25a - Chapter 25 - Part 1 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
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The Queen of Meara  



Chapter 25 - Part 1


Mairona strode through the gardens, barely noticing their budding spring beauty as she purposefully aimed for the King's Tower and her meeting with Kelson and Nigel. There was too much to discuss yet about what Kelson wanted Nigel to accomplish in his absence, and Mairona didn't want to miss a word. Knowledge would be power this summer, at least as far as getting her out of the ladies' solar to what she saw as her rightful place as queen consort.

Her thoughts were disturbed by a boy moving to intercept her. "My lady," he hailed, jogging to reach her before she left the gardens.

"Liam," she smiled, pulling her veil back over her shoulder so she could get a better look at the boy king. "Did you receive the Torenth colors I had made for you?"

"Aye, my lady, thank you," he beamed, eyes shining. "I have something for you as well. Kelson told me that you know how to scry?"

"Aye," Mairona replied, intrigued. "That is how we learned of Mahael's influence in Meara."

"I have something that may help Kelson this summer." He offered a small package, which Mairona took carefully. "'Tis a ring that my uncle gave me, hoping to use it to spy on matters at Rhemuth. I have only touched it to neutralize his spell, so his trace is still detectable."

Mairona's eyes widened, looking from this heaven-sent gift to the boy who offered it. "Do you understand what I can do with this?" she asked carefully.

"Aye," Liam swallowed. "You can find where my uncle is moving his army, and maybe even determine his plans. That will help Kelson win, and help me live long enough to gain my throne."

Laughing, Mairona hugged the boy and kissed him firmly. He flushed in adolescent pleasure. "Liam, when you do gain your throne, Gwynedd and Torenth will be such great friends that together you could rule the world! Thank you!"

Later that night in the same gardens, a certain young border duke found Ailín waiting for him, apparently unattended. "Dhugal!" she exclaimed, running and throwing her arms around his neck.

"Good evening," he grinned before kissing her soundly on the lips. She pulled back with a dreamy smile. "Where is your serving maid?" he asked, searching the gardens.

"Asleep," she giggled, pulling him into a small enclosure walled with hedges. Its relative privacy had long ago led to it being called the Trysting Corner. "I slipped something into her wine tonight. She will not wake until morning."

Dhugal made a clucking noise with his tongue, shaking his head. "What would your father think?"

"Nothing, unless someone tells him." She looked up at him mischievously as she sat on a bench. He settled next to her, suddenly nervous. "What is it?" she asked, concern in her eyes. He smiled uneasily, fumbling to pull something out of a pouch on his belt.

"I, um, want to give you something before I leave on campaign. I do not know how much of my time Kelson will demand the next two days before we leave, so I give it to you now."

Tentatively, he held out a small cloth-wrapped bundle. She took it and undid the folds, uncovering a solid gold cloak clasp in the form of a sleeping lion, the McLain badge.

"'Tis beautiful," she breathed.

"'Tis like to one my father gave my mother on their wedding night. I would like you to keep it safe for me," he told her, brushing her cheek.

"I will do that," she whispered. "Theirs was a secret marriage, was it not?"

"Aye," Dhugal confirmed. "They were parted soon after, and she died birthing me. My father did not even know of me until a few years ago."

"It seems like a bard's tale," she sighed. He embraced her, kissing her forehead and then her lips. She pulled away before he could venture any further. "I have something for you, too."

Reaching down into her gown, she pulled out a chain and pulled it over her head. "'Tis not much, and it cannot compare with your clasp, but it is all I have to give. It belonged to my grandmother, who was very dear to me, and I have worn it ever since her death."

"Then it is more precious than the clasp," Dhugal replied, taking the chain. There was a small stone at the bottom, with a hole drilled in the middle to thread the chain through. He sucked in a breath as he recognized the amber crystal. "Shiral," he breathed, staring at the stone and then up at Ailín.

"What is it?" she asked him. "What does that mean?"

"'Tis the name of the stone," he said quickly. "This belonged to your grandmother?"

"Aye," she nodded tentatively. Dhugal got very excited.

"Shiral is used as a focus by Deryni who are learning to exercise their power." He held the stone cupped in the palm of his hand, took a deep breath, and watched an amber glow grow within its depths. Ailín watched in fearful awe, torn by curiosity and the old teachings that Deryni were all cursed by the devil. Blinking, Dhugal looked at her as the light died. "Will you indulge me?" he asked.

"Aye," she replied nervously.

"Hold out your hand," he commanded. She complied, and he dropped the stone and chain into it. "Now close your eyes, and take deep breaths. Relax, and let your breathing get slower and deeper—" Talking her into a trance, he watched her face grow calm and glanced down at the stone. Nothing. "Very good," he said, hiding his initial disappointment. "Relax, imagine yourself sinking." He ventured to her, urging her onward. The stone flickered faintly, then gradually settled into a steady glow. Dhugal smiled triumphantly. "Open your eyes," he said gently.

She did, and saw the stone shining in her hand. Startled, she dropped it and broke the trance. The light flickered and died. Ailín stared at the stone, then at Dhugal, then back at the stone.

"What does that mean?" she squeaked.

"You are most definitely Deryni." He studied her closely for her reaction. Her mouth worked up and down, and her eyes darted between him and the stone several times. Finally she picked it up and deposited it in his hand.

"Does that please you?" she asked, afraid to think about the implications of what just occurred.

"Ailín, you have no idea of what that means we could share."

He took her hand and brushed gently against her mind. It was the lightest feather-touch, and set her body tingling. A slow smile worked across her face as she decided that if this pleased him, she would let it please her. That smile turned anxious as a new thought came unbidden.

"Dhugal, what if you do not return?" she asked, looking up with apprehensive eyes. He just kissed her, and her arms fell around his waist as he pulled her close. She didn't stop him when his hand slipped underneath her gown, for if he did what she secretly thrilled for, her father couldn't force her to marry John of Drostan.

The royal apartments were a flurry of activity as Kelson was organizing affairs with his uncle Nigel for his absence and Mairona tried her best to listen in while overseeing the packing of his things for the long summer ahead. There were too many things that needed to be accomplished in the two days before the army's departure, and only sweet Brigid knew how it would all be achieved. The packing was forgotten when Kelson started detailing the role he wanted Mairona to play in assisting Nigel. She held one of her husband's undertunics forgotten in her lap as she paid close attention. Kelson explained that she was not to be excluded from anything, although for now her role was more of an observer than an active participant in matters of state.

"She and Richenda will be your contacts with me should the need arise for mind speech," he continued. "Fergal has also established himself in Druimfada. He should hopefully be able to provide some valuable information."

"I understand," Nigel nodded, rubbing his brow. It had been a long day, and promised to be a longer night.

"Just a brief word of advice, Uncle," Kelson grinned tiredly. "Mairí's most agreeable when she gets her way."

"Kelson!" she exclaimed, balling up the tunic to launch it at him. He caught it easily just before it hit his face.

"Most women are," Nigel chuckled. "I shall be sure to keep it in mind, though."

Mairona looked at both of them, feigning disgust. "Men," she muttered, shaking her head. Kelson laughed, handing the undertunic off to Ivo to be packed with his other things. When the squire was gone, the king turned serious as he took Mairona's hand.

"Uncle, I have a favor to ask you."

"Anything," Prince Nigel replied. His nephew gave him a small smile.

"If something should happen to me this summer—"

"Nothing is going to happen to you," Mairona interrupted vehemently. Kelson squeezed her hand.

"If anything should happen, Mairona has no family left."

"I will care for her, Kelson," Nigel said.

"No you will not, because nothing is going to happen," Mairona insisted, holding her husband's hand very tightly. They were interrupted when Dolfin entered the room.

"Sire, his Grace the Duke of Cassan wishes to see you," the squire bowed.

"Show him in," Kelson told him, leaning back in his chair. Dhugal entered the room, looking very uncomfortable as he approached.

"Kelson, I need to talk to you," the young border duke fidgeted. Kelson appraised him in one look, then turned to Mairona and Nigel.

"I am certain the two of you have many things you need to discuss between yourselves," he told them.

"Yes, we do," Nigel agreed, rising. Kelson kissed Mairona on the cheek before she and Nigel departed for the solar. As soon as the door was closed, Dhugal sank into a vacated chair and played with the stem of Nigel's discarded goblet.

"What is wrong?" Kelson asked.

"Nothing serious, exactly," Dhugal started, a slight smile on his face. "I am sorry to bother you, and I know there are a thousand things you need to do before we leave, but I, ah, need to get married tonight and would like you to be a witness."

"Tonight? Khadasa!" Kelson leaned forward, studying his brother closely. "Why so hurried? Dhugal, if you want to get married, wait until we return from campaign and I shall give you a state wedding to match my own!"

Dhugal looked down at his thumbs, obviously embarrassed. "It has to be before we leave, Kel. Ailín and I met in the gardens, and she started talking about the campaign. One thing led to another, and, ah, things went a little too far."

"Could she be with child?" Kelson asked.

"I do not know, but when she realized the possibility the poor lass nearly fell apart." Dhugal replied with a timid smile. "Whether or not she is, if anything happens to me this summer she will be compromised. So I must marry her, and tomorrow there will not be time."

Kelson chuckled, shaking his head. "Dhugal, I am happy for you, and nothing could stop me from being there. I always thought you would marry Deryni, though."

Dhugal's face flushed with pride as he looked up. "She is Deryni. Her grandmother gave her a shiral crystal when she died, and Ailín made it light. I am hoping Mairona and Richenda can start training her while we are away."

"Should it worry me that there will be another Deryni duchess helping my wife engage in ladies' intrigues?" Kelson grinned.

"I had not thought to make another one so soon," the border duke returned.

"You did manage to make a mess of things, Brother," Kelson chided. Dhugal flashed an awkward smile. "I assume your father will be presiding?"

"Aye, if he agrees," Dhugal nodded. "I, ah, was hoping you would help me tell him."

"He does not know?" Kelson exhaled loudly. "Sorry, Brother, but you are on your own. After he lectures you and decides to comply, I shall come witness your vows."

"My father's a priest, Kel. A bishop, for God's sake. Ye're throwin' me tae the wolves!" Dhugal grinned, letting his border burr spill through.

"I think Duncan will be more understanding than you give him credit for," Kelson told him. "Did he not do much the same thing himself with your mother?"

"Aye, but he at least got the wedding and bedding in the right order."

Kelson snickered, imitating Dhugal's native speech. "We cannae all be saints. Does her father know?"

"Ailín was going to tell him and try to make him favorable before I have to ask him for her hand."

"'Tis well you are his liege lord, Dhugal, or matters would be more complicated."

Dhugal grinned self-consciously. "I know," he muttered.

"Now go tell your father so we can see you married." Kelson shooed him away with his hand.

"If I live long enough," Dhugal snorted. "I shall return for you when he lets me off my penitential knees."

"Get out of here," Kelson laughed. "Sunset already approaches, and I am weary. If you take too long saying your Ave Marias, I may fall asleep."


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