The Queen of Meara
Chapter 33 - Part II
In the tent, Kelson's advisors and generals
were still gathered around a brazier, exploring their options. Mairona
entered with Fergal, and noticed with surprise that Kelson, Morgan, Ewan
and Dhugal were covered in ash like her. "Good evening, my
lords," she greeted, collapsing on a cushion near her husband.
The sight of his wife with Fergal didn't gladden Kelson, but he buried his feelings deeply and found a smile for them as Dolfin poured wine for the new arrivals. "Mairona, you could not be more timely. You as well, Fergal. Come, sit with us. You have information on Rolf and this castle that we need. To begin with, how many men does he have?"
Morgan and Ewan moved apart to make room for Fergal, who gratefully took a seat as Mairona took her wine. Fergal looked at her questioningly, and only answered when she nodded. "Many Mearans deserted at this outrage, and slew most of the Torenthi on their way out. The chieftains have turned on Rolf, who is now imprisoned and kept drugged from my lady's supply of merasha."
Kelson smiled grimly. "Never rouse the ire of a Mearan. How many remain in the castle?"
"Around seventy-five," Fergal estimated, nodding thanks to Dolfin as he offered refreshment.
"And how many does it take to defend your castle?" Kelson turned to Mairona.
"Only forty, because it is unapproachable by any force outside the town walls. They have enough to do alternate watches, and with the Torenthi gone they'll have more food per man," she concluded.
"So, either we find a way to get behind the walls or we have a very long siege."
"There is a way," Mairona whispered, eyes fixed on the tent flap opposite her. What the devil was she doing? No! This was the plan to assassinate the Haldane, but she couldn't stop herself. Her movements, her speech were no longer under her direction, usurped by a command set long ago by Tirkeeve to ensure she wouldn't fail him. "My ancestors had a tunnel carved through the rock, as an escape if the keep were ever taken. Of course, it is also a way in."
"How many men can walk abreast?" Morgan asked.
"Only two, if they are to have room to handle a sword," she answered, her eyes slightly glazed.
"Mairona?" Kelson touched her shoulder, and she shook her head, but it didn't clear the fogginess. "Mairí, I know you are tired, but I need to know where to find this tunnel and a layout of the castle."
"Hmmm? Oh, yes. Forgive me, my lords. May I use your dagger?" Wordlessly, Kelson handed it to her as she put down her wine. She should use that knife on him directly—No, she would not! This must stop, she must prevent this, it only led to ruin! There was no way for her to halt it, not without help, and she would not receive that from anyone in this tent. Her hand unwillingly scraped a rough map in the dirt floor that showed the tunnel's hidden entrance, and where it emptied in the great hall and the lord's chambers. When she was through explaining the route, distances, and possible dangers, she handed the blade back to Kelson, hilt first. All the dukes gathered round nodded in appreciation of her insight into the concerns of military assault.
"We can finish without you," Kelson said gently. "Go and sleep now."
"I do not think I can," she replied sadly, but he smiled when she yawned heavily.
"Go, Mairí," he repeated. She rose and disappeared through a curtained partition to the pallet she shared with him.
She was tired, but there was too much anticipation and worry to sleep. Mairona longed for small Morrigan, who had provided a focus and a means of distraction from the horror unfolding around her. The final piece was laid, but how would it play out? She had seen no peace since the shield wall broke, and she could find no way to stop what was beyond her control. Perhaps sometime in the night, with Kelson at her side, she would find the strength to overcome.
Refusing to think about her mission further, Mairona thought of the babe she bore, and pressed her hands to her stomach, wondering if the child would live. Her entire being fervently hoped so, that some small trace of her would carry on in her child, and then realized she would never know, would never see her daughter grow, would never sing her to sleep. Tears welled, but she dashed them away. She had been born to serve the Dugain dynasty, not to become wife and mother, and had learned long ago to make comfort and pleasure with what was at hand. If she could not sing to her daughter after the child was born, she would do so now. Mairona began humming a tune her mother had sang to still her when she was a child, an ancient melody nearly as old as the fierce people living in her mountains She was still singing softly, rocking slowly back and forth when Kelson finally came to bed.
"Mairona?" he asked, letting the tapestry wall fall back into place behind him.
"Hmmm? Oh. I was only missing little Morrigan. Caring for the babe took my mind off Druimfada," she offered to him. It was not total truth, but it was not a lie either, and he would not be the wiser.
"'Tis more than that, I would wager," Kelson replied as he sat next to her.
Mairona looked at him, startled and suddenly frightened of how well he really did know her, and how easily he could read her closed face. How to recover? "With her black hair, and her eyes bearing a hint of green—"
"She could be our own," he finished for her.
"Aye, she could. Did you know Morrigan was the name for the ancient Mearan goddess of war? That babe is a child of this destruction," Mairona said simply, then looked up at Kelson, really taking in his appearance for the first time. "You are as dirty as I am."
He shrugged. "I toured the town with Morgan and Dhugal briefly, and lent help where I could. You cannot think there is clean work to be done there." Kelson fell silent, not wanting to share how gruesome the sights were, or how many other men, women, and children they had found crushed or burned to death underneath the remnants of their homes.
"I love you," Mairona whispered fiercely, touching his face. Her eyes suddenly went wide as she jerked back.
"You act as if that surprises you," he said wearily. "What is happening? Why are you closed to me?"
Mairona dropped her hands in her lap and looked down at them. Help me!!! her mind screamed. Stop this before I kill you!!! her heart begged, bleeding the remnants of love and happy dreams, but she was not allowed to voice her plea. "You are an outsider here, Kelson. For years, the Haldane kings have destroyed much of my Meara, and even you have done your share. I am sorry. This is one thing you cannot help me with."
"Mairí, I did nothing in the previous war without provocation, and I did not destroy your town," he told her.
"I know that," she said. "I did not expect this."
"I would do anything for you, Mairí."
"Anything that does not harm Gwynedd. I know. Good night, Kelson."
"Good night, love."
Kelson watched desolately as she turned her back toward him, then lay down beside her in his armor. His hand rested on her arm, and although she stiffened, he would not remove it. He had been sleeping in his armor since they crossed the Mearan border, and he was exhausted from the day's physical exertions, so despite his emotional turmoil he fell asleep immediately. Mairona wasn't so lucky, and once she heard his breath deepen in slumber, she wept that he could not hear her appeals, and that he would die in the morn. She spent most of the night vainly fighting the compulsion that would ultimately kill her husband, whom she had grown to love so very much.
She did find sleep in the early hours of pre-dawn, and was so tired with her fruitless effort that Kelson didn't disturb her when he rose at first light to command the assault on Druimfada keep. Mairona eventually woke from a fitful dream, one in which Kelson pointed a finger at her, face full of pain and hatred, asking "Why? Why?" Shaken, she sat up on the pallet and rubbed her temples.
"Mairona, do you wake?" a voice called from behind the curtain.
"Fergal!" Mairona exclaimed, rising from the bed she had shared one last time with her husband. "Give me one moment." She quickly slipped on her dressing gown entered the main space.
"Rolf told me why you went to Rhemuth, although marriage to the king was not a part of the plan," he told her.
"I was blocked. I did not know," she replied simply.
"Aye, and it will not matter for long," he said.
"I never thought he would be a good man," she said wistfully. "He was the demon Haldane king, a monster. I am Deryni myself, I should have known better than to give credence to those stories." She breathed deeply. "Why did Rolf burn Druimfada? That was also not part of the plan."
"He was angered that you married the Haldane instead of him. It was an act of revenge," Fergal explained. Her eyes turned hard, flashing light like clear faceted gems.
"I chose more wisely than he wished for me. I will kill him for this."
Fergal gently placed his hand on her arm. "I led my fellow chieftains against him for you. When the King of Gwynedd is dead, during the confusion in Rhemuth you will be able to lead Meara to independence. Then, I hope you will accept me as a suitor and eventually as husband."
When the King of Gwynedd is dead... Oh, Kelson! Mairona's hand went to her stomach, to the child that grew within. She thought of Kelson's kindness, his love for his people, and how he loved her. How she did love him. And Rolf's men, waiting in their hiding places around the tunnel entrance where she had shown them those many months ago. Waiting to assassinate the man who was now her husband, and with it kill Druimfada. No, I cannot stop what was happening. It was planned months ago, I wanted it, and it is pointless to prevent it, I do not have the strength—
Wrong. She did have the strength, given to her by a child conceived in love she had never dared dream she would find. SILENCE!!!! she screamed to the voice in her mind. You WILL NOT rule me, for I am the Queen of Gwynedd and Meara, ruling Baroness of Druimfada and Chieftain of the Dugains! You will not stop me! The alien opposing voice that preached regicide cowered back, gibbering in a corner of her mind, but it no longer ruled her body.
"This cannot happen!" she cried, shoving past Fergal as she ran out of the tent in her dressing gown.
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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