43a - Chapter 43 - Part 1 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
          Hall of Seasons  
         Print Chapter 43 (7 Pages)  


The Queen of Meara  



Chapter 43 - Part 1



“Saraid, fetch me a blanket.”

“Aye, my lady.”

Mairona 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.

“Easy, 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?”

“My lady Mairona!” Saraid cried, running in panic down the wide wooden stair that led to the north tower. “My lady!”

“What 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—

“Sweet 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.

The 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.

As 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.

Mairona 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.”

Her 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.”

“Oh.” 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 chambers.”

What 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.

“My brother Duncan and I may lodge with your priest in the town,” Cardiel added.

Mairona swallowed, eyeing Rothana purposefully. “Then the third will go to—?”

Kelson gestured toward the eastern princess, his former intended bride. “This is the Princess R’thana Ayesha Kamila bint Hakim ar-Rafiq, Nabila of Nur Hallaj.”

Smiling 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. Camber.”

“Oh,” Mairona uttered stupidly.

“My lady?” Saraid asked, nudging her mistress.

“Hmm? 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.

Dear 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, or hers?

That night, Kelson could not sleep.

He 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.

Snorting 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.

If 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 breeding.

And 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.

“You 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.”

Kelson 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.

“I 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!”

Pride 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.”

A 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.

“You 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 Mairona.

“Aye, 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.

“He 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 my help.”

“Rothana!” 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.

That visit had brought little peace, so now, in the middle of the night, he was returning to meditate and try to open his heart to Christ’s will in that very same chapel. It was down and across the hall, off the first floor of the south tower. The hall was much smaller than the great space at Rhemuth, but seemed cavernous in the dark as he carefully threaded his way past the men and women sleeping noisily on the rushes. Grunts from a far corner showed that one pair was too busy to sleep, and he was grateful to reach the relative solitude of the south tower where he could shut out that sound. The moment he pulled open the door in the tower’s entrance, though, a new clamor of a woman’s sorrow assaulted his ears. After closing the door gently behind him, he crossed the castle’s round private receiving room that led to the chapel. The crying grew in intensity, and whoever it was sounded like they were suffering from raging anguish or hopeless despondency. Perhaps he should summon Duncan or Cardiel to the castle? At least he should determine who it was before rousing one of the bishops in the deep of night.

~ Previous ~                                        ~ Next ~     

~ Story Index ~


Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor


This story may not be copied or used in any way from this site without permission.

  Sunday Chats, Filks, The Carthmoor Clarion, The Mearan Sunday Herald,  Essays on the Deryni Stories of the XI Kingdoms Deryni Archives - The Zine, Deryni Links Administravia, Author's Biographies, Author Index, Character Index, Story by Era Index, Codex Index, Site Policies  

Hall of Seasons