The Queen of Meara
It had been nearly a week, and Mairona
showed little sign of improvement. Kelson sat vigil at her bedside when
he could, but duty's call grew stronger as the days progressed. Morgan
had started to see to the rebuilding of Druimfada, but that should be
Kelson's job so long as he remained. He must also make himself visible
to the people, who still feared the "demon" Haldane king from
Gwynedd, and repair the damage wrought by rumor and tall tales. At the
dawn of the sixth day, Kelson resigned himself to ride out into the
Morgan had tactfully not spoken of Kelson's uncharacteristic isolation in the past week, but he obviously approved at his king's decision to leave the castle keep. Mairona may wake, or may continue in a coma until she wasted away. Whatever her condition, Gwynedd and Meara still needed him and continued without her.
After morning Mass and a light breakfast of fruit and cheese, Kelson assembled three of his personal guards and informed Morgan and Dhugal they would accompany him. Kelson dressed in a guard uniform, ordering his two dukes to do the same. He wanted to speak candidly with Druimfada's inhabitants, so it was better to lay aside royal rank. They feared him as king, and an obvious display of Gwynedd power would not make matters any better. Perhaps he could win them over with the same methods that secured borderer loyalty, by appearing as one of them.
The six men rode from the keep together with a strict command to address Kelson only as "sir." Kelson led them into the town, searching for a group of friendly Mearans who would be willing to speak to men of Gwynedd. It didn't take long to find such a gathering, for three men were laboring together to rebuild a burnt-out tavern. It could then be used to shelter several families until homes were reconstructed.
Signaling his men to approach, Kelson watched the Mearans use rope and pulley to raise a weighty support beam into place. They were having trouble managing the huge piece of oak, and would certainly appreciate assistance.
Kelson caught a wave of panic coming from the Mearans just before the oaken beam snapped free of its pulleys. A man underneath looked up in fear, then had the good sense to dive out of the way. That action saved his life, but not his limbs. The massive timber fell on his legs, pinning him to the ground and surely pulverizing bone. Dhugal and Morgan were off their horses before Kelson, knowing their Healing talents were all that might enable this man to walk again.
Morgan and Dhugal knelt on either side of the trapped man. "What is your name?" Morgan asked. The man just shook his head, his face contorted in pain.
"Cad is ainm duit?" Dhugal translated. The Mearan language was similar to his native Border tongue, and he had learned a lot just by listening to Mairona converse with her servants, Saraid and Seanín.
"Odhrán," the man grimaced.
The Mearans were trying to lift the beam off with their bare hands, with little success. Kelson quickly examined the pulley mechanism, seeing that the rope had broken roughly in half. There wasn't enough on either length to use again. "Do you have another rope for the pulley?" he asked the Mearans, hoping at least one spoke the Gwyneddi tongue.
"No," one called back. "We were lucky to get that one."
Setting his mouth in a line of concentration, Kelson beckoned to his guards. "Go over to the far side and help."
"Aye, sir," they called, jumping over the beam. Kelson walked to the near side, where Morgan and Dhugal were keeping their patient from going into shock.
"We need one of you on this side to lift," he told them.
"I will do it," Dhugal volunteered, then turned to his fellow duke. "You have more Healing experience, and, no offense, I have a younger back."
"None taken," Morgan returned with some relief. If needed, he could still hold his own with the younger men, but he also needed more Healing afterward to avoid aches and pains. He simply stayed with the injured man, waiting to pull him out.
Kelson waited until everyone was in place, then crouched to take his share of the burden. "On the count of three. A h-aon, a dó, a trí!" They heaved, and with five extra men the beam lifted clear. "Now, Alaric!" Kelson grunted. Morgan pulled Odhrán away. He cried out as his ruined legs were moved, then passed out from the pain.
"I have him!" Morgan called. The men lowered the timber, scrambling backward to keep their toes free. Dhugal dropped to the ground opposite Morgan, ready to assist on the Healing. "At least he cannot object to our Deryni ministrations," Morgan quipped.
Kelson twisted to stretch his back, taking a few moments' rest. A younger man sharing Odhrán's flame-red hair approached and took his hand. "Tá Fingar. Odhrán é mo dheartháir. Go raibh maith agat." Kelson struggled to make sense of the words. I am Fingar. Odhrán is my brother. Thank you.
"Tá failte romhat," he replied. The man grew excited.
"An bhfuil Mearnach agat?" Fingar asked. You speak Mearan?
"Ní hea, níl mórán Mearnach agam," Kelson replied. No, only a little. He paused, reaching for words from his few playful lessons with Mairona. "Is mo bhean chéile Mearnach." My wife is Mearan. Fingar nodded enthusiastically, grinning. Kelson struggled even more, knowing he was about to butcher Mearan grammar if he hadn't done so already. "Mo caraí." He pointed to Morgan and Dhugal. "Is mo caraí Deryni." Fingar's eyes grew wide, but to Kelson's great relief there was little fear. He continued as best he could. "Deryni. Slánaigh."
Fingar's hopes soared. Deryni Healers! When he had seen the condition of his brother's legs as he was dragged out, he held little faith that Odhrán would ever walk again. With these two men, perhaps Odhrán's legs could be made whole. "Go raibh maith agat," he whispered in awe, turning to watch the Healers work.
A crowd gathered outside the tavern, drawn by the commotion, and the Mearans watched in wonder as Dhugal and Morgan repaired the damage done to Odhrán's crushed legs. When they had finished, Morgan made sure his patient was sleeping normally before coming out of trance. Dhugal spoke quickly to the Mearans in their language, telling them that Odhrán must avoid putting any weight on his feet for a week while his legs finished mending and he regained his strength, that he may have trouble learning to walk again, and he would likely always have a limp. For now, he would have to be carried home.
"They will need some sort of litter," Morgan commented, knowing what Dhugal must be saying even though he couldn't understand the words.
"Use this," Kelson offered, removing his mantle and spreading it on the ground. Odhrán was carefully placed on it, then Fingar and another man each took up the corners to bear the invalid away. The man who spoke Gwyneddi approached Kelson.
"I am Cathal. We would like to share our noontime meal with you in thanks."
Kelson was touched. Most of Druimfada's lives had been ruined in the fire, and there was little food to go around. The Gwynedd army was well-supplied, and these men knew it since many of those provisions had bolstered their own meager supplies. "You honor us. I would offer our rations as well so you are not burdened. There is salted beef, good bread and cheese, and ale."
"That will be most welcome, sir," Cathal smiled.
A corner of the tavern had been covered over with canvas. All men who had gathered to watch now sat in a circle under that shelter, Kelson's soldiers on one side and the Mearans on the other. Kelson would have rather seen them mixed, but food was passed and shared freely among both halves. The separation seemed to be more of language than prejudice, which eased his mind.
"How did you learn our tongue?" Kelson asked the Mearan, who shrugged.
"I am, or was, a merchant. It is useful to know many languages for trade." He bit off a piece of bread and chewed. "Your knowledge of Mearnach surprises me. I overheard you have a Mearan wife. It is commendable that you would learn some of her tongue."
"It made her happy." Kelson's voice cracked on the last word, and he tried to cover his emotion by coughing. Cathal, with the perceptiveness of one accustomed to sizing up a customer, realized the expression on his face was not consistent with a sudden need to clear his throat.
"Something his wrong," he frowned.
"My wife is very ill," Kelson confessed.
"Ah. I am sorry." Cathal chewed on some beef, then tried to switch the subject. It was ironic that his "new" topic was hardly a change. "What news on our lady? We know she was injured and does not wake."
"The queen?" Kelson's face clouded for a moment. "There is no change."
Cathal noted the emotion still in his voice. "I see that the men of Gwynedd love our lady as much as we do."
"Not all," Dhugal added.
"Because she is Mearan," Cathal concluded quickly.
"Ní hea," Dhugal corrected. "Because she confessed to a plan to assassinate the king."
"No!" Cathal cried mournfully. "Then it is better for her to die in her sleep. Otherwise, the Haldane— the king," he corrected himself in front of Gwynedd men. "The king will execute her!"
"She will not come to harm at his hands," Kelson reassured him. "The queen repented and confessed early enough to foil the attempt. Now her life is in the balance because she saved his life a second time, placing herself in a dagger's path."
There was a pounding of hooves as a horse was pulled up short just outside the tavern. Kelson looked out between the timbers, which hadn't been filled in with wattle and daub yet to form walls. It was Dolfin, who stopped when he recognized his master's horse tethered outside. "Sire!" the boy called as he leaped off the horse's back and squeezed between the tavern's supports. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the light in the sheltered corner where Kelson was sharing his meal. "My lord," he cried, bowing when he found his king. "The queen has awoken!"
"What?" It took several seconds for Kelson to comprehend with the surge of conflicting emotions flooding him. He bolted for the street and his mount, not caring whether his men were behind him or not. His guard left the food in their haste and managed to make it outside when Kelson finished untying his horse. He was settling in the high-pommeled saddle when Cathal finally gained the outdoors.
Cathal bowed, for the young squire had made it obvious this man was more than a simple soldier captain. "My lord, will you give us your name so we may remember you and your wife in our prayers?"
Kelson looked down at him. "Aye, pray for her. My name is Kelson Haldane." He dug his heels into the horse's flanks and galloped toward the keep, leaving poor Cathal behind. The man's mouth hung open in shock. Dear sweet Mother of God, he was the king! The Haldane demon had bent his back and labored to save a simple Mearan commoner!
His friends came out of the tavern and asked what was the matter. "An fear sin é an ard rí." That man is the High King. As the other men milled in astonishment, Cathal decided that he liked and approved of the Haldane king. His lady was in good hands.
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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