Gwynedd this day. Therefore, let merriment rule into the night, and may food and wine flow freely!"

Cheers resounded through the hall and daggers pounded on the tables as pages approached with wineskins. Kelson took his golden goblet and raised it to Mairona. "To my beloved Deryni wife and queen," he said softly.

"And to my dear lord husband and king." She took a swallow from their shared goblet, then Kelson took his. Smiling, he tilted her chin up to kiss her gently. When they parted, he had a wide grin that was soon reflected on her face.

"I expect we are going to be seeing plenty of those smiles tonight," Morgan laughed.

"I would wager there will be one you cannot wipe off your face tomorrow morning!" the king's blood brother chuckled a little too loudly.

"Dhugal!" Kelson exclaimed sharply, reaching out to make sure Mairona wasn't offended or embarrassed. She squeezed his hand and gave him a little smile before turning to the border duke.

"Could it be my lord Dhugal is jealous that his king will be getting more sport tonight?"

Dhugal's jaw dropped as Kelson whirled on his wife, shocked. "Mairona!"

"Well, you will," she shrugged with a flirtatious smile.

Kelson just shook his head unbelievingly as he brushed her mind with affection. And what sport would that be?

I am inexperienced in such matters, she returned. What could I know?

Would you play with me, my lady? He looked in her eyes, finding lighthearted impishness dancing in her pupils.

Aye, my lord, unless it doesn't please you.

Oh, it pleases me. He took her hand and brushed its palm against his lips, letting some of his desire spill over. She had to catch her breath at its intensity, her eyes locked on his. They were mercifully interrupted by an outburst from Dhugal.

"Sweet Jesu!" he exploded.

"Who is she?" Kelson chuckled knowingly.

"I do not know, but she sits over there." The red-haired duke was totally enraptured, his full goblet held forgotten to one side.

"Chestnut hair?" Mairona asked.

"Aye," Dhugal replied distractedly.

"She is distant kin on my mother's side, I believe, though I could be mistaken. I have not seen her in several years," Mairona said. "Her name is Ailín, and I believe she is in her fifteenth year. She is the daughter of one of your vassal lords in Cassan."

"I must speak with her," Dhugal stated.

"I had better warn the lass," Mairona laughed. "With your permission, Kel." She didn't wait for his reply before she was up and navigating the crowd to the object of Dhugal's attention.

"What is she doing?" Dhugal looked worried and a little embarrassed.

"I do not know." Kelson grinned at his brother's obvious discomfort. "She probably wants to make sure the poor, innocent girl is not taken by surprise."

"Well, then, I shall need more of this." Dhugal suddenly remembered his wine and drained the whole goblet, then held it out for more. "You would do well to have some yourself, Kel. It will help things later on."

"How do you know, dear brother?" Kelson raised his eyebrows. "I thought my lords' daughters would only let you kiss them in dark corners."

"I might find out tonight, if luck is shining on me," he grinned. "And if your new wife would finish talking."

"We could ask them to dance." Standing, Kelson straightened his cloak. "Shall we?"

Dhugal downed his refilled goblet before following the king down from the high table to the girls, who were whispering in a secluded area. "My ladies," Kelson greeted, kissing Mairona's hand. Ailín curtsied, eyes downcast.

"My lords," Mairona smiled, her eyes twinkling with mischief. "Your Highness, your Grace, allow me to present the Lady Ailín of Kilshane."

"Your Highness, my lord duke," the girl said shyly, properly demure.

"My lady queen," Kelson interrupted, "would you honor me with the first dance?"

"The honor is mine, my lord." She flashed him a bewitching smile as she gave him her hand, then she glanced back at Ailín. Some secret communication seemed to flash between their eyes at that instant, but Kelson couldn't detect a hint of her Deryni talents. Odd, how women could do that. He tugged her hand, and Mairona let him lead her away. After a few steps she stopped him, amusement flickering in her eyes. "Kel, watch them. I think Dhugal is in for a surprise."

They turned to see Dhugal smoothly inviting Ailín to join him. "My lady, would you care to accompany me this night and be my winter flower?"

"Am I to be tonight's conquest in a dark corner my lord?" the girl retorted, her words at odds with her bashful demeanor. Dhugal stood frozen, unable to even breathe.

Kelson tried very hard not to laugh, and the effort made him choke. "You are a cruel lady, Mairona," he coughed out.

"There is no permanent damage done. She and I are having a bit of fun, 'tis all." She smiled sweetly at her new husband before turning back to the floundering duke.

"My lady, I—" Dhugal objected, but he couldn't get very far. Ailín's eyes softened with humor.

"If you promise not to kiss and discard me, like the Earl of Carthane's daughter, I shall dance with you," she told Dhugal. He bowed uneasily, not quite sure what he was getting himself into.

"Come. I think you have done enough damage here," Kelson said, sweeping his wife into the center of the hall where couples were gathering for the first dance.

"She is not going to let him get away very easily. She was thrilled to attract the attention of a very eligible duke," Mairona mused. "I think the good Dhugal is in for more than he bargained."

"Much as I am," Kelson grinned.

"Just what is that supposed to mean?" Mairona asked, feigning indignation. Kelson simply kissed her hand in reply and smiled as he took his place across from her. I am waiting for an answer, Your Highness, she sent him.

My Highness would be wise to remain silent. He covered his amusement with a bow as the music began. It was the first of many dances that would exhaust the two of them. Mairona could have sworn that by the time it was all over she had taken a turn with absolutely every single man in the room. Dhugal and Ailín both took other partners, though they always seemed to find each other out again, and further down the hall, Gwenhwyfar and Kelson's squire Dolfin couldn't leave each other's company. At some point, Kelson even managed to get Jehana out for part of a song before she retired early, as was her custom. Mairona was watching mother and son with a smile when Prince Nigel approached her.

"May I have a turn with my queen?" he asked, offering his arm.

"Of course, Uncle," she smiled as she was led back to the floor again.

When the musicians rested, both she and Kelson finally got the chance to sit and eat their meal, each feeding the other delicate bites interspersed with not-so-delicate kisses. Just as the musicians looked to start up again, Dhugal approached them and bowed to Mairona. "May I have a dance?" he asked. Mairona nodded, rising from her chair only to have Kelson grab her around the waist and pull her down into his lap.

"Sorry, Brother, but I have shared my bride enough today," he apologized. "Besides, you might break Lady Ailín's heart."

"I shall have to find her, then," Dhugal grinned. "Another time, then." He turned and disappeared down the floor.

"That was rather selfish of you," Mairona commented, making herself comfortable in his arms.

"I did not see you for hours of dancing. I am going to be a very jealous husband for the rest of the night, mo mhíle stór," he said. She started when she heard the old Mearan phrase, a term of love and affection. His attempt to speak her people's language touched her profoundly. "Did I get it right?" he asked.

"Aye," she nodded, suddenly very serious. "That was perfect."

"Good. I was practicing yesterday morning with Seánin. It is nice to know he did not lead me astray."

"Did you learn anything else?"

"Aye," he smiled, leaning close to whisper in her ear. "Mo ghrá thú."

"Oh, Kelson," she breathed. "Mo ghrá thú freisin. I love you, too." He kissed her long and tenderly, prompting Richenda to gather Meraude, Gwenhwyfar, and Saraid and approach the couple.

"It appears that it is time to escort Mairona up to the nuptial chamber and prepare her," Richenda said.

"And if I do not let her go?" Kelson teased, clutching Mairona tightly.

"Now why would you want to prolong things, Sire?" Richenda asked mischievously. His fair cheeks warmed to a light shade of red as he grudgingly released his wife.

"Do not take all night," he called after them. Mairona turned back to grin at him before the four women led her away. Morgan and Nigel each took a seat on either side of the young king to keep him company in the interim, plying him with wine for the night ahead.


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