The Queen of Meara
Chapter 34 - Part I
Everything fell into place all too easily as
Mairona ran out the tent for her husband's life. She had been a fool to
ever trust Rolf, or plan with him how to lure Kelson to his death. Now
he had burned Druimfada to spite her for marrying the Haldane demon,
denying Rolf a chance at kingship of Meara. It was now clear who the
real demon was, and she must warn Kelson before it was too late, to
right her wrong. It did not matter if she died; he must live.
She was thwarted as soon as she left the tent, for Dolfin was returning from an errand and found his sense of propriety offended. "My lady!" he called, blocking her way. "My lady, you must not walk around dressed like this," he admonished her, gesturing to her robe.
"Of course, there is a faster way," she mentally berated herself for not thinking clearly in her panic. "Dolfin, you were in the king's tent last night when I showed where the tunnel entrance is. Can you find it?"
"Aye, madam," he replied, as if such a question were unnecessary.
"The king is in grave danger! If he gains the tunnel entrance, Rolf's men are waiting to kill him. I will try to warn him through Deryni means. You must ride to tell him yourself, in case I fail."
"Aye, madam!" Dolfin did not need to be dismissed. He was already sprinting to the picket lines to commandeer the fastest scout horse available. Mairona whirled and reentered the tent.
"What are you doing? You will destroy everything!" Fergal protested. "Are you not thinking of what will happen when the king discovers you—" He was silenced as Mairona reached out and touched his neck, bidding him sleep soundly for the next few hours. Only when she was sure he would not rouse did she sit cross-legged and center as she had been taught years ago.
Kelson still wore his Camber medal, and she focused on that, praying the saint would aid her in delivering her message. Kelson, she called, trying to picture the war band approaching the tunnel. Kelson, please hear me. You must hear me!
In the forest surrounding Druimfada, Kelson and his men approached the tunnel that promised surprise entrance to the castle. He had slept too soundly the night before, and stiff neck muscles were giving him a headache. There hadn't been time to have Dhugal or Morgan take care of it earlier, so now he suffered in silence.
"My liege!" Dhugal called, pointing. "There is the cloch clairseach the queen spoke of, the harp-shaped rock."
"Then the tunnel should be—" Kelson's voice trailed off as his eyes scanned the woodland before him. "There!" he concluded, finding the semicircular ring of bushes that had been carefully planted to conceal the entrance. "Morgan, deploy the men—Ooh!" he exclaimed, wincing.
"Sire?" Morgan asked, bringing his mount closer in alarm. Kelson shook his head, rubbing his temples.
"'Tis nothing. I woke with a demon of a headache this morn." He tried to laugh it off.
"No, I felt something, too," Dhugal protested, lifting his hand to the Camber medal he wore, an identical copy of Kelson's . "But not painful, nor malicious."
Another wave of pain stabbed through Kelson's forehead. "There it is again," he muttered. Morgan noticed it that time as well, centered around his own medal.
"It feels Deryni. Dhugal, see to the king. Ewan, deploy the men. I will try to determine the source of this thing," Morgan said, dropping his mount's reins with a brief mental command to stay put. He watched Dhugal reach a hand over to Kelson before he closed his eyes. "'Tis the queen," Morgan murmured.
Dhugal made quick work of Kelson's head and neck, then they both turned to Morgan, eager to see what was so important. Suddenly Morgan's eyes bolted open. "Archers!" he exclaimed. "This is a trap!"
Morgan's arm struck like a thunderbolt as he grabbed a fistful of Kelson's surcoat, then yanked as he dove off his horse. Kelson's personal bodyguards closed ranks between their king and the tunnel, while foot soldiers ran forward to create a shield wall. Dhugal leapt off his horse, feeling an arrow sing by his ear.
Kelson's left shoulder went numb as he hit the ground. Funny, he had fallen on his right side. Glancing down, he noticed with shock a clothyard shaft buried in his brigandine. If Morgan had not acted so quickly, that arrow would have been through his heart. Blood was seeping through, warm and sticky on his skin.
"Kelson!" Dhugal yelled, diving to his blood brother's side. He immediately began examining the wound while Morgan appraised the surrounding situation. Arrows continued to fly overhead, forcing them to stay low to the ground.
"How bad is it?" Morgan asked.
"No serious damage done, though he will go into shock if we do not tend to it," Dhugal concluded, breaking off the shaft within inches of the wound. Kelson groaned, cursing his shoulder for choosing that moment to stop being numb.
"We have to move him. It is too dangerous to Heal him here. I would give anything if we had not left our archers in the camp—" The duke only allowed a brief moment of wishing. "Ewan can keep those Mearans' attention. You will mount up with Kelson in your saddle. I will ride at your side, using Deryni skill to deflect the arrows."
"Right," Dhugal agreed. Morgan crawled toward Ewan as Dhugal assisted Kelson, trying to block his pain.
Back in the camp, Mairona dressed hurriedly as she reflected on how quickly Morgan had broken off contact. The message had been given before the trap was sprung, but she still felt that something was horribly wrong.
Fergal was removed from the king's tent on her orders, to be watched closely. Once he was gone, she waited just outside the tent, pacing, refusing to think. Either possibility was too dreadful to consider. If the plan succeeded, she had just led her beloved husband to his death. If it failed, she was a traitor and her life forfeit. She could run away and save herself, but that was a coward's action, and would only lead to prolonged war with many deaths on both sides. Why had no word come? She had been waiting for an eternity! Saints Brigid and Camber, please protect him. It does not matter what happens to me, please keep him safe. Why is there no word?
Finally she could hear horses' hooves thundering at a full gallop. Because of the maze-like configuration of tents, she would not see them until they were nearly upon the king's tent, and a little piece of her seemed to die which each clomp of an unseen charger's hoof on the turf. When they did appear, the sight horrified her. "Kelson!" she screamed as she ran toward Dhugal's steed, which was shuddering to a halt. Kelson's face was gray as he slid off the horse, swaying heavily when he hit the ground. "Oh, sweet Brigid, Kelson!" she exclaimed as she reached under his arm to support him. He tried to smile at her.
"No worrying, love. Dhugal says I will live."
"Thank God, I feared the worst!"
Dhugal and Morgan appeared from nowhere when Kelson stumbled again. "Sleepy," he yawned. Mairona had seen enough border patrol injuries to recognize the symptoms of shock.
"If you dare fall asleep, I will have you thrashed!" she threatened.
"You would thrash your king?" he returned as he was half-dragged, half-carried into his tent.
"Aye, and I am certain I could get Dhugal or Alaric to comply," she returned sternly as he was laid on a pallet. She cradled his head in her lap, chattering to keep his attention while Dhugal and Morgan washed their hands and went to work on the wound.
"Kelson," Morgan called, "we cannot remove your armor without sawing through the shaft from underneath. Dhugal has made certain you will feel little pain."
"Go ahead," Kelson winced. Thanks to Dhugal's talents, he soon felt detached from what was happening to his body.
Morgan caught Mairona's eye briefly. Keep talking, he sent her.
"Kelson, when this is over I have a surprise gift for you," she smiled.
"What could that be?" he asked dreamily.
"I will not tell you until you have been Healed," she insisted.
"Why not?" Kelson protested.
"Because this way you will not go to sleep on me," she told him bluntly.
"Fair enough," he grinned, then continued to try to wheedle it out of her. Meanwhile, Dhugal tried to pry Kelson's brigandine coat open enough for Morgan to saw through the arrow's remains with a dagger. Soon the brigandine was removed, and Morgan's fingers firmly probed the wound as his mind extended down the shaft remains.
"The barbs are wide. This is going to be nasty," he muttered. Kelson turned even grayer and Mairona stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth opening as her eyes went wide in fear. "The peril is minimal, since it missed the lung and does not endanger any large veins in the direction it is placed," Morgan reassured them. "It will only be nasty." Color returned to Mairona's face, and Kelson became less gray. "Mairona, Dhugal has released the pain blocks so he can better assist me. See what you can do to make him more comfortable."
Sweet Brigid, how could she enter rapport with Kelson without giving herself away? "No," she murmured, "I cannot!"
"We do not have time for this nonsense!" Dhugal exclaimed through his teeth. "Do it now!"
She looked at both dukes, who understandably had no patience with her protest. Her eyes dropped to Kelson, whose face was tense with agony as his eyes betrayed hurt at her reluctance. How could she not do this? How could she do it without giving all way? She must keep herself well-shielded, not think of anything. A few deep breaths set the walls in place, and then she nodded.
"Alright," she conceded, splaying her fingers through Kelson's hair as her consciousness settled on his and eliminated his awareness of the throbbing that radiated in spindled waves from his collarbone. As his features relaxed, the dukes went to work together. Kelson was blissfully unaware of their actions, enjoying the first touch of Mairona's mind on his in several days with a bittersweetness stemming from her near total closure to him.
Mairí, why can you not share yourself with me?
She could block his physical pain, but his emotional torment lay bare, and tears wet the ends of her lashes. Sweet Jesu, was there no other way? You will know soon enough, my love. Please, give me these few moments.
I know you grieve for Druimfada, and I wish to share your pain.
No. Mairona shook her head. You do not understand.
Then give me understanding. There was a vague tugging sensation as the arrow was ripped free, then pressure, as Morgan's fingers slipped in the wound and a warmth as he called on his power to Heal.
It will come all too soon, she answered, a feather-light reply. Please do not hurry it.
Partial perception eased through his thoughts. If it was not simple grief, then— You are protecting someone.
Aye. The tears spilled over before she could will them to stop. I have never lied to you, and I never will. You will know all soon after you are Healed, so please do not press me now.
Morgan's fingers were withdrawing from the raw hole, mending torn tissue as they passed. In a few moments his fingertips drew clear, leaving behind a tender pink scar and a smear of leftover blood. "We are finished," he announced tiredly, leaning back on his heels. Released from duty, Mairona nearly leaped away, breaking their rapport with a jarring snap. Trying to cover her strong desire to flee, Mairona fumbled over a wineskin, but never actually poured anything to drink. As Kelson sat up, he moved his shoulder around experimentally, working out a lingering stiffness. It felt like he had strained it, perhaps, but it certainly did not appear to have suffered the ravages of a longbow's near-deadly shot.
"Thank you," he told Dhugal and Morgan. "And my most grateful thanks to you, Mairí. If you had not sent word I would likely be dead." He took her hand, rubbing it affectionately.
"I feared that I would be too late," she told him, tears breaking free again to roll down her cheeks. She choked on a sob as the guilt welled from her stomach and caught in her throat.
"Hush," Kelson whispered, pulling her down to sit next to him. "Another day or two, I will be no worse for the wear." He held her until she pulled the tears under control, then wiped off her face and took her hand again. "How did you know?"
Mairona turned her face away, unable to meet his eyes.
"Mairí, who are you protecting? Is it Fergal?"
"No," she whispered. "Not Fergal."
"Tell me," Kelson insisted gently. Mairona squeezed his hand, and he wondered what could possibly make her look more desolate than she had when she was assaulted in All Saint's Cathedral square.
"I will," she whispered, "but please, first, just hold me and let me thank God and the saints that you are safe."
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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