42a - Chapter 42 - Part 1 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
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The Queen of Meara  



Chapter  42 - Part 1   



Ailín sought out Dhugal as soon as he had returned from his tour of the tunnel work, and found him in the hall, tending to Druimfada’s business. Mairona had been doing less and less as the months wore on, and Ailín wished she knew whether it was her advancing pregnancy or a loss of interest. “My lord husband!” Ailín called, rushing to his side. He grinned and kissed her hand, then sobered when he saw the expression on her face.

“What is it?” he asked seriously.

“I must speak to you in private,” she told him. “Will you join me in our quarters?”

Turning to the castellan, Dhugal smiled an apology and excused himself before leading his wife up to the room they shared in the north tower, just below Mairona’s.

“Now, lass, tell me,” he prompted as they sat together on the bed.

“Mairona asked that you give this to the king.” She handed over the neatly folded packet and lineage scroll to her husband’s keeping. “I think he should read it.”

Dhugal studied the Seal, brushing it with his fingers to look for a message encoded by Deryni means, but discovered none. “What does it say?”

“The scroll traces the lineages of St. Camber to the House of Corwyn. As for the missive, I do not know,” Ailín shrugged, “and it does not matter, but she needs the comfort of knowing the king has seen what she wishes to say. You must make certain that he reads it.”

Staring at the opposite wall, Dhugal lost himself in his thoughts. Ailín watched silently, unwilling to interrupt or distract. “Why do ye help her?” he asked finally.

“Because—because if she had not presented me, you would never have danced with me, and I would be married to Drostan, that lout of a man!” He looked at her then, patiently facing her eyes, which were wide with adolescent anxiety. How very young she was at times, but then she was only fifteen years old. Not that Dhugal’s eighteen years carried much seniority in numbers, but he had ruled the earldom of Transha since he was fifteen, when his late grandfather grew too ill to carry out his duties. That had aged him nearly as quickly as the crown aged Kelson. In time, as Duchess of Cassan and with exposure to the king’s inner circle, he prayed Ailín would grow, too.

“We would hae danced. Mairona presented ye because I had already picked ye oot. I wouldnae hae let ye gae sae easy, my lass,” he murmured, kissing the tip of her nose. “We’ll gae tae Rhemuth, Kelson will read the letter, an’ ye’ll gi’e it tae him.”

“Me?” Ailín squeaked. “No, you are his blood brother! He will listen to you! I am merely—”

“Scairt,” Dhugal finished for her, grinning. “I swear, I willnae let him bite ye. Come, lass.” He pulled her off the bed, but she resisted his gentle tug.

“Me? Through the transfer portal? I cannot!” She whipped her hand out of his, but he was not to be put off so easily.

“Easy, lass,” he told her, scooping an arm around her shoulders and firmly drawing her to the marked square on the floor. Her eyebrows jumped to her scalp when she stepped on it and felt it thrum.

“Dhugal!” she cried, struggling to escape.

“Hush now,” he murmured, drawing her back against his chest so he could trap her in his arms. “This is like tae when ye helped Mairona scry the Torenthi. Ye didnae fear that?”

“I did,” she confessed in a small voice, “but I could not show my fear to the queen, and I had to help you.”

“Then help me now. Trust me, lass, an’ open tae me.” Extending his mind to hers, he circled round her shields while she breathed as he taught her, trying to calm and center. Her fingers clawed at his, so he closed his arms so tightly she could barely breathe, but she stilled at his unspoken promise to keep her safe and close. “Let me in,” he whispered, and she haltingly lowered her outer shields for him. He surged in before she could change her mind, and suffused her with comfort and affection. Her manner relaxed, and she leaned her head back on his shoulder as she dropped her remaining shields with more confidence. Dhugal surrounded her consciousness and took the control he needed.

Dear God, she was ill, and hadn’t told him.

She had not come far enough along in her training to recognize that he had discovered her, so he was able to shutter is reaction away from her consciousness. He had thought she looked haggard, and just assumed that he had not been allowing her to sleep as much as she was accustomed at night. New realization dawned that she was having trouble eating, and when she excused herself to the garderobe more often than not it was to lose what little she could swallow. This had been going on for nearly two months, so it was more dangerous than a passing illness. Why didn’t she tell him?

The answer was easy to read. She thought he would fear catching it, and in that fear would put her away. Ailín dreaded that more than anything, and memories surged through his consciousness of being locked in the dark when her father was greatly displeased. A cold chill swept through the shuttered part of his mind as she saw how terrified she had been of the dark, and in her panic had bloodied her hands trying to beat the door down and gain escape. That chill was warmed by realization of the extraordinary courage it must have taken her to face down her father after their night in Kelson’s gardens. What would Geoffrey have done if Dhugal hadn’t married her, or even come to the townhouse that night? It was unthinkable. He remembered the bruise on her cheek that night, which had raised his suspicions then. Now there was no doubt how it had come about.

Dhugal? she asked tentatively, wondering at his hesitation. He locked away his new knowledge for later sifting and turned back to their current purpose.

This may feel odd, he warned her as he reached out to enfold the portal’s energy pattern. His memory recalled the pattern of the portal in Rhemuth’s library, and when he balanced the energy between the two the world whirled around them as the ground fell away and they were enveloped in the darkness of void. Ailín screamed, but no sound came out, for she couldn’t breathe.

The void lasted for two eternal heartbeats until there was solid stone beneath their feet, and Ailín gasped for air, her eyes screwed shut. “’Tis over,” Dhugal whispered. “Ye did fine.”

She didn’t feel fine, and she couldn’t seem to fill her lungs. Maybe if she opened her eyes? They were in the library at Rhemuth, surrounded by shelving and countless literary works, and her knees gave way. “Whoa, easy, lass!” Dhugal exclaimed as he held her off the floor. “Take a deep breath, an’ we’ll walk over there to sit until you feel better, hmm?”

Ailín nodded, never noticing that Dhugal’s speech was already transitioning to the court dialect. She would not be sick now, not in front of Dhugal. Her entire concentration focused on crossing the few steps with Dhugal’s assistance to a bench, where she collapsed. Dhugal sat beside her and pressed her head to his chest, holding her trembling body close. “Hush, now, you are only frightened.”

In the King’s Tower, Kelson was hosting a family gathering the night following his birthday. After all the feasting, the jugglers, the players, and state formality of the previous day it was a welcome release. His Aunt Meraude and Uncle Nigel sat with him by the fire, and Rothana attended as well, as a cousin by marriage, but she spoke little. The Queen Mother Jehana had joined them briefly, but retired early to her newly reclaimed Queens Chambers. Kelson’s cousins Rory and Payne had retreated to a corner with Liam. The boy-king and Payne had long been close, but since Liam’s return from war and the resulting stories of stealing five thousand men from under Mahael, Payne had started looking on his best friend with hero worship. These days, separating the two was like trying to wrest a sword from the hands of one of Kelson’s guard. The three boys had their heads bowed over a grouping of carved foot soldiers, knights, lancers, and archers, and seemed to be discussing military strategy. In another grouping, Little Kel toddled after Kelson’s youngest cousin, the four-year-old Eirian, and the pair generally made themselves an entertaining nuisance to all. Presently, Kel was trying to rearrange the boys’ carefully arrayed battle plan, to their great dismay.

“No, Kel!” Rothana called. “Come here!”

“Pway too!” the toddler insisted, jutting his lower lip before he stuck his fist in his mouth.

“Pway?” Kelson asked Rothana.

“He wants to play with the boys,” Rothana sighed. “Kel, come here now.”

“I wanna pway!” he insisted, starting to cry. Rory and Payne looked at each other, disgusted, but Liam shook his head and picked up a lancer and foot soldier.

“Here, Kel,” he offered the little boy. “Go play by your mother.” Little Kel ecstatically took each prize in a chubby fist and ran to Rothana.

“Look, Mama!” As he presented his new toys for her appraisal, Eirian decided she had been left out and marched up to her older brothers.

“Me too!” she told them.

“No, Eirian,” Rory admonished her. “Soldiers are not for girls.”

“Me too!” she insisted, imitating Kel’s pout.

“No, Eirian!” Rory repeated.

“Play wif me?” she begged.

“Not now, go away,” Payne told her. She balled her little fists and gave them all her meanest frown, but they ignored her. Suddenly she was spinning through the air, and she squealed in delight as the floor rushed away and the room tumbled until her stomach was folded over someone’s shoulder. Squirming, she twisted until she could look up at her new playmate.

“Kelson play wif me!” she giggled.

“Aye,” he grinned back, bouncing her off his shoulder and under one arm. Something tugged at his knee, and he looked down.

“Me too,” Kel called holding up an arm as his stubby little fingers opened and closed in pleading request.

“What? You as well?” Securing Eirian firmly, Kelson pounced on the boy until he was tucked under the other arm, and spun them around until he was thoroughly dizzy. Both toddlers shrieked with glee. “Alright,” he said, shaking his head to clear the reeling. “Down you go.” The children hit the ground running, chasing each other around the room as Kelson clumsily resumed his seat, vision still whirling. Meraude was becoming accustomed to her nephew’s new interest in Eirian, but Rothana clearly showed her surprise.

“My lord, you are kind to the children,” she stated. Kelson took up his discarded goblet of wine.

“God willing, I will have my own daughter soon,” he shrugged, sipping at the Fianna red. Rothana rose and walked to a recessed window oriel out of earshot, looking back in silent, unpresumptuous request for Kelson to follow. Dropping his wine again, he joined her.

“And her mother?” Rothana asked quietly, eyes demurely downcast. Kelson shook his head.

"I cannot forgive,” he replied.

“You forgave me,” she reminded him gently. Placing a hand on her shoulder, Kelson smiled.

“You wed Conall in ignorance, in an attempt to keep my dreams for Gwynedd alive when you believed me gone.”

“I did,” she concurred, “as your queen wed you in ignorance of the compulsion placed on her or the plots set in place, and risked her life twice over to keep you and your dreams alive.”

“She planned to kill me!” Kelson protested in irritation, retracting his hand.

"And when her ignorance was lifted, she overcame compulsion and risked execution to stop that plan. You are stubborn because you still hold anger for her hurt. You must forgive her, my lord, for the sake of your soul,” Rothana insisted.

“You, of all people, argue that I should take her back?”

“You will do what you must for the sake of Gwynedd, my lord. I am merely acting as a servant of God by reminding you that Christ teaches us to forgive all.”

“Your Highness?” Dolfin interrupted, bowing. Sighing explosively in frustration, Kelson turned from the bride-that-almost-was and left the oriel’s enclosure.

“What is it?”

“His Grace the Duke of Cassan has arrived and wishes to speak with you,” the lad stated.

“I will receive him in my bedchamber,” Kelson commanded. The squire bowed and spun precisely on his heel to depart.


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