The Queen of Meara
Chapter 25 - Part 2
Reluctant to face his father just yet,
Dhugal instead found himself approaching Lord Geoffrey's small rented
townhouse in the city. As one of the servants led him to Geoffrey's
quarters over the hall, he could hear raised voices from the room.
Ailín's was particularly prominent, but of the other two he couldn't
tell which was her father and which was her brother, Conor, now just at
the verge of manhood. This didn't look to be any easier than facing
Duncan. I am Geoffrey's duke, he reminded himself as he summoned
the courage to knock on the door. The voices fell silent.
Lord Geoffrey opened the door himself, an exasperated expression on his face. "Come in, your Grace," he invited with a bow. "We were just discussing you."
"You are gracious, sir," Dhugal returned, stepping into the room. Ailín and her blond-haired brother had been faced off on the other side of the close quarters, but both had turned to see whom the intruder was.
"Dhugal!" Ailín called in relief. Conor's face contorted in fury.
"So, this is the Deryni bastard who defiled my sister!" he spat. In one seamless motion, he drew his dagger and threw himself at the border duke. Ailín and Geoffrey both gasped in dread as Dhugal whirled out of harm's way, reaching out to grab Conor's arm. The boy stopped suddenly, eyes going glassy as Dhugal grasped hold with his mind and took control of the defenseless, human boy.
"I suggest you drop that blade," Dhugal commanded. Conor's fist opened, and the dagger fell to the floor. "Do you know what the king would do to someone who tried to murder the one he calls Brother?" Conor's eyes grew wide in terror as he began to understand the consequences of his rash actions, while Geoffrey was torn between defending his only heir and separating himself from an act of treason.
"Now," Dhugal continued forcefully. "You are still young and I believe you acted without thought. For the sake of your sister, I shall forgive you calling me a bastard. I even forgive you for trying to kill me." He bent to pick up the dagger and stuffed it in his belt. "If you promise to behave yourself." The controls were released, and Conor backed away warily.
"What were you thinking?" Geoffrey hissed at his son. "He is your duke!"
"Aye, I am your duke," Dhugal said, "but tonight I come simply as a man who would ask your daughter's hand in marriage." Geoffrey just stared at him, unwilling to answer. Ailín saw her father's indecision, and took a step toward Dhugal. He noticed a light bruise purpling on her cheek as he held out his hand to her. She moved to his side and slightly behind, like she was trying to shield herself.
"Please, Father?" she begged.
Geoffrey shook his head. "I have just arranged your marriage to John of Drostan! Now I am supposed to tell him my daughter refuses? He would be insulted, would take my land in recompense! Our name would be dishonored!"
Dhugal turned on Ailín. "You never told me that!"
She just shrugged, refusing to meet his eyes. "Please, Father?" she repeated. "John of Drostan is an old drunken lout."
"A rich, old drunken lout," her brother corrected from the back of the room.
"Conor, be silent!" Geoffrey hissed.
"Father, I could be a duchess. My children will be dukes," Ailín pleaded, clutching Dhugal's hand for support. He thought that her fingers shook, and Deryni senses confirmed not the hope he had expected, but fear. Of what? The bestowal of another tender bruise? Squeezing her fingers, Dhugal fixed his hard attention on Geoffrey.
"As my vassal, you require my approval for such a match before the contracts are ratified. Did you overlook that, or are arrangements not yet final?" Dhugal asked, cold blue eyes displaying just what he thought of being overlooked. Geoffrey's hands waved nervously.
"Of course your approval was not forgotten, my lord. I thought to seek it after returning home."
"When I was on military campaign with the king? Your answer does not ring true, Geoffrey." Turning to Ailín, Dhugal noticed that she trembled when he bent to kiss her hand. He had intended to release her, but one look at her face changed his mind, and instead he sheltered her in his arm as he turned back to her father. "How much did Drostan offer in bride price?"
Geoffrey swallowed awkwardly, no longer able to look his duke in the face. "My land is poor, and my income has been failing. He promised to double my estates and bear the expenses of Conor's eventual knighting."
Ailín turned to Dhugal and buried her head in his shoulder. He glanced at her before continuing, rage at Geoffrey's callousness mingling with growing dread over what would have happened to his helpless sparrow of a girl had he not interfered.
"There is strong suspicion that Drostan beat his former wife to death. His offer seems small exchange for your daughter's life, or is a secure income of more import to you? Since this arrangement has now been brought to my attention, I do not give my approval. In fact, I forbid Drostan from ever marrying again as protection to the maidens and widows in my domain. Since the contract could not be finalized, Drostan has no ground to take your lands and there is no dishonor to your family. Ailín is free for me to claim her as my own wife and duchess."
"And your bride price?" Geoffrey prompted. Dhugal could not believe his sheer gall.
"I allow you to keep your land after the insult you have tendered your liege lord."
Geoffrey threw his hands up with an explosive sigh. "What choice do I have?"
"None," Dhugal confirmed evenly. "I expect you to deliver my bride to the royal chapel in one hour's time. The necessary contracts will be ready for your signature then, and there will be no room for negotiating their contents. I know this is not necessary, for you must be a loving father, but it would incur my wrath if she were in a worse physical or emotional condition than she is now. Is that clearly understood?"
"Aye, your Grace," Geoffrey muttered.
Dhugal felt a feather-light touch on the edge of his shields as Ailín attempted to exercise her newly-discovered powers as he had started teaching her in the gardens. She didn't even believe that he would hear, but was content to let the thought echo in her own mind.
Thank you, was the barest breath of her gratitude. You have saved my life. I will always honor you for this.
Now it was time for Dhugal to approach his own father. Duncan was stunned, not sure whether he should be pleased or angry. He had been young once, and in love, so his speech wasn't all that scathing. Dhugal bore up pretty well through the lecture of the seven deadly sins, especially lust, and the virtues of self-control. A little bit about the gravity and sacredness of marriage was thrown in for good measure, but by the time Duncan came to a close he was grinning like a page boy, congratulating his son and whipping vestments out of a trunk. Dhugal breathed a huge sigh of relief, for his father had taken things rather well.
The wedding was held in the royal chapel, with Mairona, Meraude, and Richenda attending the bride. Ailín was thrilled and glowed with excitement to have three such great ladies present. Kelson, Nigel, and Morgan stood with Dhugal as Duncan presided. Her father Geoffrey looked like he wasn't sure if he approved of the proceedings or not, but he brightened considerably when the ceremony was over and the king embraced his daughter, kissing her on the cheek. By the time they had all withdrawn to a private celebration in the king's apartments he was the most jovial of them all. After all, Dhugal had been the most powerful bachelor left in Gwynedd, and his daughter was now the wife of the king's blood brother. Not a bad match for a simple lord's daughter, and he intended to use it to expand his own influence. Too bad Dhugal had other ideas of making sure that Geoffrey would have no authority beyond his small estates, and never again have hand over his daughter.
Due to the late hour, the celebration was a short one, and soon Ailín was brought to Dhugal's chamber to be prepared. Kelson took the opportunity of her absence and the free-flowing wine to get revenge for all the taunts he had endured from Dhugal during his wedding feast while he waited for Mairona to be made ready. Dhugal returned them good naturedly, proclaiming he no longer need be jealous of his blood brother's warm and soft nights, and insinuating that after their brief bout in the gardens, his bed may in fact be livelier than the king's. Of course Kelson had to retaliate, for his honor and Mairona's, and the jesting match had begun in earnest. When the time came for Dhugal to join his bride, Geoffrey and Kelson threw their arms around him and the three sang noisily and off-key all the way to Dhugal's chamber. As they arrived, Mairona shook her head indulgently, knowing exactly what they had been consuming in the ladies' absence.
"You know, Brother," Kelson snickered loudly. "There is an ancient law in Gwynedd called Prima Nocte. It gives a liege lord the right to sleep with his vassal's bride on her wedding night."
"You would not dare!" Dhugal hissed, whirling on the king.
"Do not worry." Mairona gave Dhugal a small smile, slipping her arm through Kelson's to pull him away. "If he so much as tries, you may have your way with the little pieces that are left when I am through. Unless my king has the need for children?"
"I was only jesting," Kelson frowned, pulling away.
"Then so was I," Mairona returned. "Come, everyone. We all have a busy day tomorrow. These two should be allowed a few moments' peace."
She shepherded everyone out of the room. When the door was safely closed and locked, she took Kelson by the waist and led him to his bedchamber. By the time they reached it, he had steadied considerably and shrugged off her assistance to pour the two of them goblets of plain water.
"I thought you were drunk," she told him, accepting a cup.
"I suppose I am. We shall know for certes in the morn," he replied with a grin. "I was only jesting with Dhugal, Mairí. I would never think of doing that."
"Of course not," she said simply, making sure he consumed all the water before taking his goblet away so she could unlace his tunic and pull it off. She undid her own dress then, tugging it off with his help until she stood in her shift. Her fingers then moved to the laces on his breeches, undoing them with unbearable slowness. Kelson sucked in his breath as her hands caressed in an excruciatingly delicious manner.
"What are you doing?" he asked. She moved her face closer until their cheeks kissed and her lips touched his ear.
"Teaching you why you were only teasing," she whispered.
"I am your willing pupil," he whispered back. The two of them left a trail of clothes on the way to the bed, where they savored the last privacy of any great length they would have before his departure.
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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