The Queen of Meara
Mairona entered the king's private chapel,
clad only in a white shift with a drawstring closure at the neck, and
white silken slippers. The powerful attendance of the archangels
summoned to guide and guard this ritual nearly overwhelmed her, but
their witness this night was a gentle one rather than the terrible power
of a deep working. It was fitting for this ceremony, intended to bind a
husband and wife in a way that only Deryni could share.
Other than the presence lamp over the altar, a single candle burned on a table in the center of the room, partially obscured by the wards Kelson had raised. He stood by a gate he had left in the shimmering dome, clad in a linen tunic and breeches that were dyed royal purple. An ancient golden circlet gleamed in the candlelight, as well as the Haldane sword in his grasp. An image of the biblical King David came to mind, and she smiled at the appropriateness for this night's working.
"You are the most handsome of men," she intoned, "fair speech has graced your lips, for God has blessed you forever."
She advanced slowly to the gateway's threshold as she continued in a singsong chant.
"Gird your sword upon your hip, mighty warrior! In splendor and majesty ride on triumphant! In the cause of truth and justice may your right hand show you wondrous deeds. Your arrows are sharp; peoples will cower at your feet; the king's enemies will lose heart. Your throne, O king, stands forever; your royal scepter is a scepter for justice. You love justice and hate wrongdoing; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellow kings. With myrrh, aloes, and cassia your robes are fragrant. From ivory-paneled palaces stringed instruments bring you joy. A princess arrayed in Ophir's gold comes to stand at your right hand."
When she reached the gate, Kelson held out his right hand to lead her through as he returned her greeting.
"You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my beloved, as lovely as Jerusalem, as awe-inspiring as bannered troops. There are sixty queens, eighty concubines, and maidens without number — One alone is my dove, my perfect one, her mother's chosen, the dear one of her parent. The daughters saw her and declared her fortunate, the queens and concubines, and they sang her praises; Who is this that comes forth like the dawn, as beautiful as the moon, as resplendent as the sun?"
He released her to take the sword in both hands, and dropped the tip to the ground to close the circle. The gate vanished, closing into a seamless crimson dome around them. Shifting the sword to his left hand, he swung the blade up to rest on his shoulder and took Mairona by his right hand again and led her to the table.
"Be welcome in the house of the king, O my Shulammite."
He brought the Haldane sword to rest on the table next to a golden goblet of wine, a small bowl of salt, and the burning white beeswax candle.
Mairona picked up the goblet, raising it to her face so her breath fell on the wine's surface in reverence to the quarter of air.
"What is this coming up from the desert, like a column of smoke laden with myrrh, with frankincense, and with the perfume of every exotic dust? Ah, it is the litter of Solomon."
Kelson intoned the response.
"Arise, north wind! Come, south wind! Blow upon my garden that its perfumes may spread abroad."
Carefully, she replaced the cup on the table. A fine red mist floated on the surface of the wine, barely confined by the cup's rim. Kelson lifted the bowl of salt, taking a pinch between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, symbolic of earth and fertility.
"You are an enclosed garden, my sister, my bride, an enclosed garden, a fountain sealed. You are a park that puts forth pomegranates, with all choice fruits; nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all kinds of incense; myrrh and aloes, with all the finest spices. You are a garden fountain, a well of water flowing fresh from Lebanon"
"Let my lover come to his garden and eat its choice fruits," Mairona replied.
He released the salt over the goblet, and it dissolved with a brief effervescence. The mist rose off the goblet, disappearing in the air, and the wine stilled.
With a brief tug, Kelson removed the Ring of Fire, an item of his royal regalia, from his hand and passed it through the candle's flame.
"I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride; I gather my myrrh and my spices, I eat my honey and my sweetmeats, I drink my wine and my milk."
Again he sent the ring through the flame as Mairona gave the response.
"My lover is radiant and ruddy; he stands out among thousands. His head is pure gold; his locks are palm fronds, black as the raven. His eyes are like doves beside running waters, his teeth would seem bathed in milk, and are set like jewels. His cheeks are like beds of spice with ripening aromatic herbs. His lips are red blossoms; they drip choice myrrh."
On the third pass the candle went out, the flame transferred to the ring which shone with an unearthly light. Kelson gently dropped the ring into the goblet, which radiated a smooth red glow. He then slipped Mairona's wedding band off her finger and put it in the cup with his own ring, where it tinkled the dull sound of metal against metal. She had only worn the ring for a few hours, but its loss set her at odds.
Lifting his sword to turn the edge up, Kelson ran his right index finger along the edge until blood welled from a shallow cut. He turned to take Mairona's hand, but she shook her head and walked around the table, preferring to do it herself. Carefully she took the hilt in her left hand and paused in wonder, feeling the power and memories of generations of Haldane kings coursing through the metal. The weapon held an unbroken line that was now culminated in Kelson, spanning through the two centuries since the interregnum. Steeling herself, she pressed her own finger along the edge to free her lifeblood. She laid the sword back on the table, then held her finger over the cup next to Kelson's.
"As our flesh is forever bound, so may our souls be united," he stated.
A single red drop fell from both their hands into the cup, causing swirls of crimson that eventually settled with a darker color than before. Kelson raised the goblet to the east in offering, then drank deeply of its contents before giving it to Mairona. She nearly finished it off before setting it back on the table and taking the Ring of Fire, which pulsated with scarlet light in the palm of her hand. Kelson took her wedding band, which appeared to have captured some of the fire in its heart stone. Simultaneously they slipped the rings home on each other's fingers, clasping each other by the hands. When the metal bands came to rest, they both shuddered and slid to the floor as most barriers between the two were broken, and they shared deeply of each other's thoughts and emotions.
Saving the areas they had previously agreed should remain private, their memories flashed by as they fully explored each other. She was a small girl, interrupting her father's council as she ran in the room, crying that the other children were taunting her and calling her "Deryni witch." Tiernan patiently took his five-year-old daughter into his lap and dismissed his advisors to comfort her, trying to explain to a small child the complexity of human fear and hatred. "They will learn someday, Mairí," he promised his small daughter.
Kelson was sent back to his childhood, a page under Nigel's tutorage proudly showing his indulgent father how enthusiastically he could hack at a wooden post with an undersized sword. King Brion clapped proudly at his son, who beamed with pleasure.
Fergal came to be fostered at Druimfada, and quickly took a liking to the small "Deryni witch" who would unreservedly go adventuring with him and get into heaps of trouble. Larger than most of the other boys, he quickly made it clear that anyone teasing Mairona would have to answer to him. Gradually, his protection became unnecessary as she learned to fend for herself.
Riding over a meadow, a prince on the verge of manhood gloried in a beautiful day and the excitement of the hunt, even if the hounds couldn't seem to find their quarry. That carefree abandon turned to profound grief as he saw his father clutch at his chest and fall to the ground. "So soon?" his father had managed to choke out before dying in agony in front of his only living child and heir. Kelson shared with her the struggle of holding on to his kingdom amid the horrible loss of his much-loved father and a shattered childhood that could never be reclaimed.
Mairona came into her Deryni heritage as she grew, more so after her mother's death when her father procured a tutor. The more she learned, the more she was grateful for the relaxing of all the strictures against the Deryni that had ruled for two hundred years. Then came her meeting with the king that made it possible, and her pleased astonishment at the gentle soul behind the crown.
Finally, they shared their experience of their wedding, their joy and veneration for the incredible sacrament that brought them together. As they relived the exchange of vows, they were washed in a love so intense and profound that it couldn't possibly have come from any earthly source, human or Deryni. There was peaceful approval in that love which made the archangels bow in reverence outside the dome. Both of them were overtaken by a fearful, joyous awe when they were touched for only a moment.
That moment passed, and the vast fountain of love retreated with it, taking the archangels and safely dissolving the protective dome. Kelson and Mairona came to on the ground in each other's arms, tears of joy running down both their cheeks.
"I do not even want to speculate about what just happened," Kelson whispered, laughing with the remembrance of the great presence that had recently departed.
"I think would go mad if I do," she responded. "I do not know whether to be overjoyed or fearful of the kind of attention you attract from—I am not going to say what I think that was."
"That must be what a Deryni priest experiences when he says Mass," Kelson wondered, standing and helping Mairona up. Silently, for they couldn't begin to speak about what passed between them, they picked up the items used in the ritual and exited the chapel for the bedchamber.
Kelson slipped the Haldane sword into its scabbard, hanging at the head of the curtained state bed. He then dried out the goblet and traced a pattern on the wall next to the bed. A stone came loose, and he pried it open to reveal a small aperture. Setting the goblet with other ritual items used in the past, he replaced the stone and turned to his wife. His wife. How wonderful that sounded.
She was pouring the unused salt into the fire, since it was unfit for any other use. Re-lighting the candle, she set it on a nearby table to brighten the room as Kelson approached from behind.
Firelight crackled warmly, spreading its orange glow through the room to ward off the winter night's chill. Their nuptial bed stood curtained off and inviting nearby, now that all the day's ceremony was done. Mairona looked so beautiful in the soft light that Kelson had to reach out to her, brushing her cheek and neck. He didn't expect her to stiffen and jerk away, slamming her shields down on him.
The sudden touch of his rings' metal on her neck surfaced the unwelcome memory of just two short weeks ago; of the pressure of sharp steel threatening her life, and the unspeakable intentions of the man wielding that blade. Then she came to her senses, realizing this wasn't a dagger and this certainly wasn't Mahon behind her. Anger washed over her, fury that Mahon had to leave his evil taint on this night. That outrage turned just as suddenly to sorrow as she turned around and saw the hurt and confusion in her new husband's eyes.
"I am sorry," she whispered, reaching for him hesitantly. "'Tis not you. I would probably be nervous enough without—" She tried to smile, but it dissolved with her words as her eyes shone with brimming tears.
"Oh, Mairona, what did he do to you?" He pulled her close and pressed her against his chest, rocking her gently as she brought herself under control. When she stopped sniffling, he stepped back so he could see her face. The tears that had come unbidden before never spilled over, though her eyes were still bright with them. Leaning over, he kissed her forehead. "Let us sit for a while by the fire."
"I would like that," she nodded. He gathered an armful of furs from the bed and deposited them close to the flames, making a little nest for the two of them. They both sank down in the center, and she nestled her way deeply into his arms as a small smile crept on her face and the tears dried. Turning her hand to the fire, she looked closely at her new wedding band.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"'Tis beautiful." She tilted it back and forth to catch different highlights in the fire's reddish glow. "Who thought of the design?"
"I did." Reaching down, Kelson turned the ring so the rubies caught the glow of the flames. The larger, heart-shaped stone in the lion's jaws outshone the rest, reflecting some of the fire it had assimilated in the chapel. "You are the heart of the Lion," he whispered, raising her ring finger to his lips. She craned her head back to look up at his face, and saw love shining out from eyes turned quicksilver in the firelight.
"Thank you, Kelson, for understanding." Her hand brushed his cheek, and he turned his head to kiss her palm.
"How could I do otherwise?"
"Many men would—would force—" Tears trembled on her lashes again as her voice caught.
"I would not!" he said vehemently, holding her tightly. "Never."
She sniffled, dropping her hand in her lap. A deep, shuddering breath helped compose her. "This night is not unfolding the way either of us hoped or expected."
"No," he smiled. "I rather expected to be shaking like a new soldier riding into his first battle."
Mairona couldn't help but giggle. "I am the one who is supposed to be nervous, and I think I am overdoing it enough for the both of us."
"Ah, but that is assuming I am experienced in this sort of thing."
Looking startled, she twisted all the way around to face him. "You are not? I mean, you have never—?"
"Perhaps I did once. I cannot even be certain," he confessed in embarrassment, turning his head toward the fire. "It was when I was with the Servants of St. Camber at St. Kyriell's-in-the North, after my vision of him. I had what I thought was a rather vivid dream. It was only much later that Dhugal informed me he had seen a young girl slip into the room I was in, but her description doesn't match my dream. Either way, I would hardly call it practice. I do not need the complication of bastards."
From the corner of his eye, she looked relieved instead of amused. "Well, then, I suppose we shall both have to try to muddle our way through." Smiling, she took his face in both hands and turned it back to her. Leaning forward, she came within a finger's width before hesitating. Kelson barely breathed, not wanting to frighten her again, though her golden curls were doing some very unfair things as they brushed against him. Finally their lips met, and he couldn't find any hint of the panic that previously beset her. There was a nervous knot in the pit of her stomach, but that was only to be expected. In fact, he had one to match. Breathing deeply, Kelson kissed her again, bringing on some delicious feelings that blossomed within.
"Would your Highness like an escort to her nuptial bed?" he asked, stroking her face.
"Only if my lord husband and king would do the honor," she replied with a small smile.
"I think that can be arranged." Standing, he scooped her in his arms and carried her to the giant state bed, where he deposited her gently on its furs.
She took his hand, drawing him onto the feather mattress next to her, but then she dropped his fingers in uncertainty. There was a shyness in her glance as she timidly clutched her hands together, a self-conscious manner brought out by that traumatic happening in the city streets. Somehow, he needed to put her at greater ease.
Instead of tearing her shift off immediately, like any other eager new husband, he decided to expose his own vulnerability first. A firm tug yanked his tunic over his head, and then a wave of his arm tossed it through the bed curtains to the floor. With that properly disposed, he took her hand and kissed each fingertip, never taking his eyes off hers. She smiled, brushing his cheek, then trailed down his jaw and throat before noticing a white line that ran diagonally across his chest. "Is that from the Mearan war?" she asked, tracing it with her fingers.
"No, not so heroic," he admitted sheepishly. "Dhugal and I were jesting, and somehow it turned into a mock dagger fight. Neither of us was wearing mail for protection, and I was too slow to avoid one of his swings. The wound wasn't nearly as bad as the scar looks, and it taught me my lesson."
"I hope so," she breathed, "for this summer's sake." He cupped her cheek in one hand, caressing it gently as her fingers continued to trail down, coming to a stop just above his waist. When she touched his breeches, she pulled her hand back bashfully, looking deep in his eyes for guidance he didn't know how to give. He struggled to offer her something anyhow.
"There is no need for the barriers of hesitancy between us here," he finally said, taking up the laces that secured his breeches. "Beyond that, I am no more certain than you. All we can do is try as we like and see what works best." He left his breeches loose, but still on, as he reached for the drawstring on her shift's neck. "May I?"
Mairona nodded, breathing deeply as he deftly undid the knot and pulled the neck loose. Her apprehension began to be displaced by a growing curiosity. "Try as we like. You truly mean that?"
"Aye, or we are likely to gingerly get ourselves nowhere," he grinned nervously. Her hand reached out to lightly touch the bulge beneath his trouser laces, but when he gasped she jerked back.
"I am sorry!" she blurted.
"Do that again," he entreated. This time he closed his eyes as she touched him tentatively, lightly feeling and exploring a round ridge through the linen. As she leaned forward, the neck of her shift widened and slid down one shoulder. It was instinctive to pull it back into place, but then she changed her mind and shrugged the neckline open and down to her waist. Mairona nearly held her breath as she watched Kelson through her lashes, waiting for his reaction.
Fervent eyes soaked up every inch, astonished at the fitness of her form. Mairona was by no means hard and lean, but was firm with activity. Suddenly her boast about riding with border patrols in Meara was no longer as surreal as it seemed before. Rather than detracting from her femininity, Kelson deemed that it gave her a lithe grace, even in her bashful uncertainty.
"You are beautiful," he breathed in amazement. Smiling, Mairona slipped her arms around his neck as he surged forward to kiss her. His hands quested down her sides, thumbs spread out to trail down her breasts. Mairona made a small, inarticulate noise as her grip tightened. Kelson pushed her back on the pillows, taking a moment to drink in the sight of her in firelight before burying his face in the fullness of her chest. Her fingers combed through his hair as he showered each breast with ardent kisses, then pulled back to see how she was faring. She fingered one of the laces on his breeches.
"Can I—May—I—I would like to—see," she blushed furiously, nearly burying her face in the vast expanse of pillows behind her. Kelson gently moved her chin back to face him, smiling in reassurance as he kissed her thoroughly.
"As my lady wishes." Releasing her, he made short work of the breech laces, then easily slipped off the linen and tossed it to join the tunic on the floor. She settled on her side as he lay adjacent, closing in to nuzzle at her neck. Her eyes were drawn to him, unable to look away from this thing that would take her maidenhood, as her fingers flittered just above his knee like a nervous bird poised to flee its perch at the slightest movement. Kelson pulled away for a moment to still her jumpy fingers. "No barriers," he reminded, freeing her hand again to move as it would.
"Aye," she whispered, inching her hand up with more surety. The hairs on his leg crinkled and rubbed at her skin as she worked her way slowly. Kelson barely breathed as she reached his hip, so close, afraid to break the spell. Mairona finally looked up, seeking something in his eyes.
He nodded, letting his breath out slowly. Her fingers closed on him like a lightning strike. "Khadasa!" he exclaimed as his eyes went wide. Before he could settle in to enjoy this development, she pulled away her hand again. "No, 'tis fine!" he protested.
"But not quite fair," she returned, wriggling out of the rest of her shift. When it slipped past her hips, Kelson took it from her and pulled it down her legs, brushing over the cottony soft skin of her thighs, which transitioned to firm calves sculpted by hours on horseback. When it was free, he threw it after his tunic and breeches. She hugged her knees awkwardly, then swallowed noisily and lay back on the pillows, stretching her full length before him. Her hands found and grasped his elbows, coyly pulling him down beside her. As their skin touched along the complete span of their bodies, he wrapped her in his shields, brushing her mind with a tenderness that sang counterpoint to the tight fire growing within.
They enfolded each other in love, and he sighed to see her timidity was not borne of fear anymore, but the juxtaposition of a welling need to please him and the ignorance of how to do so without risking offense. I am already well pleased, he breathed as he kissed her, pressing her firmly against the feather mattress. She visibly relaxed and held him tightly to her as she finally understood that she could do nothing to cause umbrage. Realization dawned on both of them that they were physically positioned for the fateful moment.
His eyes silently asked permission, which hers gave in return. "I will try to be gentle," he whispered.
"I have been told it will hurt, regardless," she responded, but there was no hesitation in her demeanor.
"Let me help you dull the pain," he offered, but she shook her head.
"'Tis part of the nuptial bed. I will be fine."
Her bravery and complete trust touched him, and he kissed her, astonished at how her body now seemed to melt and mold perfectly to his. He trembled as he drew back a little. "Hold me as you must," he whispered before one final kiss.
It started as an insistent pressure when she wrapped her arms underneath his, reaching up his back to clasp his shoulders. The force grew quickly to intense discomfort until something within her tore away, and she dug her fingernails down his back as they both cried out. Her sudden pain was too sharp to take any pleasure alone, but in the sharing of their minds she partook of his obvious bliss, which swelled until she was calling his name, and he hers, and they shuddered together. It lasted but a moment, yet that moment was eternity, and when it was over they fell together, sagging into the billowing mattress and pillows.
Kelson rolled over and scooped her in his arms, placing tiny kisses on the top of her head as he made soft, comforting noises to soothe her pain. "I love you, Kel," she whispered back, burying her head in his shoulder. Mairona felt whole in a way she couldn't describe, and couldn't have conceived before tonight's ritual. The emptiness that had been carried in her heart since her father's death was now gone, filled to overflowing by a joining with one who could only be her chosen soul-mate. Sighing happily despite the persistent ache of torn flesh, she snuggled closer to drift away and share pleasant dreams in the safe haven of her new husband's arms.
The pale gray dawn was already creeping into the room when Dolfin arrived the next morning. His quiet stirrings woke Mairona, who twisted her head to blink sleepily at Kelson. He had been awake for some time, gazing placidly down at her. "Good morrow, sweet wife," he whispered, stroking her hair with a kiss.
"G'morrow," she returned lazily, snaking her arm around his waist.
"So, you are still speaking with me this morning," he chuckled, squeezing her.
"Speaking? Oh, aye," she grinned languidly.
"And other things?" he asked, caressing her with mind and body.
"I am so sore I will not be able to sit properly all day," she stated definitively. Kelson's face fell, and out in the room Dolfin stumbled. It was hard not to laugh, so she kissed her husband to stifle the urge. "Take heart, love, I only had one maidenhead for you to claim. Perhaps Richenda can instruct me on how to distract you while I mend."
"You had a fair idea last night," he returned with a grin.
"Aye?" Her eyebrow rose as she slipped her hand under the coverlet, all timidity gone. When she closed on her goal, his eyes rolled in his head as he collapsed on his back, letting out a loud, protracted groan.
A crash interrupted them from the room beyond the curtained bed, shortly followed by indistinct muttering. Kelson and Mairona froze, looking at each other, then burst out in giggles. Trying unsuccessfully to compose himself, Kelson stuck his head between the curtains. Mairona half-sat behind him, holding the furs around her to keep warm.
"Is everything alright, Dolfin?" Kelson sniggered.
"Aye, Sire," the squire answered in an unruffled voice as he righted the iron poker back in its stand, followed by its fellow fire-tending tools. "I apologize for my clumsiness. There is some light fare to break your fast on the table here. The fire is built up for the morning, and your robes are hanging near the wineskin to warm by the flames."
"Thank you," Kelson chuckled. "If we need anything else I will call for you."
Dolfin bowed, giving his king a conspiratorial wink. He made as if to go, but appeared to change his mind. "Sire? If you do not mind me saying so, I would eat lightly this morning. That groan sounded like your stomach did not agree with all the rich fare consumed yesterday." He flashed a roguish smirk before disappearing through the door. Kelson and Mairona collapsed on each other in laughter, clutching their bellies as tears rolled helplessly down to the overstuffed feather pillows. When Mairona thought she was nearly under control, she glanced over at Kelson, and he at her. One look in each others' eyes launched a new round of hilarity.
"I wonder if it was the venison, or—" Kelson gasped, "or—the fowl, or—"
"Oh, sweet Brigid!" Mairona wheezed for breath, doubling over her knees. "I do hope—it was not the final sweet."
"I could sample it again to find out!" Kelson grinned wickedly, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Distract me some more."
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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