The Queen of Meara
Chapter 43 - Part 1
fetch me a blanket.”
was studying another of the Camber scrolls in her hall, since afternoon
light was weak in her bedchamber during the winter. The high windows in
the hall were barely adequate for her purposes, and since they were
unglazed, they let in the mid-November mountain wind with the sun. Her
hands were becoming chilled, which normally wouldn’t bother her, but
there was the babe to think of. That infant kicked, a small, fluttering
pressure in Mairona’s womb.
now,” Mairona whispered, rubbing one hand on her rounded belly. “Do
you intend to beat me all morning?” The answer came with another
gentle jab. Mairona chuckled, for her tiny, unborn daughter was now her
only source of happiness. Still smiling, she returned to her reading on
the Servants of St. Camber at Druimkyriel. Whoever had written it had
taken great pains to be enigmatic. “Look to the heavens for the Holy
Shiral,” she recited. “What does that mean?”
lady Mairona!” Saraid cried, running in panic down the wide wooden
stair that led to the north tower. “My lady!”
is it?” Mairona asked, letting the scroll curl up in her hand as she
stood and moved away from the window. Just as Saraid reached the floor
of the hall, Mairona’s attention was ripped back to the top of the
stair by a flash of crimson. She stood paralyzed as the king descended
the stair quickly, scarlet and gold mantle billowing behind, followed by
Dhugal and Ailín, then Bishop Duncan McLain, Archbishop Cardiel—
Brigid, the annulment has come,” she whispered, fighting tears, but
one escaped. She could not move to wipe it away. All movement and
chatter in the room faded as, one by one, Mairona’s people watched the
King of Gwynedd swoop into Druimfada’s hall. There was little chance
his presence bore good tidings.
final member of the party was a monk in a gray robe—no, wait, it was a
woman in a monk-like robe, with a long black braid, dusky skin, and
eastern features. It had to be—no. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t, but
obviously he had. It must be the Princess Rothana.
Kelson led his party across the hall in her direction, her fingers
loosened on the Camber scroll, and its wooden spindle clattered to the
floor. “My lady,” he greeted neutrally, his face blank. His raven
hair was pulled back in its usual border braid, falling down his back to
the bottom of his shoulder blades. The great ruby known as the Eye of
Rom flashed portentously in his ear and his head was circled by a
simple, but kingly coronet. He was dressed head-to-toe in crimson,
darker than his usual shade, embellished here and there with embroidered
golden wire. Even his leather boots were died to match, and something
about the hue reminded Mairona of blood. Kelson had obviously taken
great pains to demonstrate that his presence here was solely as King of
Gwynedd, and duty alone would reign.
had not consciously known that she still held on to a small thread of
hope for her husband until that thread was unraveled by his official,
royal façade, devoid of emotion. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.
“Your Highness.” It was hardly more than a mumble, and she did not
curtsey, for she knew she would fall if she tried. Instead, she bowed
her head deeply, willing her arms to move and hold her rounded stomach.
“Welcome to Druimfada.”
motion drew his eyes to her belly, and he took in how it had grown with
his child. Dark circles underlined her eyes, and she seemed so fragile
that the lightest touch would shatter her. A warring mixture of elation
over the child and anguish over the mother struggled for hold of his
features, but the struggle never pierced his dispassionate mask. “We
have come to see the church at Druimkyriel.”
Her head rose as her eyes glanced over the crowd of guests, resting last
and longest on her rival Rothana. “The castle only has three private
nonsense was she blithering about? Dhugal was right; she had changed.
“We will share a chamber with the Duke of Cassan, and his duchess will
bed with you,” Kelson declared.
brother Duncan and I may lodge with your priest in the town,” Cardiel
swallowed, eyeing Rothana purposefully. “Then the third will go
gestured toward the eastern princess, his former intended bride. “This
is the Princess R’thana Ayesha Kamila bint Hakim ar-Rafiq, Nabila of
warmly, Rothana bent in a bow rather than the expected lady’s curtsey.
“May Christ and Camber be with you. I represent the Servants of St.
Mairona uttered stupidly.
lady?” Saraid asked, nudging her mistress.
Aye.” At her attendant’s prompting, Mairona recovered somewhat.
“Forgive me, your Highness, my lords and lady, your presence was
unexpected. Please excuse me to see to your lodging.” With a brief
nod, she rushed past her visitors and escaped up the wooden stair,
beyond the view of “guests” and the stares of her own people.
Lord, he had brought her. She wanted Kelson to be happy, but she
wanted that happiness to be with her, which she also knew she didn’t
deserve. Now the discarded Queen in exile had to greet and play host to
her successor, the lady who would share her husband’s heart, bear the
royal heirs that Mairona wanted so much to give. How could he bring her
here and parade her in front of his wife? But then, if the
archbishop were here, the annulment was good and stated that she had
never truly been Kelson’s wife, was no more Queen of Gwynedd and Meara.
Druimkyriel was only a pretense, a public reasoning for the unknown men
in her hall. Why, Lord? I am not deserving, but how much more do I
have to suffer? Help me understand how this fits into Your will. How
could he bring her? How could she possibly endure his nearness,
night, Kelson could not sleep.
and Dhugal shared the chamber Mairona had hastily vacated for them at
the top of the north tower, and the howling mountain wind had roused him
in the middle of the night. Every time he thought he was drifting back
to unconsciousness, he caught a hint of Mairona’s favorite rose scent,
which lingered in the room. He was cold, too, since Dhugal had somehow
managed to roll himself up in all the coverlets and furs, leaving Kelson
exposed to chill in the winter air. Poor Ailín. How did she cope? At
least he had the good sense not to try to sleep in the nude, as was
generally the custom. It was too damn cold in the mountains for that. If
it weren’t for the heavy woolen gown he wore, it was likely that some
treasured parts would have frozen off by now.
in frustration, he parted the heavy curtains and swung himself out of
the bed, nearly cursing when his feet slipped through the sparse rushes
and hit icy stone instead of the expected thick warmth of Kheldish
carpet. Fool, this is not Rhemuth. Summoning a crimson globe of
handfire, Kelson rooted around for the slippers he had discarded before
crawling into bed. One was in plain sight, but it took some hunting to
realize that the other had been kicked under the bed. When they safely
protected his feet from freezing, he grabbed the heavy, fur-lined
bedrobe he discarded on top of his trunk earlier in the evening and
gratefully shrugged it on. Sufficiently insulated from the cold, Kelson
waved the handfire before him to light his way and quietly slipped out
to the stair.
he couldn’t sleep, perhaps prayer in the chapel would still his soul.
It was hard to acknowledge that it was more than icy air and howling
winds keeping him from a sound slumber. Mairona’s appearance had
rattled him more than he cared to admit. She looked so—not weak, but
delicate, brittle, almost unwell. Her face did not portray the healthy
glow he had seen in his Aunt Meraude or Richenda when they were
then Rothana! She had cornered him in the chapel nearly as soon as they
were all settled with their sleeping arrangements, reminding him
unrelentingly that it was his Christian duty to forgive as man and
husband, whether or not the king could reconcile with a traitor.
must have seen her pain on our arrival,” the princess argued.
“Perhaps it takes a woman to read another woman’s heart, but upon
our meeting I saw a lady in grief and despair. She has obviously
repented of her sins, and so deserves forgiveness.”
had turned away from the chapel’s alter and the prie-dieu, and stood
mere inches from her, looming his full height and calling on every trick
of intimidation he had, but Rothana knew him far too well to be affected
by his posture when she was certain of her righteousness.
came to take her back, what more do you want from me?” Kelson
protested. “She saved my life, which has won her reprieve from
execution, and our marriage cannot legally be annulled, so I have to
take her back. However, she committed treason and attempted regicide. It
is too dangerous for me to forgive her. How can you say such things?”
Something swept into the doorway, behind Rothana’s back, but Kelson
couldn’t stop his next words before realizing that it was Mairona.
“After everything we once had together, Rothana!”
did now allow him to move away from his eastern princess, and
stubbornness prevented him from notifying Rothana of Mairona’s
entrance as the princess tentatively touched him. “I admit this is
very difficult for me, but I will do as duty requires. You know as well
as I what I still feel for you.”
swallowed gasp sounded from the door, and Rothana whirled to look face
to face with Kelson’s exiled queen. Mairona leaned heavily on the
doorframe, her hand pressed to her mouth as her eyes stared wildly. The
princess reached out to her, taking a step as her vocation bade her
comfort a soul in need, but Mairona fled in desperate anguish.
must have seen her!” Rothana accused Kelson, turning back to him in
fury. He had only seen her anger once, when he first met her at her
former abbey of St. Brigid’s, after it had been ravaged by Ithel of
Meara. That he raised this level of ire was unsettling. There was no
room in her wrath for proper courtly politeness, diplomacy and protocol.
Rothana’s face burned with a passionate fire that reminded Kelson of
God help me,” he admitted sadly, wondering if the stirrings in his
heart were for his current wife or the wife that could have been, lost
some years ago to religious service.
will have to,” the princess returned harshly, pushing past him to
kneel on the prie-dieu. “Does she not hurt enough? I will remain here
for the rest of the day, praying for God to melt your anger and show you
forgiveness, and assist me in forgiving you for what you just did to
her. I never thought you capable of such callous cruelty! You are beyond
he pleaded, but she paid him no heed, crossing herself as she settled
into her vigil. He had turned away slowly, sorrowfully, leaving to seek
out Duncan and Cardiel in their town lodgings.
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