43b - Chapter 43 - Part 2 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
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The Queen of Meara  



Chapter 43 - Part 2



Quenching his handfire in the growing candlelight spilling from the chapel, Kelson eased himself through the entrance. A woman lay on her side before the altar, her body folded protectively over her pregnant belly as it shuddered with great, wracking sobs, oblivious to anything around her. Blond curls gleamed orange in the ruddy candlelight, shivering as they cascaded across the floor. As if that didn’t identify her clearly enough, he recognized the bedrobe that had been a wedding gift from his aunt, the finest wool died crimson, trimmed with fur and edged with dainty golden Haldane lions worked around the hems.

What possible cause would she have to grieve? He had given her life, and worked around the law to let her keep Druimfada in principle. Dhugal’s words haunted him, though, giving the answer. 

“Mairona cries herself to sleep more often than not, repenting of her sins but finding no solace. She still loves you, Kel. You know something of what it is to live suffering from a shattered heart.”

They mingled with Rothana’s own earlier accusation. 

“Does she not hurt enough?…I never thought you capable of such callous cruelty!”

He knew Dhugal had spoken what he perceived as truth, but Kelson had not believed until he saw with his own eyes, and suddenly the justice of Rothana’s words pierced his heart. Oh, dear God! Anger has sheltered me from my pain, but her guilt has forced her to drown in the full measure of hers. She was willing to give her life for mine twice over, and I let her suffer so. How could I have played the Doubting Thomas and allow this to go on so long?

Rothana’s prayers for him to find forgiveness were answered in the queen’s anguish as he rushed to the altar and fell to her side, putting his arms on her. She coughed in an effort to stop the sobbing, twisting to look at this unwelcome intrusion on her grief. Her eyes were red and swollen, her cheeks and upper lip glistened from countless tears and a runny nose. “Do not touch me!” she shrieked, cringing away when she recognized him.

“Mairí?” he reached tentatively, but she shrank away and slumped against a wall.

“I have tried,” she choked, laboring to spit her words out. “God knows—I have tried—to release the ties—binding me to you. Why did you—bring her?—Why do you flaunt—her in front of me?”

“Mairí.” He got to his feet and started toward her. She scrambled to escape again, but he swooped quickly to take her head firmly in his hands as he crouched over her. Thrashing like a cornered animal, she lashed out wildly with fists and feet until he was forced to let go her head so he could trap her flailing arms and sit on her to avoid being kicked in the crotch. “Mairí, stop it. Look at me. I said look at me!” His voice turned lethal and she fell limp, eyes wide in fear, but she would not lift her gaze to his. “Very well,” Kelson continued in a more even tone. “If you will not look, then listen. Rothana is my cousin through marriage. Nothing more.”

He felt her body coil as she thought this over, but memories of an earlier encounter right here in the chapel bade her reject his words. She renewed her struggles with greater fervor.

“Stop fighting me and Truth-Read if you do not believe! Rothana is only my cousin, and was at Rhemuth to show her son to Aunt Meraude. She accompanied us here because her knowledge and training will help us examine the altar at Druimkyriel. That was no liaison here you saw earlier. She was urging me to forgive you for the sake of my soul, and trying to explain how the righteous path is not necessarily an easy one.”

Mairona stilled, all will to fight stolen by the truth he spoke. Tentatively, and still looking warily to the protection of his groin, Kelson released her and backed away to sit against the wall, knowing that his touch was unwelcome. The cool stone felt good against his blazing cheek, soothing the fire of anger, grief, and lost love that now burned a cleansing flame within him.

His wife quivered as she pushed herself off the floor, arms and head quaking as she finally looked at him. “You are truly here for the ruins?”

“That is not all,” he said softly.

“Oh, God, it is the annulment!” The trembling in her arms grew violent, and she could barely hold herself off the ground.

“There will be no annulment. I came for you, Mairí.”

She gaped at him, instantly numb, then her elbows collapsed and she fell back to the floor. Suddenly he was lifting her off the ground, and the numbness faded as he cradled her to his chest, where she buried her face in his bedrobe and sobbed. One arm crept around Kelson’s waist, and when he didn’t protest or move away she threw the other under his arm and around his back to squeeze as tightly as she could, seeming to think he would vanish if given a chance. He thought his ribs would crack under her vise-like hold as she cried herself sick.

In offering, Kelson shared his own pain with her, an ache in his soul that had now shifted from betrayal to loss. Her own distress, somehow slipping through tightly shuttered shields, was equal to his, but then she tentatively exposed her outer mind and he was nearly overwhelmed in the emotional chaos that streamed through the opening. Kelson wrapped her with what comfort he had to provide, which hardly seemed adequate in his own turmoil, but the attempt in itself seemed enough for now. Her eyes burned, her throat was raw from choking and hiccups, and the tears spent themselves until there was nothing left in her. Her body stopped shaking, and with his help her breathing gradually evened, but she still radiated a primal anxiety.

“Mairí?” he asked in alarm, shifting her weight to relieve a tingling leg.

“Hmmmm? Oh.” She almost chuckled through the final tears, and ended up with a fit of hiccups instead. “’Tis the little one, not me. When I am upset it disturbs her.” Mairona’s eyes widened briefly as she extracted an arm and rubbed her very runny nose on the sleeve of her bedrobe. “She also kicks harder to show she is not happy.”

“That is the babe?” Kelson asked in awe, looking at her belly.

Mairona tried to smile, and almost succeeded. “I must calm her, or she will beat me all night.” She placed his hand on her stomach, inviting him to join her as she wrapped the girl child in love and comfort. After a moment’s hesitation, he conceded. Kelson, meet your daughter.

It was wondrous. The babe’s consciousness consisted of unguarded feelings, as she was yet too young for coherent thought, but she was already learning to share her awareness. When she recognized her mother’s loving touch, she stilled quickly, then showed curiosity at a new presence. Mairona’s mind and soul were the only ones she knew so far, were her entire world. Now that sphere had expanded to bring another, a new entity offering love and comfort just like her mother. With even the memory of distress gone, the babe rolled around contentedly and decided to nap.

“She sleeps already?” Kelson wondered.

“Aye. She dozes and wakes as any infant, and not necessarily at the times her mother wants. ’Tis little rest she has allowed.” Mairona patted her stomach gently.

Evaine. It was barely a mental whisper, and Mairona was not sure Kelson knew she had heard. She gave him a questioning look, so he explained. “Her name will be Evaine, after Camber’s daughter.”

“I like it. Evaine.” Mairona snuggled her head between Kelson’s neck and shoulder. He stroked her hair automatically, twisting her curls around a finger out of old habit. Her breathing slowed and deepened as she relaxed, molding to the shape of his body. Shifting his hold on her, Kelson sighed when he realized she was falling asleep. She still dreamed, and had easily fallen prey to the hope of forgiveness and a return to the way things were. He had forgiven her, but there could never be return to those innocent days before her betrayal. His heart did not sing so freely with love, but perhaps it could learn to do so again. There was still a connection pulling him to her, and it felt right to hold her. How long it was since she had slumbered peacefully in his arms!

“Mairí,” he whispered. “Come to bed with me.”

“What about Dhugal?” she yawned.

“He belongs with Ailín, not me. Come.”

With a final sniffle, she let Kelson lift her to her feet and take her hand to draw her out of the chapel, but she paused in front of the altar and pulled away to kneel briefly at the prie-dieu, crossing herself. Kelson withdrew a little, and watched as she bowed her head to her hands.

Teo gratias, Domine Deus. I have no words to give You, Lord, only my vast gratitude. Truly You do answer prayer offered with love. Help me to be worthy of the great gift You bestowed on me not once, but twice. 

At a loss for more to say, Mairona simply took a moment to offer the celebration in her heart as thanksgiving.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. 

Crossing herself again, Mairona lifted her gaze to the simple crucifix hanging over the altar. In the flickering candlelight it seemed that the Christ smiled at her, but in a moment the illusion was gone. Sighing in release, she pushed herself up from the prie-dieu and turned to her husband, who held his hand to her in welcome. She placed her fingers in his, and let him draw her out and across the hall to the north tower.

As Kelson eased open the door to the top chamber, he held his fingers to his lips for silence as his mouth spread in a mischievous grin. She complied as Kelson’s handfire sputtered to darkness, and she slipped silently into the room behind him as he crept over to the bed and slowly pulled back the heavy curtains. Very gradually, he took a firm, wary grip on the coverlets and furs that swaddled Dhugal, who was now quietly snoring in oblivion. Yanking hard, Kelson twisted back as Dhugal tumbled to the floor, sputtering and flailing to free himself from the tangle of linen and skins. As soon as the border duke was sufficiently liberated, he rushed at his unseen attacker, who sidestepped the charge and rapped him soundly on the shoulder. Overbalanced, Dhugal stumbled into a wall, barely avoiding a crack on the head. Mairona nearly giggled when he passed by the window, and dim moonlight revealed that Dhugal had slept more customarily than Kelson, without any clothing.

“Kel,” he muttered, finally recognizing his assailant’s psychic stamp as he straightened and rubbed his bruised shoulder. “What was that for?”

“Stealing all the furs and leaving your king to freeze. I have decided to trade for a warmer bedmate.”

Giggles breaking free, Mairona summoned golden handfire to light her face and wiggled her fingers at Dhugal in greeting. Even in the dim glow she could see his freckles disappear in a dark flush as the duke realized just how exposed he was, and what those exposed parts must look like shriveled in cold.

“Weel, gimme summat tae cover myself at least!”

Snickering at how Dhugal’s speech reverted in his embarrassment, Kelson opened Dhugal’s trunk and called forth his own crimson handfire to rummage for one of the border duke’s woolen tartans, which he tossed at his blood brother. Dhugal caught it easily, wrapping the wool around his waist and over his shoulder, securing it with a firm knot in the absence of the regular belt.

“Assaulted by my own blood brother while I sleep.” Now that he was recovering, Dhugal could once again call on his cultured court language as he moved grumpily toward the door. “Ailín makes softer and kinder company in bed.”

“I should hope so!” Kelson laughed, shoving Dhugal onward. “Go on, steal her furs instead.” Still grumbling, Dhugal wrenched the thick pine door open and slammed it after him.

“I do not think he appreciated your jest,” Mairona bubbled with giggles. Kelson still laughed as he retrieved the tumbled furs and coverlets, tossing them back on the feather mattress.

“I did not appreciate turning into an icicle. Come now.” Discarding his bedrobe on the floor, he slipped Mairona’s off as well and drew her to the curtained bed. “I am not accustomed to mountain winters, and I need warming.”


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